“This gives our companies, our employees great peace of mind because they know that everybody that’s coming into the laboratory to do the research is negative,” Dr. Kathiresan said. “So it’s an expense that is well worth it.”
He said he expected employee-testing costs to decrease significantly over time as home self-collection kits, which allow people to swab their own noses or collect saliva samples and then send them to labs, became more available.
Federal health authorities, however, have so far provided little guidance for businesses on testing employees for coronavirus.
In late May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines on “Resuming Business,” which recommended that employers prepare a “plan for conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and/or temperature screening) before employees enter the facility.” But the guidelines mentioned employee testing for the virus only in passing.
One concern is that the diagnostic tests could give employees a false sense of security, public health experts said. Because the virus can take several days to develop, they said, the time between taking a test and getting the lab results back could cause some employees who have the virus to receive false negative test results. Despite comprehensive testing, for instance, a group of Army recruits and instructors at Fort Benning, Ga., recently suffered a major outbreak of the virus.
Another concern is that scaling employee-testing programs nationwide could lead to unnecessary medical screening — particularly for workplaces where employees, wearing masks, can be spaced far enough apart to adhere to social-distancing guidelines — and might overwhelm labs that are running more urgent coronavirus tests for patients with serious symptoms. And some employees may object to being required to take medical tests and have the results automatically sent to their employers.
Dr. Lee, the Verily executive, said the company would consult with employers to tailor virus testing and workplace safety protocols to the number of their employees, workplace locations, the prevalence of coronavirus in the local community and the type of work employees performed.