As states and localities enter differing stages of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers have turned to COVID-19 testing as a way to ensure compliance with local public health orders as well as the safety of their workplaces.
HR Dive spoke to a number of experts in recent months about employers' testing-related inquiries. Specifically, sources weighed in on the issue of whether employers should set up on-site testing and whether they can require workers to pass a COVID-19 test as a condition of returning to work. Others have addressed important compliance aspects of testing, such as the role that the Americans with Disabilities Act's medical information confidentiality requirements play in reporting testing results.
Yet, while workplace testing may be a key component of reopening strategy, it may not look the same from employer to employer, according to Dr. Sree Chaguturu, senior vice president at CVS Health and chief medical officer at CVS Caremark. In an email Q&A with HR Dive, Chaguturu addressed questions about the state of COVID-19 testing in the U.S., how employers can account for "false positives" and "false negatives," and how CVS is working with employers that may not have adequate space to conduct on-site testing.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HR DIVE: What does the testing landscape look like in the nation's workplaces? Are certain regions further ahead than others?
DR. SREE CHAGUTURU: As the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, employers are looking for ways to help their organizations operate in this new normal. Along with masks and social distancing guidelines, testing plays a critical role in our ability to return employees back to on-site work.
For organizations considering testing, one of the key learnings we've had and the premise that we've built our return-to-work program on is that there isn't a one-size-fits all approach to testing. Each organization needs to adapt clinical protocols and select a testing option that meets their specific population health management needs. We're seeing vast geographic diversity with testing and are working with organizations throughout the country. In fact, more and more organizations are relying on testing to bring employees back responsibly. Employers large and small — and in industries ranging from universities and food suppliers, to consulting agencies and finance, to entertainment and manufacturing companies — are turning to configurable testing solutions to fit their complex needs.
What is the state of the COVID-19 testing supply chain, and are tests readily accessible to employers?
At CVS Health, we are working closely with testing suppliers to protect the stability of our supply chain and continue to work alongside them as we continue to provide testing for employers. In addition, while turnaround time for some labs lagged over the summer, we've seen vast improvements recently.
Observers have discussed in recent months the limits to testing, including the possibility that workers may have "false positives" and "false negatives." How should employers account for such results when forming a testing plan?
There is a risk of false negatives with all diagnostic testing, so testing should be only one tool in a return to workplace strategy and used in tandem with other safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing masks.
We continue to adjust testing protocols to align to current and future guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and manufacturers, and we are assessing testing options in development.
We've heard from legal sources that it's best to utilize parking lots and lower traffic areas on the worksite to conduct testing. But what advice might you give to employers who are having trouble finding space for on-site testing?
We can work with each employer to set up a safe testing environment on-site, and staffed by CVS Health clinicians, and are closely following CDC guidance. For employers where on-site workplace testing may not be an option due to space concerns, our testing solution, Return Ready, offers the flexibility of retail testing options at CVS Pharmacy locations.