DealBook: The Illusion of Safety

Good morning. (Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.)

If Trump’s testing bubble can be pierced — can it work elsewhere?

President Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis and admission to the hospital with reportedly alarming symptoms put a spotlight on the White House’s testing practices and other precautionary measures. As we learn how far the infections have spread among the president’s inner circle, there are lessons for any business or organization bringing people back into the workplace.

Rapid testing can give a false sense of security. Antigen tests that provide results within minutes are important for detecting and tracing the virus, but they alone won’t stop its spread. Tests like the one from Abbott Labs used by the White House to routinely screen for infections are not foolproof and best suited for people already showing symptoms. It can take days for the viral load of an infected, contagious person to register on these tests. Molecular PCR tests are more accurate, but take longer to give results, which is why Mr. Trump’s diagnosis was not announced publicly until his first positive result with a rapid test was confirmed with a more reliable method.

• In short, a negative test by an employee before they go into the office doesn’t mean that person is in the clear. In fact, it could create an illusion of safety that leads people to ignore other precautions, like wearing masks and social distancing, that have been shown to slow the spread of the virus. This, it seems, was at least partly in play at the White House.

Nothing is perfect — and that’s OK. If constant testing at the White House was unable to protect the president from contracting the coronavirus, that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Even employing an array of imperfect measures can be effective at limiting potential outbreaks, writes Joshua Schiffer, an infectious diseases specialist, for Times Opinion: “The new coronavirus travels through populations too quickly and unpredictably for us to wait to tackle it until we have devised nearly flawless solutions.” That means testing plus masks, distancing, cleaning, symptom tracking, education and other measures.

More planning and preparation mean that positive tests don’t have to shut everything down, Caesar Djavaherian of Carbon Health explains to Reset Work. After all, few companies are able to impose an N.B.A.-style “bubble” that severely limits all outside contact; the real world is more like the N.F.L., which is currently dealing with clusters of infections — including as recently as this weekend — and adjusting its rules and schedules accordingly.

Transparency is also crucial. The White House’s shifting explanations of the timeline of Mr. Trump’s infection and lack of information for staff members in his orbit raise another issue of importance to any employer: Who needs to know about positive tests and when should they be notified? Information about the virus, and what an organization is doing about it, gives confidence and bolsters all the other measures taken. You may recall that we asked legal experts about this in a recent newsletter, and they suggested as much transparency as possible, while keeping privacy in mind.

We asked readers what you thought about disclosure of positive tests at the office, and your responses have been flooding in. A selection:

“Everyone has the right to know if they may have been exposed at work, no matter how remote a possible contact could be.” — Stella in Whidbey Island, Wash.

“I think the danger of contagion must override any concern about privacy. If that’s not legal, the law should be changed.” — Bill in Durham, N.C.

“If elevators are in use, the entire building should be informed. If shared eating places are used, the same goes. Those who do not want to reveal information should not be in a position of authority.” — Lynne in Honolulu

“American sensitivity to privacy is part of what is allowing this virus to be very successful in the U.S. Another option is to obtain the permission of the infected person to identify them. That would allow for a broader dissemination of the information.” — William in Red Bank, N.J.

“I guarantee the grapevine is doing more damage to performance than the virus, as word spreads and mutates regarding who’s infected and how serious it is. Communicate openly and often, even when there is nothing to report.” — Jeff in Calgary, Alberta

Source: Read Full Article