Enacting Contact Tracing in the Workplace
By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
Companies are scrambling to keep up with the rapidly changing guidelines surrounding COVID-19. Be it remote work or workplace distancing, change has been swift. Now, as employees phase back into work and companies try to safely resume regular operations, we’ve moved from reactive to proactive. Today, there’s a growing focus on contact tracing in the workplace to establish proper procedures in the event of an employee testing positive for coronavirus.
Even the best measures can’t guarantee a 100% virus prevention rate. The next best thing is a system designed to quickly identify exposure and prevent the virus from infecting large numbers of employees. Contact tracing is a process every physical workplace needs. Thankfully, there’s plenty of guidance on how to establish a contact tracing program.
What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is the ability to map the spread of illness across employees via their interactions with others and the workplace itself. It’s an essential process that’s meant to alert employees to potential exposure so they can get tested before unknowingly passing COVID-19 on. The faster they’re informed, the quicker they can isolate and dampen the rate at which the virus spreads. Here’s a basic example:
Keith tests positive for COVID-19 and informs his employer. Through contact tracing, his employer can see that Keith has interacted with Marsha, Latif, Judy, and Shane over the past week. HR alerts each of these people about a possible exposure and urges them to get tested.
Contact tracing has layers. In the above example, the goal is for all four people testing negative. However, if Judy tests positive, the contact tracing approach starts over with a new group of individuals—each alerted and urged to get tested. The process continues until there are no more positive tests.
Why is contact tracing important?
There are benefits to contact tracing for both employers and employees. For employers, the primary concerns are liability and workplace safety. Companies don’t want to shut their doors (possibly again) and risk crippling operations. Contact tracing gives them the means to stifle a COVID-19 outbreak before it rips through the workforce.
On the employee side, contact tracing provides peace of mind for health and safety. They don’t need to constantly fear exposure—if anyone tests positive and they’re at risk, they’ll know. Contact tracing helps them feel less at the mercy of COVID-19—instead, it gives them the means to test responsibly and act accordingly if their test is positive.
How to do contact tracing in the workplace
For small companies, contact tracing may be as simple as “Who have you interacted with in the last 10-14 days?” If a company only has a dozen employees, spread is easier to control. Businesses with hundreds of employees or multiple locations need more robust solutions like workplace contact tracing software.
Regardless of execution, the method of contact tracing is the same. Companies need a system of record to reflect on that shows interactions and possible transmission points. Here are a few examples of ‘touchpoints’ for contact tracing:
- Workspace sign-in sheets that show who used a workspace, when, and with whom
- Social distancing apps that record proximity interactions with other employees
- Calendaring software that records which employees meet physically and where
- Workplace badging systems that show access information for spaces by employees
- Scheduling software that reveals shift overlap between employees
The key to effective contact tracing is to establish a clear picture of where an employee goes each day, what they do, and, most importantly, who they interact with. And while it’s easy to ask someone these questions, remember the incubation period for COVID-19 ranges from 2-14 days. Most people can’t remember their specific routine back more than a day or two.
Contact tracing software is a valuable tool because it aggregates all the digital touchpoints a person has and compares them against others. It can reveal not only the scope of exposure, but also people who’ve had multiple interactions and exposures. If Chelsea met Randy in a conference room and was also in the break room at the same time three times last week, she may be more at risk than Liam, who happened to use a desk after Randy one day.
Gather touchpoints and map out a person’s interactions to develop a contact tracing strategy. Qualify interactions and identify at-risk employees so they can get tested as soon as possible.
Contact tracing could prevent bigger problems
The benefits of contact tracing aren’t difficult to see. If you can catch a possible transmission and trace it to secondary or tertiary exposure before each of those people passes it on, you’ll prevent substantial problems thereafter. For some companies, that may mean a dozen cases of COVID-19, as opposed to hundreds.
More importantly, contact tracing is the responsible approach to employee wellbeing. Your people want to know if they’re exposed so they can get tested. They have their own health and the health of their families to consider, and the sooner they know of a possible exposure, the sooner they can act in a responsible way. Traceability is more than important—it’s essential.
Keep reading: Workplace Social Distancing Software Guide