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What companies need to know about stocking up on coronavirus tests for employees before reopening offices

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  • There are many moving parts to getting coronavirus tests for your employees.
  • Major corporations like Amazon and General Motors already started building labs and testing options for their workers.
  • Business Insider spoke with two experts — Dr. David Zieg, clinical services leader and leading consultant at Mercer, and Becky Frankiewicz, president at ManpowerGroup — on how you can set up coronavirus testing for when people return to the office.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories. 
As business leaders prepare for the new normal amid the pandemic, many argue that doling out face masks isn't enough to assure workers that they can return safely to the office. In order to reopen the economy, the availability of testing needs to dramatically increase, banking and financial services execs told President Trump when talking about reopening the US economy on April 15.
Though the US is struggling to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus, some corporate giants have taken matters into their own hands.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in March that all of his efforts are focused on addressing the pandemic, and the company is now assembling equipment and building its first test lab, Business Insider previously reported. General Motors is currently working to have available COVID-19 test kits for all its factories once it restarts operations. Gerald Johnson, executive vice president of global manufacturing at General Motors, told CNBC that the company will only test employees with symptoms or who have valid concerns that they have it.
Business Insider recently spoke with two experts — Dr. David Zieg, clinical services leader and leading consultant at Mercer, and Becky Frankiewicz, president at Fortune 500 staffing firm ManpowerGroup — on how companies can get coronavirus test kits and what safety precautions they should take when bringing their employees back to the office.
"Coronavirus testing at work is absolutely possible," Zieg said. "But there are also other things to consider. You need to take a multifaceted approach in keeping people healthy and safe in the workplace, and you need to start planning now."

How testing works – and why it's important

Coronavirus tests take several different forms, but can be broken up roughly into two categories: "direct" and "indirect" tests.
"Direct" tests look for the presence of the virus, said Rick Pescatore, an emergency physician and public health official, in a statement to Business Insider. They often work by finding the virus' genetic material, called RNA, on nasal swabs.
"Indirect" tests look for markers of past or current infection, according to Pescatore. Antibody kits, for example, work by finding virus-fighting antibodies in blood samples, which can indicate immunity.
However, antibody kits have been recently called into question by experts and industry leaders who say they're not accurate enough. More than 100 companies are selling them to US healthcare systems, but only eight companies have official approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Most companies do not have ambitions to ship coronavirus kits directly to consumers due to stricter approval requirements, though some are trying. That means that the vast majority of testing has to be ordered by a physician and performed in a medical or laboratory setting, but the CDC and various state departments are working on regional rollouts of antibody and diagnostic surveys.
There's a consensus among the medical community that widespread testing is crucial before folks can return to work. It gives regulators and employers better data on the spread of the virus and the population's exposure to it. That insight allows for less stay-at-home orders for huge regions and more discretion as to which businesses can be reopened.

How you can acquire coronavirus test kits 

Dr. Neal Mills, chief medical officer at Aon PLC, previously told The Wall Street Journal that he expects corporate testing sites to pop up in office buildings or health facilities nearby, where workers can get tested before clocking in.
Zieg told Business Insider that employers can get CLIA-waived test kits, or low-risk testing with simple methods that can be used at home. These kits can get you a result within an hour, giving managers time to quickly identify the virus, track those who have been exposed, and contain it right away.
But in order to set up a coronavirus testing site in your office, you need a doctor, a medical staff, and personal protective equipment for people who are implementing the lab tests.
"It's not a safe procedure to do," Zieg said. "The virus is so contagious that you really need full gowns, face masks, and all that, even if it's just a swab. Not to mention the kits are expensive too, so you just need to plan diligently."
Testing costs range between $50 to $150 per kit, Zieg said. The FDA also authorized the first at-home coronavirus test on April 21. The nasal swab kit called Pixel costs $119, and potential customers must complete a survey about their eligibility before receiving one. How frequently you administer the tests should depend on workers' possible exposure to the virus, according to the Wall Street Journal. And even though it's just a swab in the nose, Zieg stressed that medical personnel are essential because having an expert do it increases accuracy for the test results.
On top of that, coronavirus testing has a high false negative rate, he said. This means that there are many people who have the virus but tested negative for COVID-19 due to testing slip-ups.
"You have to really get a good swab because the false negative rate for the current testing is actually pretty high," Zieg told Business Insider. "And that's likely because of sample collection — and that's nurses doing this. So if you put it in the hands of people, I have concerns that the false negative rate sent from home kits will be a challenge."

Testing isn't enough to keep your workforce safe

Even with a testing site, you still need people to maintain distance.
"The only thing we know that works to limit spread of this virus is keeping our distance from each other," Zieg said. "Employers will need to rethink and reinvent what work will look like in the long-term."
According to a Mercer survey shared exclusively with Business Insider, the HR consulting firm found that 54% of employers are planning to split up employees into shifts, so that there'd be a limited amount of people in the office at any given day. For example, you can go to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and stay at home the rest of the week.
Zieg also recommended that managers can redesign office layouts, separate cubicles, and put up office desk barriers to limit virus exposure.
In an interview with Business Insider, Frankiewicz explained that conversations around the availability of testing is still fairly new, but many companies have talked about conducting temperature checks when people come to work.
"We're seeing that employers are actually taking what they can do on their own without being dependent on availability of tests," she said. "They're focused on what they can control."
Tyson Food recently deployed walk-through temperature scanners at three US sites, and airline companies are also mandating them at work and in the airport, the exec added.
"Ultimately, there's no magic bullet to fighting the spread of the virus," Zieg said. "You need a strategy, and not just for testing and social-distancing measures. Leaders also have to foster behaviors that are around the greater good. Encourage people to stay home if they're sick, and understand that individual effort is really important during this time."
This story is written with assistance from Blake Dodge, a healthcare reporter at Business Insider. 
SEE ALSO: McKinsey is drafting Gov. Cuomo's plan for reopening New York. Read the 11 most important slides from a 92-page briefing for executives with tips on responding to coronavirus.
SEE ALSO: 'It's a disaster': More than 100 companies are pumping unapproved coronavirus tests into the US healthcare system
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