How Firms Are Getting Quick Coronavirus Exams for Workers

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How Companies Are Getting Fast Coronavirus Tests for Employees

As companies seek to recover from the economic blow of the pandemic while keeping workers and customers safe, many have complained about two barriers: access to coronavirus testing for their employees and long delays in getting results.

However, some have found a reliable workaround. Through a growing number of intermediaries, they can usually get test results within one to three days, often by bypassing large national residue labs like Quest and LabCorp and instead resorting to unused capacity in smaller labs.

The mediators occupied different corners of the health galaxy prior to the pandemic, e.g. B. the treatment on behalf of insurance companies or the access of employees to personal data. Now they are addressing what Rajaie Batniji, an executive in one of the companies, calls a "failure in optimizing the supply chain".

"The biggest bottleneck is: do you forward tests to processing laboratories that can process them immediately?" said Dr. Batniji, a doctor and co-founder of Collective Health, who manages health plans for employers and developed a separate testing and screening product during the pandemic. "That's what slows us down."

Daniel Castillo, the chief medical officer of Matrix Medical Network, a company that connects businesses with laboratories, said the solution often means reaching out to laboratories where the spread of the virus is relatively limited.

“In some places there are peaks and possibly test problems. There are none in other parts of the country, ”said Dr. Castillo, whose company works with health insurers to treat chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. "We could send a test across the country – fly it from Arizona to Maryland."

While there aren't unlimited ways for employers to test workers, Dr. Batniji, Dr. Castillo and others in the industry believe that significantly more could do this. Even Quest and LabCorp have stated that their average turnaround times have dropped significantly in recent weeks.

A program designed to catch infections before they lead to outbreaks usually requires that a significant proportion of people be tested in a common area to see if they have symptoms or not once a week, if not more often. Mike Boots, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said such tests could be hugely beneficial, but must be combined with other measures such as distancing and contact tracing to be effective.

For PCR tests, which detect the genetic material of the virus and are the gold standard for accuracy, the process typically costs around $ 100 per test, per person. Even less sensitive tests, which experts are increasingly recommending as a screening tool, can add up, and most currently require specialized equipment and a healthcare professional to perform them.

As a result, test decisions often provide less information about availability than they do about a company's economics and the importance it places on reducing transmission in the workplace.

Organizations that are extremely costly to have an employee outbreak – possibly curtailing or ceasing operations – generally look for testing the most often.

"If there's a significant chance of a shutdown, it's a no-brainer – you'll do whatever you can to privately stop it," said Jonathan Kolstad, a Berkeley economist who has written about efficient funds for mass testing and testing at a company founded to promote it. "But in some cases it won't shut down."

In these cases, according to Kolstad and other economists, employers are unlikely to run tests until they are cheaper and faster.

Cameron Manufacturing in New York State places great emphasis on employee testing. The company, which makes conveyor belts and other equipment for food and milk processors, was only temporarily closed because of the pandemic, but many customers delayed sales visits and installation work to keep outsiders out.

"It affects us in terms of sales," said Matthew Sharpe, the company's chief executive officer, in an August interview. "We didn't have any major contracts canceled, but they were postponed until next year."

This month, Mr. Sharpe began regular PCR testing for members of his sales and development teams who typically travel to customers' workplaces. Workers are also tested in a “hot” state before and after work, where they may have to isolate themselves for several days on their return. Sharpe said Cameron employees received test results through a website within 36 hours and could use the information to assess their health with customers.

The company that built the site, Atlas ID, connected Cameron to a laboratory in Washington state that was analyzing its tests. Atlas was founded in 2018 to give workers secure access to employment and income verification data so they can easily share it with lenders and property managers. When the pandemic broke out, it shifted its focus to employers in need of testing, while also building a network of laboratories to service them.

Chip Luman, Atlas ID co-founder and chief operating officer, said these relationships benefited smaller laboratories by providing more steady demand. "If I bring in this partner who guarantees me 100 tests from this employer every Monday, 500 from this one, they can check the capacity and plan the business around it," said Luman.

US BioTek, the Seattle-based lab that runs Cameron's tests, previously focused on allergy testing, among other things, but invested in new testing equipment during the pandemic.

Jack Frausing, CEO of US BioTek, said in an email that he contacted Atlas on LinkedIn after reading about the company in the press. Mr. Frausing said US BioTek was able to provide results for over 95 percent of the samples it received within 24 hours and had the capacity to more than triple its test processing.

Other employers have begun testing asymptomatic workers on a regular basis for similar reasons.

Some, like meat processors Tyson Foods and JBS, did so after outbreaks forced them to temporarily shut down facilities under pressure from the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Representatives from both companies said they had started tests to protect workers.

Kate Maguire, the artistic director and executive director of Berkshire Theater Group, who unveiled a production of "Godspell" this summer after two months of discussions with an actors' union over security protocols, said frequent testing of all actors is imperative.

"Otherwise I didn't know how to feel safe," said Ms. Maguire. "If we had an outbreak, it would have been the end of us for a long time."

However, the downside of this calculation, as some economists have said, is that employers who believe they can keep working even after a number of workers become infected often forego the cost of testing.

Zack Cooper, an economist at the Yale School of Public Health who recently contributed to a Rockefeller Foundation report on a national testing plan, said many companies faced an important consideration: “If an employee gets sick, he can do someone else do their job? "

For example, some automakers have relied on an increase in contract workers to handle Covid-19-related absences, despite claiming the practice is unrelated to their decision to forego full testing.

While the United Automobile Workers union has been demanding such tests for months, several automakers have stated that it is not yet practical.

James R. Cain, a General Motors spokesman, said via email that until there is an accurate test that can produce results very quickly without the need for a laboratory, “mass testing is limited when it comes to GM prevent disease from entering the workplace. “Mr. Cain added that the company continues to research testing strategies, but its safety protocols, which include protective equipment and distancing, have so far been effective.

Berkeley's Mr. Kolstad and other economists say that real uncertainty about the worth of symptom-free test workers – including how often tests must be taken and how quickly results must be obtained to be useful – can lead to employers refrain from testing.

The federal government has largely avoided providing guidelines for asymptomatic testing to employers – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say such testing by workers "can be useful in detecting Covid-19 early and transmitting it quickly." to stop ”- which has led to additional reluctance. The agency recently stopped recommending testing for people without symptoms in its guidelines to the general public and has been criticized by experts.

Some employers may also fear that knowing about infections they discover through testing could expose them to lawsuits from employees or customers if they keep working.

Many experts argue that more extensive testing by employers ultimately depends less on capacity than on cost. They recommend greater use of tests that are less sensitive, but faster and cheaper than PCR tests. However, regulatory hurdles and other bottlenecks have emerged during these tests.

"If it were easy to take a temperature," said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist, "then no doubt every employer and office you went to would test people all the time."

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