Thursday, Jun 25, 2020

Employers Can Lead For a Safe Reopening

Dr. Rajaie BatnijiCo-Founder, Chief Health Officer, Collective Health


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team will be interviewing experts from across the ecosystem to bring the HLTH community timely facts and updates.

Over the last few weeks, countries including Japan, New Zealand and some in the EU have begun to reopen after months-long battles with COVID-19. Guided by data, bars, restaurants, and even sports stadiums are refilling with patrons. The United States too, is beginning to reopen, but unfortunately, the approach here in America is being largely guided by optimism more than evidence. 

Far from a successful elimination of the virus, like New Zealand, more than 20 states have seen increases in their average daily new coronavirus cases compared to previous weeks. Some states, including Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas and Utah, continue to reopen despite seeing record numbers of hospitalizations

Private organizations cannot wait or rely on a coordinated, national response to COVID-19. More than 120,000 Americans have lost their lives, yet there is still no coordinated national testing program. Regardless, cities and states across the country are feeling the pressure to reopen, despite health risks, as double-digit unemployment rates continue to threaten a new recession. Economic concerns have taken priority over health concerns, but it’s not a tradeoff we need to make. To start, we need widespread testing, and that’s a huge opportunity for employers. 

In carefully balancing the needs and appropriate level of risk for their business and their people, employers can help facilitate widespread testing in order to move America closer to where we need to be. Testing is a critical piece that can’t be overlooked. Our own data and protocols for testing, created in collaboration with researchers from major universities, shows that the chances of missing a COVID+ employee with basic measures such as temperature checking is greater than 86%. With PCR testing, that number drops to as low as 2%. By confirming that workers are not infected with COVID-19, employers can effectively reduce health risks in their workplace and communities. 

When workers are healthy, they are more productive. It’s an obvious, but crucial link as employers have a direct economic incentive to ensure the health of their employees even in the best of times. During a global pandemic, in which a coordinated government response has fallen flat, employers can take a leading role in testing their workforce. The impact of workplace illness is amplified since it may prompt an employer to shut down their workplace to curb spread. Along with the economic benefits, companies also have moral and social obligations to the communities in which they serve. 

Fortunately, employers have led throughout this crisis. In the crucial days before state governments issued stay-at-home orders, countless businesses across the country began implementing their own responses; adopting remote work policies and deploying safety and sanitation processes for essential workers who couldn’t work remotely. This leadership likely saved countless lives by helping slow the transmission of COVID-19.

Companies can continue to lead by adopting proper methods. With broad testing for COVID-19 among workforces, businesses can make it clear who is safe to return to work, especially when 40 percent or more of transmissions are spread asymptomatically

Of course, employer-led testing programs are not one-size-fits-all. A tech company with the infrastructure to support remote work will have different needs than a manufacturing plant or a university. Hesitation to implement testing and compliance programs is understandable, but the sooner employers begin preparing for, and implementing, appropriate return-to-work testing plans, the faster they can safely get people back to work and help slow the nationwide economic skid. 

At Collective Health, we’re building on seven years of experience administering health plans and population health programs to help support this effort with Collective Go: a comprehensive and adaptive solution to help reduce risk and facilitate safer workplace reentry. Collective Go uses a dynamic protocol to provide organizations with a product and a series of measures supporting testing, workplace safety guidance, screening, and risk assessment.

We’ve been encouraged by the initiative we’ve seen employers take across the country to do their part in helping combat COVID-19. However, it’s imperative that employers continue to follow the latest epidemiological data in crafting their plans. Absent a widely distributed vaccine, employees will need ongoing testing as they are continuously exposed to new potential carriers. Evidence-based approaches, like the one we’ve created with Collective Go, are key to meaningfully reducing the risk of COVID-19 in workplaces and in our communities.

While we’ve seen progress in our collective fight against COVID-19, the virus remains active and in some areas of the country, more so than ever. Until we’ve truly eradicated the virus, the country and its businesses will need to adapt to this new reality. Employer-led testing programs will be key to doing so in a safe, responsible, and productive manner. 

About Dr. Rajaie Batniji:

Dr. Batniji uses his background as both a physician and political economist to create a better, data-driven, and more efficient health insurance experience. He provides direction on Collective Health’s partnerships with healthcare providers and networks and oversees Collective Health’s analytics teams, and employee health management programs.He received his doctorate in International Relations (Political Economy) from Oxford University, an MD from UCSF, and BA and MA degrees from Stanford University.

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