Recently, the local Health Department and Sentara RMH Medical Center have received calls from people in the community stating that their employers are telling them they cannot return to work, following a period of absence due to sickness, until the employee can provide proof that they do not have the COVID-19 virus. While we understand and appreciate the efforts of local employers to be diligent in helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus, both in their workplaces and in the community at large, neither public health nor the local healthcare system can provide “proof” that a person does not have this virus.
The local health department actively monitors persons who test positive for COVID-19 and makes recommendations for discontinuing isolation based on symptoms and time since the onset of symptoms. The health department also actively monitors close contacts to persons who test positive to COVID-19 for a minimum of 14 days of self-quarantine. Contacts who have no symptoms of disease are not tested for COVID-19, and persons with positive tests for COVID-19 are not re-tested for the virus following the isolation period. There are no current recommendations for testing persons without symptoms (such as fever, cough and shortness of breath) for COVID-19.
As we see more cases of COVID-19 in local communities, persons with symptoms consistent with the virus may be presumed to be infected without confirmatory testing. These persons should be advised to follow the same isolation procedures as confirmed cases, and they should stay home until they are considered no longer infectious. This is determined by CDC and VDH guidelines that are available to any healthcare provider.
In keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health, we encourage all community members to stay at home if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with coronavirus: productive cough, elevated temperature, and shortness of breath. They should call their primary care provider to discuss their symptoms and determine whether, and where, they need to be evaluated and whether testing for COVID-19 is indicated. In order to help prevent the spread of virus, they should not show up at the emergency department or their doctor’s office without calling ahead first to enable the healthcare provider to assist them in the safest and most effective way.
In addition, we respectfully request that employers work with their employees to provide liberal sick-leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay at home as our communities continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. With everyone pulling together and doing what they can, we trust we can help minimize the spread of the virus in our community