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As employers create their Return to Work plans, many are considering at home temperature checks and symptom tracking apps, but what about testing? Should it be offered on-site? Should it be offered at all? As experts explain, there are many things to consider, but first let’s understand the two types of tests available and what they do and don’t confirm.

According to the CDC, two kinds of tests are available for COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests.

  • A viral test tells you if you have a current infection.
  • An antibody test tells you if you had a previous infection.

Viral Test

Using the CDC-developed viral test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages or late stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected. Many physicians agree that there are still giant holes in viral testing that can lead to false results.

Some argue against on-site testing at work, including temperature checks, (via health fairs, etc) since a positive result means you have already exposed the workplace.

Who should be tested? Those at high-risk, essential personnel or only those who exhibit possible symptoms (only 50% of people show symptoms)? It’s tough to say, and that’s if you can get the tests as there are still several supply chain issues on FDA approved tests as those are going to hospitals, nursing homes and other high priority organizations.

Antibody Test

Antibody testing checks a sample of a person’s blood to look for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These antibodies are produced when someone has been infected, so a positive result from this test indicates that person was previously infected with the virus.

Antibody tests may not be able to tell you if you are currently infected because it typically takes 1 to 3 weeks to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. To tell if you are currently infected, you would need a test that identifies the virus in samples from your upper respiratory system, such as a nasopharyngeal swab.

Does a positive result mean you are immune and protected? Scientists do not know yet if the antibodies that result from infection with SARS-CoV-2 can protect someone from reinfection with this virus (immunity) or how long antibodies to the virus will protect someone. They are conducting research to answer those questions.

So, while testing certainly helps in certain situations, it is clear nothing is full-proof and until further testing is completed and more information is available.   Individuals and employers should still be taking the recommended precautions as they consider their return to work plans. Before deciding on temperature checks, symptom checker apps, or tests of any kind, experts recommend that each organization needs to look at their population to stratify their level of risk, as this is certainly not a one size fits all approach.

For more information, visit CDC Frequently Asked Questions: Symptoms and Testing.

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