The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact throughout much of the world and has had a significant effect on our country, state and our community. At Valley Medical Center we are extraordinarily grateful to the entire community for their support. Our Occupational Health Services Clinic recognizes that COVID-19 has had a profound effect on our local business and their workforces. We want to do our best to help our community, families and companies get back to work safely and address questions you may have to the best of our ability.
We realize that many businesses, employers and employees have questions and concerns about COVID-19 and many employers are wrestling with questions about how to keep their employees safe. To help with this we have put together this list of frequently asked questions that we hope you will find useful. In the event you have additional follow up questions please do not hesitate to reach out to Maria Dakan, clinic manager, at 425.690.3140, email email@example.com or myself by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a downloadable, printable pdf of the FAQs below with all of the links embedded, please click here.
We recommend adhering to the orders and guidance issued by Governor Inslee and our state Health Department which maintains a COVID-19 Data Dashboard providing data on COVID-19 cases in our state. Our state also maintains a COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard which outlines the trajectory and risks of COVID-19 in each county. King County is currently in Phase 2 of the reopening plan. Please carefully review the phases and what businesses are permitted to open in each of the phases. Please note that businesses deemed essential are allowed to continue operations.
In most settings, it is believed that surgical grade masks provide adequate protection against droplets that might contain the COVID-19 virus. In certain circumstances, especially when specific medical procedures are performed on a COVID-19 positive individual, the virus may be aerosolized (stays suspended in air for a certain amount of time) and in this situation an N-95 mask is recommended. This is believed to rarely occur in the general workplace.
The state of Washington has mandated that individuals wear a face mask or face cloth covering effective June 26 in indoor public spaces and also when an individual is unable to stay 6 feet apart from other people, whether indoors or outdoors. This applies to work places as well and employers are required to provide facial coverings for their employees. There are some exceptions. Please review the order and guidance carefully.
If you have questions specific to your workplace about possible aerosolization and need for additional respiratory protection, please do not hesitate to reach out. We will be happy to provide an initial assessment and if further in-depth evaluation is needed, we will be glad to provide guidance and direction.
The recommendations currently from the CDC for individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 is to stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distancing (6 feet) and self-monitor for symptoms. Assuming that the individual remains asymptomatic, he or she can return after 14 days.
If the employee becomes ill with COVID-19 or in the absence of testing a COVID-19 like illness, there are additional criteria issued by the CDC on returning to work as discussed below in Question 6.
The CDC has additional guidance that varies from their general recommendations for an exposed employee for critical infrastructure workers and healthcare workers who have had exposure to an individual with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
The CDC has recommendations for addressing possible workplace contamination and reducing risk of exposure in the workplace under their Frequently Asked Questions for General Business. In particular, please review the questions “What should I do if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19?” and What should I do if I find out several days later that they were diagnosed with COVID-19?”
For COVID positive employees who are planning to return to work who were symptomatic and who are in a non-essential job, the CDC recommends that at least 10 days have passed since the individual’s symptoms first appeared AND the individual has had no fever for at least 72 hours without the use of medicines AND other symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath have improved. If the employee is being tested, the CDC has separate criteria. The CDC also has specific recommendations for healthcare workers who are returning to work after being infected with COVID-19. It is strongly recommended that the employee follow the guidance of the healthcare professional (physician or advanced practice clinician) who is providing care to him/her/them for the COVID-19 infection. We recognize that trying to make return to work determinations can be challenging in the absence of the complete medical picture, we will be glad to perform a fitness for duty assessment of an employee to help with the determination if they are safe to return to work and whether any additional precautions will need to be taken.
We do not recommend antibody/serology testing for COVID-19 at this time unless it is recommended by the health department. It is important to know that the antibody test should NOT be used to try to determine if an individual is acutely ill with COVID-19. An antibody test can be negative when an individual is acutely ill with COVID-19. For acute illness the gold standard is the widely used RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. The University of Washington Department of Laboratory Medicine has a very good FAQ web page that provides more detail about these two types of tests.
It may be helpful to know who might have previously been infected. But we do not have enough information right now to know how to use the antibody test effectively. As an example, we do not know yet if the presence of antibodies to COVID-19 confers complete or even incomplete immunity. In many other diseases, the presence of antibodies does usually provide some degree of immunity though there are notable exceptions. This is a rapidly evolving area of clinical study and more should be known in a matter of weeks or months. It is also important to ensure that the manufacturer of the antibody test is reputable and has independent verification of the sensitivity (positive test is truly positive) and specificity (negative test is truly negative). If you determine this test is needed for your employees, we have the ability to order a highly sensitive and specific COVID-19 antibody test.
The COVID-19 PCR test (also known as the SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test) is highly sensitive and specific for the COVID-19 virus. It is a very good test to determine if someone is acutely ill with the virus. It is used to accurately diagnose the presence of an infection. However, it is important to be aware that there have been instances where the first PCR test of an ill patient was negative only to turn positive when retested later. Hence a negative test should always be interpreted within the context of the clinical presentation. We will be glad to assist with the ordering of the COVID-19 PCR test and assessment of an employee who is suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
Orders and guidance issued by the State of Washington –
Washington State COVID-19 Data Dashboard –
Washington State COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard –
Washington State information on Phase 2 –
Washington State information on the various Phases of Reopening –
Essential business definition and information –
CDC guidance for business –
CDC recommendations on when to return to work –
Steps employees can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 –
CDC guidance for small business –
OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 –
Washington State official guidance on reopening businesses –
AIHA (American Industrial Hygiene Association) resource on COVID-19 safety best practices for all types of industries and businesses
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security –
JHSPH Center for Health Security COVID-19 Operational Toolkit –
CDC recommendations on use of cloth face coverings –
Washington State order regarding use of a face covering or mask –
CDC recommendations for an individual who has had a community related exposure to COVID-19 –
CDC recommendations for Critical Infrastructure Workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 –
CDC recommendations for healthcare workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the healthcare setting –
CDC Frequently Asked Questions for Business –
CDC recommendations for what to do if an individual is sick with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 including when to discontinue isolation (and by implication return to work) –
CDC recommendations for healthcare workers returning to work after COVID-19 infection –
UW Medicine Department of Laboratory Medicine –
Throughout this FAQ we have included links to respected and authoritative primary sources of information such as the CDC. Our scientific and clinical understanding of the virus that causes COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and advancing each day and we will continue to update this page as new information becomes available. If in doubt, please rely on the authoritative links/references we have embedded in this FAQ to provide you the most up-to-date guidance.
To conclude we are committed to helping all members of our community, including our businesses and workers during this challenging time. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the OHS Clinic Manager, Maria Dakan, or myself if we can be of service.
Louis Lim, MD, MPH, FACOEM, FACP
Medical Director, Occupational Health Services
UW Medicine | Valley Medical Center