Coronavirus numbers are steady and dropping, and Governor Greg Abbott is taking the first steps to bringing the economy back online in Texas. Many questions remain as to how to do that safely, but a local provider is partnering with large employers to give them testing and guidance as they look to reopen.
With the possibility of asymptomatic carriers, taking temperature upon entry isn’t a full proof plan, and antibody testing is still unreliable. Additionally, research hasn’t solidified how immunity works for those who have recovered from COVID-19. It may be possible to get sick again in a month, a year, or even right away. The world is still a year or more away from a vaccine that can be used en masse, so the best way to make sure infected individuals aren’t infecting their coworkers is frequent and regular testing.
Local advanced primary care provider WellHealth is working with employers to implement a plan to regularly test employees as they come back to work. The clinic has two recently opened locations and three more on the way in DFW, but opening in the midst of a pandemic that included a historic drop-off in doctor visits meant that they had to flexible with their model, and converted their Frisco location into a COVID-19 testing center.
WellHealth partnered with lab Ayass Bioscience in Frisco to make sure they received 24-48 hour turnarounds on testing results and expanded free testing to healthcare workers and first responders who don’t have insurance and other small businesses to provide free testing for underserved areas in North Texas. Otherwise, testing is free with insurance or a $50 self pay for those without insurance. Laboratory fees are covered under insurance, or HHS coverage for those not insured.
In March, they saw faults in the plan to test only those who had been to certain countries or had symptoms, and secured supplies in preparation for future mass testing. “Our rationale was to test as many people as possible,” says WellHealth CEO Ahmad Gaber, who recognized that there were many unknowns. “It is extremely difficult to make a decision about what is going to happen in the future.”
At some point, he knew that people would need to leave their homes and get back to work, but being able to monitor the activities and social distancing measures of evert employee would be nearly impossible. “Testing is the solution,” Gaber says. “How do we set up a mechanism that is affective for an employer that needs to do it?”
Working with a manufacturing plant in Coppell, WellHealth has tested 400 employees giving some temporary security to company leadership that they are doing what they can to make sure people don’t get sick at work. If a positive test comes in, that person is isolated until they recover.
But just because one tests negative one day doesn’t mean they can’t pick it up on a run or at the grocery store that evening, so repeated testing is needed. WellHealth has established a two-week testing rotation for the Coppell employer, hoping to stem the proliferation of the disease in their workforce.
The providers are onsite at the Coppell employer, changing up their normal testing and clinic flows to do so. For other employers, they have scheduled employees to come to their clinic, where they keep a record of who has been tested and the results to pass along to the company or organization so that they can move forward with isolating the individual and monitoring those who had close contact with that person. WellHealth is offering guidance to employers about how best to test and what to do with the results, and has partnered with a remote monitoring company that can help follow symptoms of those in isolation. “We have built a protocol for testing, which includes how many negative results you need to have if a person was potentially positive,” Gaber says. “We discuss what you should do, when to test again, as well as when patients have worked the virus out of their system.”
The new model has not only benefitted employers, but allowed WellHealth to keep its staff employed. “At the end of the day, we deliver primary care, and primary care is really important on the front lines of this,” Gaber says. “A lot of people are worried and sick, and need someone to guide them through it as well. This was a continuation and what our mission has to be.”