Even as Arizona’s COVID-19 cases start to increase again, every business will soon need to think through their plans for fully reopening. Some business leaders think they want to control the entire back-to-work plans and experience for their business and do it all themselves. If this is you, then be prepared for moving targets and changing risks.
Any commonsense process for managing COVID-19 prevention will include the basics that are well known: appropriate distancing, masks, cleaning surfaces and washing hands. And not sneezing or coughing on each other is high on the list. But everyone knows this by now.
What about checking people for fevers at the door? Or getting everybody tested? Maybe this could be smart, but how high of a fever is a problem? And what kind of testing (anti-body or active disease testing)? Unfortunately, the complete and safe answers are more complex than many businesses can or want to engage with.
Any pragmatic plan needs to continually consider several intertwined and changing factors. Therefore, most businesses are realizing they do not have the necessary capabilities. They smartly shift the decisions and risk over to their elected officials and their employees’ doctors. Below is some insight into what should go into a safe Back-to-Work plan.
Current Government and CDC Guidance
States are approaching reopening differently. Some states are more aggressive, and others are taking their time. It is important to consider the state or states your business is in, and to work within those specific guidelines and recommendations. The CDC is also continually conducting research and releasing new findings often. Keeping your plan up to date is important.
For example, here in Arizona, the governor is now allowing cities and counties to invoke specific guidelines with respect to masks and measures to reduce the spread of the disease.
Testing, Monitoring, and Treatment Protocols
There are various tests that can and should be ordered in different situations. Your employees’ doctors will know which tests are needed, and how to interpret the results. They will also know which tests have run out and the counter measures to deploy.
Infection could start the day after a test is administered, so ongoing self-monitoring of new symptoms is crucial. And easy access to medical treatment is also important. Sometimes response to treatment is not satisfactory and alternative treatment is warranted.
Testing, doctors’ appointments, monitoring treatment effectiveness, and recommending the appropriate Plan B when treatment does not work, all have a cost. While your business may have an insurance plan that is affordable for all employees to participate in, this is probably not likely. Copays and deductibles are the highest they have ever been for many employees. And many employees are self-pay. The good news is some primary care providers are becoming more helpful in helping people keep costs quite low in self-pay situations.
Assessing Risk Factors
Some employees are extra vulnerable. Risk of serious symptoms, hospitalization and even death will be much higher for employees with weak immune systems, diabetes, heart/lung conditions. Even race and age carry different important risks.
It is this last point that should give businesses some extra concern. Government agencies like the EEOC have said they will be extra-forgiving regarding discriminating against employees who fail a fever screening at the front door. But how will it translate for employers a year or two from now, when the context and nuance of their decisions are blurred?
To really do COVID-19 Back-to-Work safely, there must be special consideration for people deemed to have increased risk factors, including age and race. Medical organizations (i.e. John Hopkins Medicine) have acknowledged that people of color and older people are disproportionately experiencing more serious illness and death due to COVID-19. Add chronic illnesses to the mix, the risk factors spike and manifest into significantly harder recovery times resulting in higher death rates.
Food for Thought
Medical professionals are always held to a different standard than employers. They make decisions based on age and race, and other complex combinations of factors all the time. And medicine is not an exact science. In fact, it is expected that treatment will not work sometimes. That is why appropriate professional judgement and follow-up is built into what doctors do. And if they mess up badly while not following their profession’s ‘Standard of Care’, well, we have malpractice insurance for that – your business probably does not.
Instead of doing it yourself, simplify your Back-to-Work plans by shifting the risk over to the professionals. Of course, still do the commonsense things like imploring employees to cover their coughs and wash their hands, etc. But then let your Governor and mayor, and your employees’ doctors decide the rest. It is much easier. It is safer. It minimizes and shifts some of the risk away from your business. You will spend less money and time as well.
To wrap up everything up, when creating your Back-to-Work plan simplify things and shift risk toward the professionals:
1. Do what your governor and mayor recommend
2. Shift the medical clearance decisions over to your employees’ doctors.
Dr. David Berg is the President and Chairman of Redirect Health, a National Direct Primary Care strategy that helps businesses eliminate unnecessary spend in their health plans. Easy and truly affordable healthcare for everyone is transformed into lower recruiting, retention, absenteeism, and workers’ comp costs.