As COVID-19 makes its way through the Baton Rouge Area, individuals in essential industries who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19 are hoping to return to work. Employers in these industries are looking to protect employees who have not contracted the virus from increased risk. While requiring negative tests for COVID-19 may seem to be the most effective way to mitigate this risk, it may be an unnecessarily expansive requirement, one that takes not only excess time, but also relies on laboratory tests that are not yet widely available.
To provide some guidance to the business community on how to safely return these employees to work, BRAC spent time with Dr. Louis R. Minsky, chief of staff for Baton Rouge General, who noted off the bat that healthcare practitioners want fewer cases of COVID-19 and are invested in preventing the spread as much as possible.
What does the Center for Disease Control recommend for clinical clearance to Return to Work?
Dr. Minsky: The actual CDC recommendations for clinical clearance are different based on whether someone had symptoms or not, but they don’t require negative clinical tests.
For those who had symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home, the CDC recommends they can return to work when:
- at least 72 hours have passed with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicine);
- respiratory symptoms have improved; and,
- at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
For those who have not had any symptoms but who have had a positive, laboratory-confirmed, COVID-19 test, there are different steps to take. For these individuals, the CDC recommends returning to work when:
- at least 7 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test, and
- they have had no subsequent symptoms.
The CDC further recommends that for three days after this point these individuals should maintain a 6-foot distance from others and wear a barrier mask (a bandana, scarf, or cloth mask) when around other people to limit the spread of respiratory secretions.
What kind of testing requirements or precautions are healthcare organizations using to ensure workers can return to work?
Dr. Minsky: Most of us in the healthcare industry are not mandating that our health care providers test negative in order to return to work. There are simply not enough testing kits available at this juncture and often the turn-around time is too long. We need our healthcare providers back at work ASAP.
Aren’t there some quicker COVID-19 tests becoming available?
Dr. Minsky: There are some tests becoming more available and several have very rapid turnaround times, but they may not be very sensitive. We use these primarily to detect a positive case with symptoms presenting at the clinicians’ offices or point of entry into the healthcare setting.Without a negative test, how can employers ensure that employees recovering from COVID-19 aren’t posing a risk to others in the workplace?
Dr. Minsky: While it is comforting to know a test is negative, we also believe it is just as comforting to have a patient 3 days without fever and with improvement of symptoms to allow that patient back into the public. Either way, the individual should be instructed to call his or her doctor to discuss his or her clinical course and be certain that proper criteria have been met in order to receive a “Back to Work” approval.
Dr. Louis R. Minsky, ABFP, attended LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans and completed his residency at Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital in Baton Rouge in 1988. He was honored as Chief Resident in the fall of 1987. Dr. Minsky is Board Certified in Family Practice and is the Chief of Staff of Baton Rouge General Medical Center. In addition, he is the Medical Director for Clinical Informatics of General Health System. He also served as the East Baton Rouge Medical Officer for the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. He is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association and the Louisiana State Medical Society.
As BRAC’s senior vice president of economic competitiveness, Liz leads the organization’s public policy advocacy, strategy, research, and reform activities aimed at advancing the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the Baton Rouge Region.