While there’s much that we’ve learned about the coronavirus over the past few months, it’s clear that there’s still a great deal that we don’t know. As the situation rapidly progresses, there often seems to be more questions about the virus than there are answers. To help us make sense of the latest developments, particularly as companies think about returning to work, we spoke with Dr. Ari Levy, MD, MBA, the Founder and CEO of SHIFT – a place for people looking for a transformative approach to healthcare delivery. Dr. Levy joined us on the Flexible Advisor podcast to discuss the current landscape for coronavirus testing, what creating a safe workspace could look like and how to maintain good overall personal health.
Coronavirus Testing Landscape
As it stands today, there are several different tests related to the coronavirus, but the most important one to think about is the PCR or “polymerase chain reaction” test, says Levy. This is the test that can detect an active viral infection with a high degree of accuracy and precision. Essentially, this is what hospitals and institutions are using to determine whether an individual currently has the disease.
This is not to be confused with the antibody test, which has been the subject of much recent clamor. As the name suggests, the test looks for the presence of antibodies, which could indicate whether an individual has been previously infected and built up an immune response to the disease. While the antibody test may be helpful from a public health perspective to understand how prevalent the disease is in our society, Levy stresses that there are still many limitations. These tests aren’t perfect and there may be other viruses in one’s system that could cause a false positive result. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether coronavirus antibodies provide protection from re-infection, and if so, for how long. As such, the priority for individuals should be testing for acute disease and taking the proper steps to limit the spread of an active infection, according to Levy.
Medical Considerations at Work
As states begin measures to reopen their economies, how can employers ensure proper medical safety? Dr. Levy explains a few potential options for employers to consider, though each office will be different and have their own unique needs.
Perhaps in an ideal world, companies could put guidelines in place to monitor who’s coming into the office and regularly test them to ensure everyone in the workplace is healthy. However, the practical application and cost of this could be quite prohibitive due to the limited availability of testing, as well as the need for tests to be interpreted by medical professionals.
Another measure that’s been widely discussed is conducting temperature checks. While a good screening tool, it has several risks from a medical standpoint. Imagine you ran to catch the bus or had to run into work and then you walk through the temperature gate and your temperature was elevated. Or, imagine you're feeling symptoms and you don't have a temperature. While it’s a starting point, temperatures don’t always show the full picture.
What we’re likely to see is the adoption of ‘certificates,’ where employees can get a green light to go into work based on clearing a combination of hurdles such as testing, temperature checks and surveillance of symptoms/exposure risks.
As a critical supplement to that, it’s important for employers to implement further guidelines such as increasing cleaning processes, setting up best practices around hand washing and pre-screening any individual before they come into the office. Pre-screening can be done by asking people where they’ve been and who they’ve been around, to get an authentic understanding of their risk.
It takes a lot of work and it's an imperfect system, Levy says. He believes what's important is to start somewhere, begin to have a plan, ask for help and bring in other experts who have some domain expertise. Just as individuals lean on their financial advisors, tap third-party experts who can help and make the best decisions with available information.
Maintaining Personal Health
Above all, Levy reinforces the need for all of us to be kind to ourselves and to our bodies during this time. Self-compassion, self-love and care are really important here. When it comes to exercise, doing something is better than nothing. At the end of the day, it’s about showing up for yourself. As Dr. Levy stresses to his clients, ask yourself, “if not me, then who?”