Antibody testing in the workplace
While some employers are happy to continue letting their employees work from home, in some industries, it is vital to get the workforce back to their place of work. This is crucial for production facilities, where manual labour is necessary to finish a product, service providers, or even offices where teams need to be physically together to work efficiently. Many employees are also keen to leave their homes and get back to the office, be it for social reasons or because they struggle drawing a line between their work and private life. While this may be true for some, not all employees are as enthusiastic about rejoining the office environment, through fear of contracting COVID-19.
Across the UK, employers have taken considerate action to provide a safe environment for their employees: they have created one-way systems, installed hand sanitisers, increased the rota of cleaning personnel, and allowed for flexible working hours. While this helps to reassure some employees about their safety in the workplace, the lingering suspicion may still prevail: how can I trust that my co-workers are not carrying the virus and how can I protect myself?
An effective approach to protecting your employees from COVID-19
Rapid antibody testing can make a significant contribution to ensuring that your workforce is as safe as possible from the virus while carrying out everyday tasks. To minimise the likelihood of a potential spread of the virus in the workplace, we suggest combining two approaches: working in “team-bubbles” and implementing a regular antibody testing strategy for all employees.
MEDsan’s rapid COVID-19 antibody testing kits test for both, the usual IgG antibodies as well as IgM antibodies, which the body produces in the earlier stage of the infection. This means that our tests can be useful for monitoring over time whether workers have previously had the infection and may have been asymptomatic. This allows a business to monitor the COVID-19 status of their employees as if someone is negative for antibodies in June but positive for antibodies in September they must have been infected at some point between June and September. If an employee tests positive for IgM only this may mean that their COVID-19 infection was more recent. The only way to test an employee who suspects they are currently infected is to seek a PCR test.
Building team-bubbles to decrease the chances of the virus spreading
Many employers have already implemented a team-bubble approach, where they divide their workforce into separate groups. At any given time, the members of only one group may be in the workplace, and they may under no circumstances meet with members of other team-bubbles. If a member of one bubble displays symptoms of the novel Coronavirus, the entire bubble has to self-isolate and test. This way, the company can still operate because only a part of the workforce is not able to come to the office (in many cases, they will still be able to work from home).
When creating the bubbles, the first step is to decide which employees should be in one bubble together. The two options are to either place whole departments into one bubble or create ‘squads’ that have members from different departments in the same bubble. By placing whole departments into the same bubble, employees will find it easier to work together and maintain team chemistry. The downside is that if the bubble needs to self-isolate, an entire department might be unable to work for at least two weeks. This approach seems to be a better alternative if the work can, in the case of self-isolation, also be carried out by the employees from home. Creating ‘squads’ containing members from different departments in one bubble is an especially good option if the company is bigger and has a larger workforce.
The formed bubbles will then need to be integrated by the employer. This may involve scheduling which bubbles can attend the workplace at any given time, such as inviting ‘Bubble A’ into the workplace for week one with the other bubbles working from home, then introducing ‘Bubble B’ for week two, with ‘Bubble A’ and the others working from home, and so on. Alternatively, the bubbles will simultaneously attend the workplace, but will be physically divided from each other and will not share any facilities such as the kitchen or bathroom.
Test, test, test … in the workplace
From the very early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, the WHO stated their mantra as “test, test, test” and we agree that continuous testing is of the utmost importance to maintain an informed overview of the situation. MEDsan’s rapid COVID-19 antibody testing kits provide an excellent alternative to the lengthy tests being carried out in private clinics and by the NHS. With a quick finger-prick blood test, MEDsan’s test can state within 10 minutes and with an accuracy of over 98% if a person has previously been infected by the virus or not.
To stay on top of potential infections of the workforce with the novel Coronavirus, we suggest every employee conducts a weekly antibody test before they go to work after the weekend break. This allows a company to monitor the COVID-19 status of their employees. If someone suspects they have COVID-19 they must immediately self-isolate and seek a PCR test. If the company is following a team-bubble approach, the rest of the bubble should follow the latest advice as they have been in close contact with an infected person. We do recommend they stay at home and carry out a test that can state a very recent infection with COVID-19.
An antibody testing strategy has a low weekly cost. Additionally, the team-bubble approach will reduce the chance of the virus spreading across the entire workforce, thus protecting a minimum level of productivity.