What must businesses do when an employee tests positive?

COVID-19 Test Devices.jpg
Posted at 5:11 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 18:21:47-04

Every day, we receive calls from viewers concerned about rumors of employees at local businesses testing positive for COVID-19.

Because some local businesses have announced that an employee tested positive, and then closed for a period of time, there's the belief that this is what all businesses are required to do.

That's not so, says Dr. Frank Welch, medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health Immunization Program.

What a business must do varies, and it's determined by what the circumstances are, he said.

"With coronavirus, it’s not the building or a room or an establishment, it’s the people who are positive," Welch explains. "The employees aren't staying there 24 hours a day."

The good news is, businesses aren't required to close down for deep cleaning. Although deep cleaning was recommended early on, we've since learned it's not necessary, Welch explains.

"The guidance is changing because we’re learning more. We're going to adjust our guidance based on what we learn," he said. "And one of those things we have learned is that deep cleaning is not required. All you have to do is clean frequently-touched surfaces a couple times a day. All you really need to do is focus on frequently touched surfaces, and keep up the routine cleaning. You don’t need to close a restaurant down; you need to perform routine cleaning."

That's true for people at home as well; there's no need to spray the house down with Clorox, he said.

"One silver lining to this, if there is a silver lining, is that ordinary cleaners multiple times daily will kill this one," he says.

As far as personnel goes, if an employee gets sick, they should stay home and get tested, Welch says, and they shouldn't come back to work until they get a result from that test.

Generally, people are most contagious during the 42 hours before they start to show symptoms. But some people never show symptoms, and then it is hard to know when they were most contagious, Welch explains.

What the experts look at is when the employee got symptoms or a positive test, when they last worked, if they were wearing a mask at work, and if they were within six feet of another person for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

So, if an employee last worked masked at a restaurant on Wednesday, got sick on Sunday, and got a positive test result on Tuesday, there probably is minimal risk that person infected anyone. But if a salon employee worked sick, didn't wear a mask and kept working even after a positive result, "we would want her client list," he said.

And that's a critical point, as well: it's not the business that is required to notify people who may have been exposed, he said. The medical provider that conducts the test will report the positive, and state officials, especially contact tracers, will then contact the business to determine what the circumstances are.

"There is a role for the business, and the business will be contacted," he said.

But the recommendations are pretty standard.

"First thing: If an employee suspects they have COVID-19 and is being tested, they should not return to work until they get the test result," Welch says. "If someone tests positive or becomes ill, follow those strict guidelines and stay home."

You're cleared to come back to work after 10 days, or when your symptoms have improved, and you haven't had a fever for more than 72 hours - without taking any fever-reducing medicines like Tylenol or Motrin.

If you didn't have symptoms, but you still got a positive test, you must wait 10 days before you can go back to work.

"If anyone had prolonged, close contact with the sick person within the 42 hours prior to getting sick, they should self-quarantine for 14 days," Welch says.

This is the circumstance that might make it necessary for a business to close for a period of time, Welch adds: if a small firm with only a few employees had close, prolonged contact with someone who was positive, the business might have to close because everybody has to be in quarantine.

It really is critical that everyone wear a mask around people they don't live with, Welch said, adding that "upwards of 50 percent of people have very mild symptoms or none at all. Wearing a mask can prevent transmission upwards of 75 to 80 percent. When you wear a mask, you're protecting the whole room."

Everyone who comes in contact with someone who tests positive is not at risk, he explains.

"If an employee did test positive, and not just positive but they were working sick or close to their testing date, if there were people working with them within six feet for more than 10-15 minutes at a time - that’s who we worry about," he says. "So not the waiter who was wearing a mask and stopped by your table to ask what you want for dinner. But the people who took a break with that employee and shared a cigarette."

And what should those people do?

"We would ask those people to stay home for 14 days and monitor for symptoms," he said.

But Welch cautions that attempting to identify people who have tested positive is "too narrow" a way to calculate your risk.

You're better off assuming you have the virus, and that everyone else has it too, he said. And that means doing what health officials continue to recommend: Wear a mask when you're outside your home. Wash your hands frequently. Maintain a social distance of at least six feet from people you don't live with. Avoid large crowds, crowded locations and any business that does not comply with occupancy and mask requirements.