COVID-19 Tests for Return to Work May Delay Health Workers

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30, 2020 — Health care workers (HCWs) diagnosed with COVID-19 can have a prolonged recovery of viral RNA, which can delay return to work (RTW), according to research published online Aug. 26 in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Erica S. Shenoy, M.D., Ph.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues evaluated average intervals until test-based clearance and the number of excess lost work days using test-based clearance as guidance for RTW for HCWs with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection.

The researchers found that between March 7 and April 22, 2020, 8,930 employees were tested and 11.7 percent were positive for SARS-CoV-2. Of those testing positive, 3.5 percent were hospitalized through the health care system within seven days of their positive test. A total of 590 HCWs had subsequent testing, with 72 percent having at least one negative nasopharyngeal (NP) swab. From first positive to first negative test, the mean and median number of days were 17.1 and 17 days, respectively (range, two days to 38 days). Six in 10 HCWs (61.9 percent) had a sequential second negative NP, with a mean and median number of days from first positive to second negative of 19.5 and 19 days, respectively (range, six days to 37 days). The estimated median time to clearance was 29 days. Using test-based clearance for RTW accounted for an additional 4,097 days of cumulative lost work time (mean 7.2 additional days of work lost per employee) versus using the time- plus symptom-based clearance method.

“Switching to time plus symptom-based clearance criteria will allow an earlier RTW for most workers and can aid in workforce preservation,” the authors write.

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