As COVID-19 cases continue to ebb and flow across the globe, employers play a particularly important role in containing the spread: contact tracing. Once the employer has been notified that one or more employees have tested positive for the virus it is critical to act swiftly to notify all coworkers who might have been exposed during the infectious period. We’ll take a look at what contact tracing is and best practices for implementing a quick and comprehensive action plan.
Contact tracing is a process of identifying, notifying and monitoring individuals who have come in contact with an infected person. This process is often associated with health agencies like the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and local health departments at macro levels. However, given the rapid transmission rate of COVID-19, business leaders play a necessary role in contact tracing at a micro-level.
A key action in implementing contact tracing is maintaining attendance records including employee’s scheduled shifts. This protocol will allow the organization to track what employees were working and when. Additionally, keep track of all workers and visitors that may have come into the office, as well as records of a floor plan or seating chart. By collecting information of who was where and when, employers are able to use this data to determine who must be notified.
Employers should make their contract-tracing policy available to all employees, notifying them that if they contract the coronavirus, they will be asked to provide a list of contacts at work. This allows full transparency in the work place and encourages employee compliance and support of the contract tracing process. Identify a trusted member of management such as a human resources director, safety officer, or GM to work closely with public health agencies, to interview employees and notify the affected contacts. ]
Once a case has been reported, quick action must be enacted in order to minimize further contamination throughout the workforce. Fast contact tracing can save lives. The CDC’s current guidance indicates that COVID-19 exposure risk begins when someone is within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more. Infected people can spread the virus 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. According to the CDC, employers should send home any employees who have had a risk of exposure and advise them to maintain social distancing and self-isolate for 10 days from the exposure.
Contact tracing should be initiated as soon as possible after notification of a confirmed employee positive test result. The contact tracing team should reference the infected employees schedule and work area to help determine who the employee came in contact with.
When speaking with the employee that has a confirmed positive test of COVID-19, the interviews should start with a discussion about confidentiality and the purpose of the interview. Assure the employee their information will be kept confidential. The interviewer should then ask the employee to provide the names of all employees, visitors or vendors they had close contact with starting from 48 hours before the symptoms appeared through the time of interview. For example, if an employee started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on a Wednesday, and they worked on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, they would provide the names of everyone they came in contact with at the workplace starting on Monday. Keep in mind this interview could be difficult, as many have lost loved ones to COVID-19. It is important to conduct this interview with empathy and support. Prioritize confidentiality – you should never divulge the name of an infected employee to others at the workplace beyond those conducting the investigation.
Once contacts from the infected employee have been gathered, immediately inform the impacted individuals. Remember to maintain confidentiality and do not share the name of the infected employee. Depending on their level of exposure, let the contact know that they must self-isolate for 10 days and provide them with guidelines for self-quarantine. Inform the employee to contact their healthcare provider if they experience COVID-19 symptoms such as: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever (temperature of 100.4°F or greater), chills, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of taste or smell. Once you have established this, allow time for the individual to ask questions. Remember this could be a very hard conversation and it is critical that you communicate with empathy.
Follow up with quarantined employees. Stay in touch with employees who’ve been quarantined, and if any of them show symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19, begin another contact-tracing exercise to identify those they might have exposed.
Overall, this is a meticulous yet imperative process. Remember to act swiftly and do so with compassion and professionalism. Employers must do their part to keep their workplaces healthy during this pandemic.