Our recommendation is to be cautious before recommending or requiring as an employer that someone gets tested. It can be complicated, and should probably be run by your legal counsel. Generally, we tell individual employees who ask our clinical team if they need to be tested that testing is an individual decision, and to consult their doctor and CDC guidelines. It's important to note that a negative test usually doesn’t allow someone to return to work sooner, because there is still a high false negative rate for COVID-19 tests.
Unfortunately, generally not.
Negative test results aren’t a reliable way to confirm that someone doesn’t have COVID. Rapid results are wrong upwards of 50% of the time, and even molecular PCR tests have up to a 30% false negative rate, which means 3 in 10 people who get a negative test might actually have the virus and be infectious.
Not having any symptoms is also not a good enough reason to return someone to work. Experts believe that up to 45% of people with COVID never have any symptoms, and even more have very mild ones.
There are rare cases when someone is excluded for 14 days out of an abundance of caution when a family or household member is sick, but not yet confirmed to have COVID. If that person ends up getting an alternative diagnosis and is fully recovered, the exposed employee might be able to get back to work earlier depending on the specific diagnosis and circumstances.
But in most cases when an employee was exposed to someone with COVID, there’s really nothing to be done except wait to see if that person gets sick, which can take up to 14 days. Allowing employees who were exposed to return earlier, even with negative tests and no symptoms, could lead to widespread outbreaks.
It depends. If an employee has a fever above 100 degrees, new or changed cough, new shortness of breath, or new loss of taste or smell, any of those alone are concerning enough to keep someone out of work for 10 days because they are often the primary presenting symptom of COVID.
Other symptoms like stomach issues, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, etc. are usually not enough on their own to put someone out for a full 10 days, but might get someone anywhere from no exclusion (if a headache is common, for example) to 24 hours (to see if it gets better on its own and was just a mild, passing thing) to 2 or 3 days (especially in cases with gastrointestinal issues that might be foodborne).
No. When employees let us know that they think their symptoms are related to wildfire smoke, our clinical team makes sure they don’t have other unrelated symptoms (for example, smoke doesn’t usually cause fever or diarrhea). If their symptoms are reasonably all smoke related, we’ll usually give them an exclusion of anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days for those to resolve.
This is tricky because these symptoms are SO similar to those of COVID, so we don’t want to dismiss them because, unfortunately, those affected by wildfires may also have COVID (and are more likely to have forgone social distancing, hand washing, and other COVID precautions while evacuating fires, for example).
Often your employee will not divulge all of their symptoms to their manager - sometimes because they want to work, sometimes because they’re not comfortable talking about medical or digestive problems with their manager and sometimes your manager disregards the other symptoms. For those using our Employee Wellness Check program, our clinical team asks lots of questions and gets a lot more information than your shift manager who says, “Oh, it's just a headache...” or, “He gets fevers every night”….
Thanks to MJ Schult from Brinker for forwarding this best read. It’s long but worth reading (more than once). So many of you are struggling with how to get an exposed or symptomatic employee back to work sooner and frustratingly, testing is still not a reliable solution.