The Morning Call

Lit­tle value seen in screen­ing

Sur­vey: Em­ploy­ers avoid virus test due to cost, com­plex­ity

- By Noam Scheiber Business · Health · Arizona · World Economic Forum · United States of America · Google · Medicare · Arizona State University · Rockefeller Foundation

A surge of COVID-19 cases this fall has brought re­ports of new chal­lenges in get­ting coro­n­avirus tests. But for em­ploy­ers, test­ing avail­abil­ity and turn­around times do not ap­pear to be the main ob­sta­cles.

A sur­vey by Ari­zona State Univer­sity and the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, with fund­ing from the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion, has found that com­pa­nies most fre­quently cited cost and com­plex­ity as the big­gest de­ter­rents to test­ing their work­ers.

The find­ings, based on re­sponses from 1,141 fa­cil­i­ties at over 1,100 com­pa­nies world­wide from September through late October, are con­sis­tent with ear­lier re­ports sug­gest­ing that many em­ploy­ers have been able to ob­tain test­ing rel­a­tively quickly if they ab­sorb the ex­pense. In many cases, how­ever, em­ploy­ers have in­di­cated that they feel the ben­e­fits do not out­weigh the costs.

Over­all, 17% of the fa­cil­i­ties sur­veyed world­wide said they were test­ing work­ers. At least half of those fa­cil­i­ties were do­ing so even for work­ers with­out symp­toms, and roughly half were test­ing work­ers at least once a week.

At fa­cil­i­ties that were not test­ing, only 15% said avail­abil­ity was an is­sue, while 28% cited cost, 22% cited com­plex­ity and 16% said it would take too long to re­ceive the re­sults. Those sur­veyed could se­lect more than one rea­son.

The num­bers for the United States, where more than 700 of the fa­cil­i­ties were lo­cated, were sim­i­lar to the over­all re­sults.

Mara Aspinall, a pro­fes­sor at Ari­zona State’s Col­lege of Health So­lu­tions who helped over­see the study, said the re­sults in­di­cated that com­pa­nies were fig­ur­ing out how to get test­ing done if

it was es­sen­tial. For the oth­ers, she said, there was sim­ply “a lot of con­fu­sion and un­cer­tainty as to how tests work” in the ab­sence of a na­tional test­ing strat­egy, and the po­ten­tial ex­pense loomed large as well.

Aspinall, who is also an ad­viser to the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion, said she thought work­place test­ing would be­come far more wide­spread next year as em­ploy­ers seek to bring more peo­ple back to work.

Dr. Raj Be­hal, chief qual­ity of­fi­cer of One Med­i­cal, which pro­vides pri­mary health care ser­vices to large em­ploy­ers like Google, agreed that the lack of cheap tests had played a ma­jor role in lim­it­ing up­take.

“In our ex­pe­ri­ence, com­pa­nies that

need to bring their em­ploy­ees in be­cause they are es­sen­tial or crit­i­cal work­ers are reg­u­larly screen­ing and test­ing em­ploy­ees for COVID,” Be­hal said.

PCR tests, which are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the most ac­cu­rate but typ­i­cally re­quire lab­o­ra­tory pro­cess­ing, cost roughly $100 in the United States. Medi­care typ­i­cally cov­ers COVID-19 tests, but many pri­vate in­sur­ance plans do not.

A spokesper­son for One Med­i­cal said the av­er­age turn­around time for the tests was two to three days in most mar­kets.

The sur­vey found that com­pa­nies with 25 work­ers or fewer were least likely to test, with only 8% do­ing so.

About 40% of com­pa­nies with 1,001 to 5,000 work­ers were test­ing, as were nearly 60% of com­pa­nies with over 5,000 work­ers.

Among the big­gest com­pa­nies that didn’t test, cost was not a com­monly cited ob­sta­cle. Those com­pa­nies were much more likely to be dis­cour­aged by the com­plex­ity of test­ing their large work­forces, which one-third cited.

Biotech­nol­ogy and technology com­pa­nies were among the most likely to test work­ers, with 37% and 29% do­ing so, even as they were also among the most likely to re­quire em­ploy­ees to work re­motely.

Only 10% of pro­fes­sional ser­vices firms, like law prac­tices, said they were test­ing.

 ?? TAY­LOR GLASCOCK/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? A sur­vey found about 40% of firms with 1,001 to 5,000 work­ers test for COVID-19. Above, a health care worker ad­min­is­ters a test.
TAY­LOR GLASCOCK/THE NEW YORK TIMES A sur­vey found about 40% of firms with 1,001 to 5,000 work­ers test for COVID-19. Above, a health care worker ad­min­is­ters a test.

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