What is the Role for Employers in Contact Tracing?
It is certainly not a new term, nor is it slang; but, come December when lists of the most popular slang terms of 2020 come out, expect to see at the top of the list…“Contact Tracing.”
Contact tracing is defined by the CDC as “identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and their contacts (people who may have been exposed) and working with them to interrupt disease transmission.” In 2020 realities, this means, for COVID-19, asking “cases” to isolate and contacts to quarantine at home voluntarily.
Is this a role for employers?
Traditionally, not so much. It is a precise, sensitive and labor-intensive undertaking that is primarily the responsibility of public health agencies, and they are responsible for contacting anyone identified as potentially being exposed to the virus. In the current environment, however, tradition is pretty much out the window so employers can expect to play a valuable, expanded role in the contact tracing process.
Much of this will come down to some basic HR capabilities:
- Maintain complete, detailed and accurate attendance records, including employees’ scheduled shifts.
- If possible, try to keep track of workers within specific areas, groups of workers who work together, have meal and break periods scheduled together or who are generally in close contact (within six feet) for any other extended period of time.
- Keep track of all workers, vendors, sub-contractors and visitors.
- Maintain records of a floor plan or seating chart.
Additionally, as a component of the contact tracing process and in line with CDC Guidelines, employers should (with respect to privacy requirements) be prepared to:
- Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone with whom they had close contact during the time they may have been infectious,
- Notifying contacts of their potential exposure,
- Referring contacts for testing,
- Monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and
- Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period.
Employers are advised to become very familiar with the extensive and often-updated CDC Guidance for contact tracing, which contains numerous valuable sections, including Training Content, FAQs, a Summary of COVID-19 Specific Practices and detailed information on a very hot topic – Digital Contact Tracing Tools.
The full guidance can be found here:
One other, unfortunate, consideration to keep in mind is that scammers have begun to aggressively infiltrate the contact tracing process, soliciting personal information and even payments. Because of the relative lack of experience most of us have with this, as well as sensitive nature of these situations and the need for expedited responses, the scammers have been quite successful. Be on the lookout for this and familiarize yourself with the cautions provided in this article from the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/06/help-covid-19-contact-tracers-not-scammers. It would be a good idea to share this article with your entire workforce. After all, in mid-2020, it is all about prevention!