Last year at this time, most of us would have found it easy to view one employee’s positive test results as an immediate threat to the lives of others. But it’s almost September, in the year of COVID-19. Very little about our lives seems normal, especially here in the United States—the current global epicenter of the coronavirus.
The new normal is built on uncertainty. Even in a COVID-free country like New Zealand, which implemented extremely stringent border control measures, coronavirus remains a threat.
5 Simple Tips for What to Do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19
1. A fast and coordinated effort requires proactive protocols
For example, the California Guidelines for an Outbreak Response specify businesses must:
- Send employees home if they have symptoms of COVID-19, were diagnosed with it, or are awaiting test results
- Designate a COVID-19 workplace infection prevention coordinator to implement COVID-19 infection prevention procedures and manage COVID-related issues among employees
- Contact your local health department to coordinate a response and prepare to share information with them and stakeholders. Click here for a list of localities in California.
2. Record the case, if you are legally required to do so
Reacting promptly and responsibly to a single case may be your company’s first and perhaps only chance to avoid becoming a lesson in what not to do. Recent reports make clear that the best outcomes depend on a prompt and focused response.
Not sure what you need to record? Discover guidance for recording cases of COVID-19.
3. Identify additional cases to control further spread
Once you have recorded the initial case, take time to identify whether the illness spread throughout the workplace. Offering testing services to other employees can expedite and streamline the post-outbreak finding of additional cases.
If this is not available, you must provide employees with the contact information of your local health department so they can initiate testing. Learn more about on-site COVID-19 workplace testing and how employers can test their employees for free.
4. Stay engaged to prevent further infections
Once the initial recording is accomplished, evaluate if you are meeting basic legal requirements to prevent and contain COVID-19 workplace exposures and outbreaks?
Additionally, take a look at the gaps opened up by less-than-ideal workplace practices. For instance, sometimes customers try to use their relationship with the company to avoid being required to mask up. Perhaps there’s a daily gathering of employees in the break room, masks off while eating as they sit in close proximity to each other.
Without social distancing and good air circulation, dozens can be affected. The more you pay attention and communicate the seriousness of the company’s commitment to take care, the more likely you’ll get compliance.
5. When can the employee return to work?
As per the CDC, the employee can return to work:
- 24 hours after the employee is fever-free (without the use of fever-reducing medicine), AND symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) have improved, AND at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared
- OR after the employee has tested negative for COVID-19 two consecutive times, at least 24 hours apart, and employee is fever-free (without use of fever reducing medicine) and any symptoms have improved. (CDC, 2020)