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How a company that makes COVID tests keeps its 50,000 employees safe



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Among the many business areas, Siemens Healthineers, the medical technology company headquartered in Germany, produces diagnostic tests for various diseases. So in mid-March, Deepak Nath, the company's president for laboratory diagnostics, knew this was unknown territory. "You're in the diagnostics field, so you remember how you tackled Zika or MERS," he recalls. "When we entered March, it became clear that we were not dealing with an outbreak that we had seen before, and this was not something we should be able to sniff out."

Since then, the company has been at the forefront of producing antibody tests for COVID ̵

1; it recently announced a partnership with the CDC for a & # 39; semi-quantitative & # 39; IGG test for COVID, the first of its kind that will measure the duration and level of the individual's immune response over time with a numerical index value. Meanwhile, the company is also struggling with how to keep its own global workforce of 50,000 people healthy.

"The ideal scenario is to test every employee every day," says Nath. But for now, "it's not a practical goal – the technology we all want, a non-invasive test, a reasonable price, results that are available quickly, that just do not exist."

So "by definition, everything you come up with has to collect these things," says Nath. Then the company launched a weekly test regime for all employees whose job required them to arrive on site, or who had to travel to work.Employees who could work from home were encouraged to do so, and in the office the group meeting was limited, large gatherings were banned, and all food service was changed to grab and go. In the meantime, management has worked to reduce the density and provide personal protective equipment on site for workers.

Although they also use temperature controls, "it is a pretty rough tool. ", says Nath, since someone could have carried the virus for several days before they got a fever. That said, anyone who shows up for work with symptoms or temperature is immediately sent home and given a home test to administer.

Although cases have been identified, Nath says it has been "relatively easy to track contracts and find out who employees may have been in contact with", and together the company's steps have prevented major outbreaks. (For privacy reasons, he says they decided not to track contracts through phones or tracking apps.)

For his part, Nath says he has tried to work from home as much as possible, and that the real risk he worries for, both for himself and his colleagues, is to "get to the office" whether it is to take public transport, or in his case to fly to different places around the world. When he flies, he wears a mask and a face shield, and regardless of the schedule, he is tested 1-2 times per week, as well as doing an antibody test once a month.

Looking forward, he expects that the next major obstacle for employers is when a vaccine is ready. Can employers ask employees to take it? Should they demand it? "If you talk about what you as a company can ask your employees, the answer varies from country to country," he says, noting that for the antibody test, they decided to offer instead of demanding it.

In other words, employers can expect many more tests over time – no matter what field they are in.

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