How Does Frequent COVID Testing Keep Populations Safe?
December 1, 2020
Over 265,000 people have died from COVID-19 (COVID) in the United States since the start of the pandemic.1 The more we’ve learned about COVID over time, the more researchers and health experts emphasize how dramatically the disease can differ between infected individuals in terms of both symptoms and severity.
Asymptomatic and presymptomatic COVID cases, in particular, have hindered our ability to effectively contain SARS-CoV-2 (CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID), as these individuals have no idea they are infected and may be infectious, or capable of spreading the virus to others. One of the significant challenges organizations face during the pandemic is how to safely maintain operations in the wake of the tremendous surge of COVID cases occurring now throughout the country. As we explain here, COVID testing and basic virus mitigation measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, are key to maintaining workplace safety and business, government and educational operations.
COVID-19 testing is a critical component of workplace safety because, as stated before, it is possible for individuals infected with CoV-2 to infect others before showing any symptoms. At some point during the incubation period of the virus, or the time between when a person is infected with CoV-2 and the time they become symptomatic, or show symptoms, an infected person will become infectious. Importantly, some infected individuals will remain asymptomatic, or never develop symptoms, despite being infectious. In workplaces without COVID testing, it is easy to imagine how outbreaks can occur when infected, pre- or asymptomatic employees go about a normal workday. By the time an infected employee develops symptoms (if they ever do) and gets tested, the virus may have been spread throughout the worksite, seriously threatening operations and the health and safety of other employees.
COVID testing can detect pre- and asymptomatic COVID cases by using highly sensitive, molecular-based (DNA/RNA) testing methods. Once an individual is infected with CoV-2, the amount of virus present in the body (viral load) increases steadily during the incubation period. Because molecular-based testing strategies are so sensitive at detecting CoV-2, proactive COVID testing enables the identification and isolation of CoV-2-infected employees as early as possible during their infection, regardless of symptoms, with the goal of isolating infected individuals before they become infectious. The inherent challenge with workplace testing is developing an economical and effective testing program capable of achieving an organization’s specific screening goals.
On average, the incubation period for CoV-2 is five days. Testing every employee every day may be an option for smaller operations but may not be feasible for organizational testing on a large scale. One testing strategy, sentinel testing, provides an excellent and cost-effective alternative. Sentinel testing regularly screens a different random sample of a population to detect and isolate infected individuals. This strategy provides organizational leaders an estimate of the infection rate in the entire population and reduces the number of CoV-2-infected individuals without testing every person in the population every day. Depending on the size of the samples and the frequency of screenings, infection rates within the workplace can be significantly reduced over time. For example, testing every person in a small business of 50 people every five days over the course of 90 days can reduce the infection rate at a workplace by up to 86%.2 Testing every person in the same small business more frequently, such as every three days, over the same time period can reduce the infection rate up to 95%.2 In a larger organization of 1,500 employees, testing only 17% of the workforce every five days over the course of 90 days can reduce the infection rate up to 25%.2
Frequent, accurate COVID testing is a key component of workplace safety during the pandemic until effective vaccines and therapeutics are available. The optimal testing strategy for each organization differs and depends on a number of factors, including workforce size, community infection rate and exposure to the public. And regardless of sentinel testing frequency and sample sizes, basic virus mitigation practices such as mask wearing and social distancing are integral to workplace safety and are vital to infection rate reduction. Kailos Genetics has developed an economical, accurate and fully customizable COVID sentinel testing program, Assure SentinelTM, designed to create and maintain safe working environments for organizations of any size during the pandemic. Click here to learn more about Assure SentinelTM or contact us with any questions you may have about the program.