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COVID-19 Briefing - Friday, July 3rd

"The Week America Lost Control of the Pandemic..."

Today’s Recap:

  • The US is now on European travel ban lists, as mandatory quarantines continue to be added state by state amid rising case counts for COVID-19.

  • We’re hearing about testing issues everywhere: Testing shortages, long delays for testing appointments, seriously extended turnaround times for results (7+ days at times, high false positive and false negative rates, and new studies showing Ab testing information invalid 
  • One of our testing vendors placed their rapid testing program on hold after 47 + specimens they sent to Quest for confirmation tested negative.   And there are serious concerns that testing availability will potentially be a critical issue for the US within two weeks.
  • Pooled testing, or running test samples in batches rather than one by one, is being widely reported as a promising way to keep up with rapidly growing testing demand and increasing shortages. 

Best Questions of the Day:

What’s one thing I can do right now to help protect us?

Make sure your employees know they need to be completely honest on wellness checks, and that they won’t be penalized for being sick, having symptoms, or having been in contact with someone who is positive. Some employees  are concerned about not being paid, or losing their job, or think they’ll be penalized in some way for telling the truth about their symptoms. The best defense we have is keeping employees from working sick or when they might be incubating COVID - including managers.

Who needs to self-quarantine when arriving in NY, NJ and CT (or other states with quarantines)? And for how long?

Currently, the tri-state area of NY, NJ, and CT have a required 14-day quarantine from the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. This list is being changed by state governors regularly, so be sure to check their websites before you travel or clear anyone to travel. And remember that we’re still not recommending any non-critical travel. 

Does an employee need to quarantine if they travel from a hotspot to NY if they’ve already recovered from confirmed COVID?

Great question. Based on the best info we have from the CDC, we do not think that they’d need to quarantine after recovery. But it’s worth noting that NYS is actually enforcing quarantines and sometimes giving court orders to stay home.  So I would tell this person to keep a copy of their earlier positive lab result and maybe a doctor's note available, just in case.

An employee has completed their 10 day exclusion, including 3 days fever-free and other symptoms resolved, but they still have loss of taste and smell. Can they return?

Yes. The CDC guidelines for ending self-isolation and returning to work now specifically require respiratory symptoms to be resolved. We know that we’re seeing long tail ends of recovery for other symptoms like loss of taste or smell. If loss of taste and/or smell is the only lingering symptom and the employee meets the CDC criteria for ending self-isolation, they can return to work. 

Should we always notify employees if there’s a COVID positive case at our business, or should we only notify employees when we have to exclude other employees for exposure?

You only need to notify employees if there was a true exposure. So if the employee hasn’t worked for a week and got sick four days ago, then there is no need to notify employees because the sick employee wasn’t there on the day they got sick, nor the two days prior when they are most infectious.

If they got sick on their first day off, then you need to go back two days to determine exposure and need to notify everyone in the store. 

Should we still be requiring a negative test (or two) to return a COVID+ or exposed employee to work? 

No - tests are hard to get, expensive, slow and unreliable….We  are finding that as COVID surges, testing is hard to get if you’re not actively sick, appointments for testing may be days out (today, the earliest appointments were 11 days from now in some surging states) and turnaround time is getting longer and longer.

Last but not least, testing reliability is really poor and also deteriorating.  The rapid tests have up to a 50% false negative rate.  Even the best lab tests have up to a 30% false negative rate.  And today, one of our vendors stopped doing rapid tests because 47 of the Positive Rapid Test specimens they sent on to Quest for confirmation turned out to be false positives, according to Quest.  

Please note that there are a few jurisdictions which require negative test results for ending self-isolation, and there, you’ll have no choice (and the health dept will advise the employee and restaurant accordingly). 

What can we say when people ask us why we no longer require two negative tests to return a COVID+ person to work?

We advise against requiring a negative test or two consecutive negative tests to return to work.  It isn’t clinically necessary. 

Here’s the science behind it: the viral load is highest on two days prior to onset of symptoms and first day of symptoms and then drops each consecutive day. By day 10, the viral load has dropped to below a level that will infect others (although it may still be detectable which could still produce a positive result). Although clinically insignificant, some people are testing positive 30-45 days later, while there is no reason to keep them out of work that long . 

Best Read of the Day:  

As we head into the holiday weekend, we wanted to share this LA Times article from earlier this week, which highlights how Memorial Day was the time that California’s handling of Coronavirus went from success to downhill slide.  Please emphasize to your employees, your managers, your families, and your friends that this weekend has the potential to be extremely deadly if people don’t do proper social distancing. 

California coronavirus spread took a turn on Memorial Day

Best Laugh of the Day:  

As we head into Month 4, we’re starting to really wish we’d gotten that haircut back in February.

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.