As businesses consider returning to full capacity and holding in-person events, testing strategies may be a key component in reopening safely. Here are some things to consider as you develop your own company’s testing strategy.
First, let’s be clear: people with symptoms should not work while they’re sick. If someone has had COVID in the past 90 days, they might not need a full 10-day exclusion, because reinfection during that 90-day window is very rare and we know that some COVID symptoms can develop a bit later. For those cases, if someone develops concerning symptoms, like a cough or fever, we generally recommend a three-day exclusion to start, with 24 hours symptom-free before they can return to work. For those who had COVID more than 90 days ago, though, reinfection is more common, so we recommend a 10-day exclusion in that case.
Unfortunately, yes. Breakthrough cases, as they’re called, aren’t common, but they do happen with some regularity. We’ve seen a few cases among our clients recently, and it likely has to do with some of these newer variants, which aren’t as easily stopped by the vaccines. So, if someone has COVID symptoms or tests positive for COVID, they should still stay home for 10 days whether or not they’re fully vaccinated.
Yes, vaccines (and in fact, lots of health-related things) affect women differently than men. The most obvious case of this is that the mild (normal) side effects of vaccines are often a bit worse in women, like pain in the arm near the injection site, or mild flu-like symptoms in the day or two after the shot.
The new J&J pause is due to blood clotting with low platelets, which in the US has happened to six women ages 18-48. Since it’s happened so rarely, it’s too early to say if it mostly affects women or certain age groups, but we can look to Europe where they’re navigating a similar situation with the AstraZeneca vaccine. We do see that, while these rare blood clots do affect men, they affect women more often. Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, which show absolutely no patterns of severe side effects, and no major concerns for women. With these vaccines, there are zero cases of the blood clots like the J&J and AstraZeneca ones, with millions more people who have been vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna.
You’re not alone. This is the number one issue our clients are facing across many industries right now, and we know that managers are feeling the pinch of low staffing. Having a few employees excluded for 10 days can be a huge problem. Even worse, though, is when there are 5, 10, even 20 people out sick at the same time, this can lead to closures, health department visits and bad press. The best way to reduce work exclusions is to be aggressive about handwashing, social distancing, masking, and staying home from work when sick. That one stomach bug your server had? Better to keep him out for three days than have seven more people down for the count and sick guests. Counterintuitively, encouraging sick people to stay home at the first sign of illness actually breaks the cycle of illness and keeps more people working.
The tough answer is that it’s not yet, and it’s not necessarily going to be soon. As much as we wish we could, there won’t be one day when we hit a magic button and all exclusions can go back to pre-pandemic lengths. Instead, we’ll likely have to make month-by-month adjustments, based on case counts, vaccination rates, variants, and new science. It’s already happening, slowly. Where a year ago we would’ve excluded anyone for a new cough, now we’re asking detailed questions about allergies before making a determination. Where a few months ago we would’ve put someone out for another 10 days if their COVID symptoms returned, now we’ll stick to just three if they’re within 90 days of their positive diagnosis. All of these changes are made based on the best new science, and our changing understanding of the virus and the risk of transmitting it. We expect some more highs and lows of cases through the winter, and hope that by this time next year we’ll see some significantly shorter work exclusions.
People online are measuring supposed vaccine status. Pfizer leads, Moderna is second. And if you had the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca jabs, sorry, you’re not even in the race.