This week’s guest is Mara Aspinall. Mara is a faculty member at Arizona State University and an industry leader in health information technology, diagnostics, and testing. Leading large organizations in the private sector, to serving on the Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Council on Genetics, Health & Society (SACGHS) in the Obama and Bush administrations, Mara has a truly unique perspective on the path forward in the ongoing pandemic. This conversation was fascinating and will surely change how you think about how your org should be handling COVID. Enjoy!
Our latest podcast out today features Mara Aspinall, one of the leading experts on employee testing. Mara’s basic guidance was that all employees, whether vaccinated or not, should be tested weekly if possible. And if you are allowing unvaccinated employees to return to work, she believes they should be tested twice a week. Listen to today’s podcast to hear her (rather unexpected) endorsement of antigen testing as a workplace and school-based solution.
At this point in the pandemic, carpooling with someone you don’t already live with has significant risks. These risks can’t be eliminated but can be reduced with masking and open windows, though they remain relatively high. Anyone unvaccinated is at particular risk, especially because the Delta variant is so infectious. If someone in the vehicle ends up testing COVID+, everyone else unvaccinated will need to quarantine for 10 days, and anyone fully vaccinated will need to mask for 14 days and monitor closely for symptoms. If there’s an easy alternative (and we recognize that there might not be for many people whose transportations options are limited) it’s a good idea to limit all close-quarters contact in enclosed spaces, cars included. If it’s not possible, reiterate to your employees the importance of wearing masks and keeping the windows open; it really does make a difference.
This is a legal question and we suggest you consult your counsel. But here is how one of our team responded to an employee with HIPAA concerns: “HIPAA is designed to prevent healthcare providers from giving out patient information that they are not authorized to share. You voluntarily sharing your own information is not a violation of HIPAA because it is your information to do what you would like with. If you would like to continue sharing information to get a more accurate return date, we're here. But if you would not like to share additional information, we understand.” You should treat anyone who refuses to share vaccination information as unvaccinated for the purposes of work exclusions, mask requirements, and other safety precautions.
Yes - we are excited to see more pooled testing and testing of wastewater, which increases testing capacity enormously. When a sample shows higher levels of COVID than previously, everyone in a dorm or building can be tested. We’d expected to see more of it by now. We’re based in Connecticut and several cities in our state are doing city-wide wastewater testing to monitor for rising levels.
Since there are presumably hundreds of students in that dorm, unless the employee is symptomatic, there is no reason to exclude her just because she is being tested as part of a large group. As usual, we’d recommend that she monitors herself closely for symptoms and stays home if she feels sick or tests positive.