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As ICMR has approved the guidelines to include asymptomatic people, employers will play a key role in expanding COVID-19 spot testing

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Zoya Brar, CEO and Founder, CORE Diagnostics discusses with Prabhat Prakash how spot testing for COVID-19 can have a positive impact on the overall healthcare of India which in turn will help boost the economy as well

 How well-prepared are you for resuming operations post the lockdown?

I would firstly like to highlight that amid the ongoing pandemic, we have not stopped our operations. Our work has been going on. While data entry operators are working from home, other job roles such as phlebotomists, lab technicians, pathologists and housekeeping staff need to be physically present to do their work. During this time, the employees in the office are strictly following the government guidelines on social distancing, wearing a mask and gloves at all times, using PPE wherever required, sanitising and washing their hands several times a day, etc. Therefore, after the lockdown, when all operations are resumed, we will continue to follow the same norms and even more meticulously given the number of employees as well as patients will also relatively increase.

How are you preparing your staff to manage patient load in the era of social distancing?

Since most of our business is B2B and we collect samples from hospitals or patient homes, the training and measures are focussed on ensuring that the phlebotomists that go to collect are using adequate protection and safety measures.

How will you protect your staff from contracting infections, if any?

As mentioned already, we are strictly following government’s guidelines, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and gloves at all times, using PPE wherever required and ensuring thorough sanitisation and cleaning. We are also ensuring that anyone who has any symptoms or contact history self-isolate and speak to a physician who can prescribe testing for them, if required.

Will your organisation start spot testing for employees of any company? What will this testing entail and what is the rationale behind this?

As the lockdown is lifted or restrictions are eased, companies will start resuming operations. It would be crucial for them to ensure safety of their employees and identify infection levels amongst the staff members. Even a single infected employee can have a cascading effect to bring the entire operation to a standstill. Testing will help reduce any anxiety among employees and help them function normally in their roles. Spot testing at corporates would be an excellent idea as the more we test, the more control we have against the pandemic.

While this cannot be undertaken for each and every person currently, it can definitely be commenced with the testing of all symptomatic people. The ICMR has approved the guidelines to include asymptomatic people as well – and employers are now going to play a key role in expanding testing. We further suggest that, in addition to every organisation, even residential complexes should undertake a similar process.

For COVID-19 testing, corporates can choose a combination of several modalities that include Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) and serological testing.

We are in conversation with several big corporates to come up with a systematic approach of testing their employees at their premises with a quick turnaround time. The approach for each company will be customised as they will differ from one another in various parameters – location of the organisation, number of employees, working days, etc. Once the requirements are in place, organisations can redeploy budget for testing; and subsequently, we can share a customised plan with them.

How effective and accurate is spot testing?

Since spot testing is not a test in itself, but a single test or combination of tests being conducted, the efficiency and accuracy will also differ according to the test being undertaken.

What are the requirements and safety protocols to be followed during spot testing?

Spot testing can include a combination of different types of COVID-19 tests. Hence, the requirements would also vary according to the tests. In terms of safety protocols, containing the infection is the foremost priority. Hence, we would continue to follow government guidelines including social distancing, use of masks, gloves, and PPE, along with proper sanitisation and cleaning.

Depending on the requirement of the company, it can be decided if employees need to take the test before rejoining the office to remove any possibility of cross-infection.

The result interpretation and communication, along with counselling and proper management of positive patients, would be other important areas of consideration.

Any specific infrastructural requirement for taking up such a project? If yes, what is it and what might be some of the challenges in setting it up?

Testing for corporates can be done in the existing laboratory setups of diagnostics chains in the country, like us. For in-lab tests, samples can be collected from the companies and brought in for testing. In case of rapid testing, on-the-spot tests can be done with quick turnaround time. Different booths for each step, along with social distancing protocols, will have to be set up at the corporate but this can be done quite easily.

Is CORE planning to undertake such a project for corporates? Are you in talks with any of thes corporates?

We have discussed this with several organisations and are in constant touch with them. We would be happy to take it up with interested companies as it will expand the overall testing capabilities and help in effective control of COVID-19. The first step of course would be to ensure that the testing is done as per government guidelines and is offered to only those that qualify.

What would be the cost involved for such testing for corporates?

The cost of such testing would depend on the requirements of the company and the tests being agreed upon.

Any suggestions and tips for corporates regarding spot testing once they are functional again?

  • Anybody who is symptomatic should be required to stay at home and consult a doctor.
  • Corporates should keep a close watch on the COVID-19 hotspot areas and whether any employees live around that area.
  • Even during the lockdown, keeping a track of employee health can help in planning further steps.
  • Before resuming full operations, companies should test and identify who can come to office and who should not. This can be done by opting for RT-PCR or serological based tests.
  • Regular screening of employees once they are back at the workplace, along with quick decision making and protocols in case of positive employees need to be defined and followed.

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