As the evidence suggests, COVID-19 cases have declined significantly since Arizona’s peak, and more employers are bringing their employees back into the physical work environment. When businesses make this decision, they not only need to provide their customers with the confidence of safety, they’re also responsible for employee well-being. A safe return to work is currently possible for Arizona, but only when the right precautionary measures are implemented.
Employers need to stay diligent to keep COVID-19 outbreaks at bay. A responsible return to work can best be achieved by focusing on these three areas: physical environment, testing and access to care.
Physical environment is likely the first consideration businesses think of when contemplating a safe return to work. As Arizonans have likely heard, maintaining a distance of six feet and enacting mask policies has been recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If six feet of distance isn’t possible, businesses should put barriers between employees and dictate the flow of office traffic. Just like grocery stores have arrows and markers on the ground to guide people, offices should do the same. Other ways to implement social distancing include installing portable plastic shields, limiting elevator and break room capacity and staggering employee office days. And of course, hand sanitizer, gloves, masks and disinfectant spray should be made available at all times.
Employee COVID-19 Testing
To contain the spread of COVID-19, businesses and employees need to know which symptoms to look out for, but most importantly, they need to be able to easily obtain tests for employees. Fortunately, there are companies providing onsite workplace testing, but it’s important to note that HIPAA regulations prevent employers from knowing individual test results. What COVID testing companies can do is call individuals who tested positive and outline their treatment plan away from the work environment. By isolating COVID cases as early as possible, employers can help prevent transmission.
While testing is essential, daily monitoring is another component that can’t be overlooked. Employees can check their temperature and keep track of symptoms at home, but they need to be directed on proper procedure if symptoms are present. This can include mandatory work from home, a virtual doctor visit or isolation. However, if an employee expresses concern over returning to the office due to being high-risk, employers should take necessary measures to accommodate them effectively.
Affordable Access to Healthcare
This is the largest and arguably most complicated piece of the return to work puzzle, but it’s essential in slowing the spread. A Gallup study published in late April noted that nearly 15% of Americans aren’t seeking essential coronavirus care over fear of cost. This means that if employees are hesitant to get tested, businesses that don’t provide health insurance risk an uncontrollable outbreak. Health insurance costs have been rising substantially over the last several years, but recent advancements in telemedicine offer a low-cost solution for affordable primary care.
The two biggest perks of virtual care are its affordability and its 24/7 nature. As telehealth exploded to address social distancing and safety measures, it became an essential part of the care process. Because of this, employers can pay a monthly subscription fee for telehealth to cover all employee COVID costs—even for employees who don’t have health insurance. And because telehealth is always accessible, employees can engage a virtual provider during their off hours. Unfortunately, it’s common for employees to skip doctor’s visits because of lost wages, but virtual care can eliminate that concern.
A safe return to work is possible for the foreseeable future, but businesses need to have a plan that addresses safety, testing and access to care. When in doubt, The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), CDC and Arizona Department of Labor are excellent resources to help businesses stay on top of the latest statistics, trends and best practices for a seamless workplace reintegration.
Dr. Kishlay Anand is the founder and CEO of Akos.