One of the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping an entire organization healthy and productive.  If mismanaged, COVID-19 can lead to an outbreak within an organization that is costly, aggravating, and, when widespread, can cause an organization to lose its ability to function altogether. 

Almost all organizations of any size will eventually experience a member of the organization contracting COVID-19.  Dealing with this situation is usually not familiar and can present significant challenges.  Below are some general questions to answer in almost all such cases.

For more in-depth details, watch Dr. Lon Young’s presentation on COVID-19 Within the Workplace.

Has the COVID infection been confirmed?

Has the infected member of your group been screened by a medical professional or had a positive test for COVID-19? Until confirmation of infection by one of these two methods, there may be no need for further action. This dilemma is common when a group member learns of their  COVID-19 exposure but not currently diagnosed themself.  In either case, ensure that the suspected carrier’s infection before considering screening others within your organization.

Who might the infected person have exposed?

If you have a member of your organization with confirmed COVID infection, it is unlikely that all other team members have had a true exposure that might lead to infection. If everyone in the organization is following the guidelines, it’s possible others may not need evaluation.  Therefore, it’s prudent to determine if any exposures have actually occurred.

Several factors determine accurate exposures:

  • Timeline of the infected person’s illness, including any development of symptoms
  • Behavior and activity during contact with other members
  • Environment during contact
  • Duration of exposure
  • Mask wearing
  • At-risk medical conditions

It is likely that a true exposure has occurred if the infected team member has spent time indoors near others, without masks, especially if closer than 6 feet from another member, and for 15 minutes or more.

What is the appropriate way to have the exposed members screened?

There are two parts of the screening process for determining the presence of COVID-19 infection and how to manage it, clinical, and laboratory.  

  • A clinical screening by a medical professional will assess the necessary factors.  Some of these include the current health status of the exposed member, the timing and nature of the exposure, the current virus burden in the organization and community, and the potential for infecting loved ones with sensitive medical conditions.
  • If indicated by the clinical screening, a laboratory test often is performed.  A medical professional will determine which type of test to use, how many tests are needed, and when to test for optimal and accurate results.

When can an infected or exposed member return?

In addition to making the diagnosis, a medical professional can help create a safe, efficient return to work plan for the infected organization member and those who were exposed.

Organizations can minimize employee absence and save themselves a great deal of aggravation and expense by implementing the appropriate restrictions and procedures ahead of time.  These include proper distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing at all times.  Additional considerations include:

  • How does the infection spread? Make proper adjustments using the CDC Guidelines, including space between employees and mandatory wearing of a mask.
  • Make accommodations for people who have sensitive medical conditions. Can some team members work remotely or work in isolated spaces?
  • Allow adequate time for infected employees to stay at home and ensure the medical clearance of all employees to return to work after infection.

If you or a member of your organization needs to be screened for COVID, please visit our Coronavirus Information & Testing page for more information.