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Test and Trace – guidance for employers and businesses

by Gemma Melling

The NHS Test and Trace service launched on 27 May and is a central part to the Government’s Covid19 recovery strategy and ultimately help to stop the spread of the virus.

Below are frequently asked questions which will help you to ensure the safe operation of your business and help to protect your staff.

What is the NHS Test and Trace service?

  • The NHS Test and Trace service provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of Covid19 to find out if they have the virus.
  • The service will contact anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had – this is called contact tracing.
  • The service will alert those contacts, where necessary, and notify them that they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.
  • The service will identify cases that are linked because of a shared workplace – and identify outbreaks early.

How will Test and Trace support economic recovery?

 The NHS Test and Trace service is designed to support businesses and economic recovery by:

  • Providing testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus, so that if they have been tested positive, they and their household member know to continue to self-isolate.
  • Helping to stop the onward spread of the virus in the workplace and wider society, so that fewer people develop coronavirus and have to self-isolate.
  • Enabling the Government to go further in safely easing or lifting lockdown measures, as far as it is deemed safe to do so, thereby allowing the nation to return to normal as quickly as possible.

 What role do employers play in Test and Trace?

 The NHS Test and Trace service will help to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging as restrictions on everyday life are eased, as far as it is deemed safe to do so.

It is vital that employers play their part by:

  • If staff can work from home, they should. If they can’t ensure workplaces are as safe as possible. Keep workplaces clean and enhance cleaning regimes, encourage good hygiene and regular hand washing, maintain safe working separation and social distancing, stagger start / finishing times if possible. Further advice on working safely can be found here.
  • Encouraging workers to follow any instruction to self-isolate
  • Supporting staff if they are isolating.
  • Supporting Public Health England and / or the Local Authority in the case of an outbreak in your organisation and take actions to reduce the amount of staff affected.
  • Continuing to support the health and safety of staff, including agency workers, contractors, visitors, customers, volunteers and suppliers. A ‘5 steps for working safely’ is available to view here.

Although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than a large outbreak of Covid-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

How can I show my staff, visitors, suppliers that I have followed the Government’s guidance?

 If you have followed the steps outlined by the Government around working safely, you can download the certificate from the Government’s website, authorise it by the organisation’s Chief Executive, Health and Safety representative or owner and prominently display around the premises. You can download the certificate here.

A member of staff is displaying symptoms. What should they do?

 If they start to display symptoms (high temperature, new or persistent cough or a loss of taste or smell) at home, they must stay at home and book a test immediately via nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119. Other members of their  household must also stay at home.

If the test is positive, they need to self isolate  for 10 days, from the first day that they developed symptoms. Only stop self isolating after 10 days if you have not had any symptoms for 48 hours. Other people in your household also need to self isolate for 10 days.

If they start to display symptoms at work, they should be sent home immediately and asked to book a test. If they are unable to go home straight away (don’t drive / need someone to pick them up) you need to have a room away from the rest of the workforce where they can be whilst they await someone to pick them up. Ensure they don’t touch surfaces such as door handles etc. Ensure the door is closed and if there are windows, open them to keep the room well ventilated and turn off any air conditioning. If the person needs someone to sit with them, Personal Protective Equipment (apron, gloves, mask and eye protection) needs to be used. Once the person who is displaying symptoms has left the building (again ensuring door handles etc are not touched), ensure the room is cleaned with detergent and disinfectant. Once this has been completed, the room can be re-used.

If staff are told to self-isolate, how long will this be for?

 Self isolation is for 10 days, from the first day that they developed symptoms. They should only stop self isolating after day 11 if they had not had any symptoms for 48 hours.

If someone tests positive but they are not displaying symptoms, can they work?

 They can work from home but they cannot return to the workplace. If you have tested positive, you must self isolate for 10 days and people in your household need to self-isolate for 10 days. Even if you aren’t displaying symptoms, you can still spread the infection to others.

Do staff need to notify the employer if they are told to self-isolate?

 Yes, staff need to notify their employer at the earliest opportunity or the notification period for an absence set out in your absence management / sickness policy that they have been told to self-isolate. Where possible, arrangements for them to work from home should be considered.

Will my whole workforce be told to self-isolate if someone tests positive?

No, only those who have had close recent contact (being within 2m for more than 15 minutes) with someone who then tests positive for Covid19 will be asked to self-isolate. This is why social distancing and maintaining a distance of 2m from others is vitally important. It will help to stop the spread of the infection, limiting the amount of people that are impacting / could be absent from the workplace.

A close contact does not usually require a test, unless they develop symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, they must get tested and their household must start to self-isolate also. If the test is negative, the contact must continue to self isolate for the full 10 days since the contact with the case (as they may be developing the infection), but their household does not need to continue to self isolate.

Do I need to update my workplace risk assessment?

 Yes – Covid-19 is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Employers must carry out a new COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so. Guidance is available on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

Remember to consult with your workers, and unions where applicable, as part of your risk assessment.

What will happen if an outbreak occurs in my business / premises?

An outbreak consists of 2 or more cases that have tested positive within the same 14 day period in people who work or who have visited a setting. It is very important outbreaks are identified as early as possible so that the risk of further cases can be minimised.

In such cases, you must adhere to the Outbreak Management Plan and contact Environmental Health on 0151 443 4712 or email environmentalhealth@knowsley.gov.uk (Monday to Friday from 9am until 5pm) or contact Public Health England outside of these hours and during Bank Holidays on 0151 434 4819.

The Outbreak Management Plan describes the co-ordinated efforts of the Council and partners to prevent outbreaks of Covid19 and how we will support the national NHS Test and Trace programme.

If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team will support you. This will include representatives from Knowsley Council and Public Health England, as well as Infection Control professionals.

How can I support my staff who are self-isolating?

Employers should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace. Workers will be told to isolate because they:

  • Have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting a test result.
  • Have tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from NHS Test and Trace – the NHS Test and Trae Service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.

Employers should continue to communicate with workers in self-isolation and provide support. This includes allowing people to work from home if they remain well and if it is practicable to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.

If people can’t work from home, employers must ensure any self-isolating employee is receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer. Information for employers on reclaiming Statutory Sick Pay can be found here.

I’m self-employed – what does this mean for me?

If you are self-employed, you must continue to work from home if you can. If this is not possible, the guidance on the 5 steps for working safely and sector-specific advice must be implemented for your work environment. As part of this, you must continue to think about how you can observe Government guidance on social distancing for the people that you meet, such as customers and suppliers.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus, you will be told to self-isolate if you or another household member develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus, or if the NHS Test and Trace service tells you to do so because you have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus. If it is possible for you to amend your working practices and work from home, then you must do so.

If your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. More information on this Scheme, and other support available if you are not eligible, is available here.

What is contact tracing and how does it work?

The NHS Test and Trace service will follow up with people who need to self-isolate because they have had close recent contact with someone, who might be a colleague, who has tested positive for coronavirus. This is known as contact tracing.

When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before they started with the symptoms. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those co-workers. At this stage, those close contacts should not self-isolate, but they:

  • Must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of contracting Covid19, for example, because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues.
  • Must take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.
  • Will be better prepared if the person who has symptoms has a positive test result and if they (the contact) receive a notification from the NHS Test and Trace service explaining they need to self-isolate.

If the person who has symptoms has a positive test result for Covid19, the NHS Test and Trace service will ask them to share information about their close recent contacts.

If they work in – or have recently visited or attended – one of the following settings, the contact tracing process will be escalated to local public health experts, who will liaise as necessary with the manager of the relevant setting:

  • A health or care setting, for instance a hospital or care home
  • A prison or other secure establishment
  • A school for children with special needs
  • Any setting where there is a risk of a local outbreak

In other cases, any non-household contacts who need to self-isolate will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service. They will receive a formal notification (either a phone call, letter, email or text message) setting out how long they need to self-isolate for. Workers can use this notification to inform their employer that they have been told to self-isolate. Employers will need this evidence if they are going to claim a rebate for Statutory Sick Pay.

The period of self-isolation will be for 10 days from the point of most recent contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus.

How is Covid19 data recorded and shared?

Information is shared on the Government’s website daily regarding the total number of confirmed cases, broken down at local authority level. This gives the total number of confirmed basis on a rolling basis since the pandemic began in March.

Public Health England (PHE) issue data to local authorities on a daily basis which relates to local testing and confirmed cases and it is this data that is often reported in the media. It is important to note that the data fluctuates from day to day and whilst Knowsley may be highlighted as a hotspot area one day, 24 hours later it could move to being one of the least affected areas.

It’s also important to note that we have done a big push on sharing the message to get tested if you are displaying symptoms. The uptake for testing is Knowsley is high, so the more people that are tested, the greater the likelihood that our numbers of confirmed cases could increase. Areas that have low numbers could be due to a low number of people being tested potentially resulting in people socialising and spreading the virus unknowingly.

The council is encouraging people to get tested and if confirmed positive, their close contacts (being within 2m with someone for more than 15 minutes) are contacted and instructed to self-isolate for 10 days to prevent them from spreading the virus.

Are there steps my staff can take to stop the spread of the virus?

 Yes – everyone has a part to play to stop the spread of the virus by:

  • Continuing to stay at home as much as possible and limit your contact with others.
  • If you do need to go out (work, shopping or exercise), maintain social distancing.
  • Continuing to regularly wash your hands with soap and water and use a hand gel sanitiser if possible.
  • Remember to catch it, bin it, kill it with coughs and sneezes – dispose of tissues in a bin with a lid.
  • If you can work from home, do so.
  • Wear a face covering where advised to do so. The full list of where you need to wear one can be found on the Government’s website.

Please note: This article was updated on 16 December 2020 to reflect the change in required self-isolation time, from 14 days to 10.