5/17/20 | COVID-19 Safety Precautions and Testing Practices for UT Health San Antonio Employees

Summary

Many safety precautions have been implemented at UT Health to avoid the spread of COVID-19.  Additional details can be found at https://wp.uthscsa.edu/coronavirus. In addition, testing protocols have been implemented for employees and students concerned about exposure or are symptomatic. Testing has also been implemented for patients prior to procedures in our UT Health clinic locations.  Community-wide testing for COVID-19 continues to be rolled out for our region. As UT Health San Antonio moves forward with a phased return-to-campus plan, below are important facts about testing and some common questions about testing for UT Health San Antonio employees.

Safety Precautions at UT Health San Antonio

  • All employees, patients, students and visitors are screened for symptoms and fever prior to campus entry. Anyone who is ill or whose temperature exceeds 100 degrees is not allowed entry and is referred to their provider for follow up.
  • Cloth masks have been provided for all employees to enable continued universal masking in the workplace.
  • Hand hygiene stations have been placed at entrances and strategic areas throughout UT Health.
  • If you feel ill with symptoms consistent with a respiratory virus, stay home and let your supervisor know.
  • A member of the UT Health San Antonio community that is concerned about exposure to the SARS-COV-2 virus should contact their primary care provider or the employee and student health and wellness center, Wellness 360 at (210) 450-8000.
  • After evaluation by Wellness 360, individuals who meet the necessary criteria can be tested on campus.
  • Patients who will be having procedures in our clinic venues are tested for COVID-19 within 24 – 48 hours prior to their procedures. Procedures will not be performed on COVID-19 positive patients in order to protect our healthcare workers and to prevent potential complications in the patients who may be coming down with illness.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all aerosol-generating procedures has been made available to all healthcare personnel for these situations.
  • Laboratory testing of all employees returning to work would not eliminate the risk of future exposures. At this time, it is not logistically feasible to perform universal viral testing of all employees on a repetitive ongoing basis and it would not guarantee prevention of infection.
  • COVID-19 is in the community. The best defense is your personal behavior – hand hygiene, physical distancing, masking, and cleaning your work area.

Q&A on COVID-19 Testing

Q: What are the interventions being used to prevent COVID-19 infections as employees return to work?

A: The most effective interventions involve staying home when ill, frequent cleaning of your hands with either soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, physical distancing, and wearing a mask. UT Health San Antonio continues to screen people as they enter campus and follows recommendations on masking and physical distancing.

Q: Would testing all employees that are returning to work be helpful? What tests are being used?

A: Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 disease has received a large amount of media attention. This is understandable as identifying people with COVID-19 disease is important to prevent secondary transmissions. However, diagnostic testing has limitations and is best used in targeted fashion to prevent further infection.

Highlights of COVID-19 Testing

  • There are two main kinds of tests for COVID-19 disease: direct viral tests (e.g. PCR) and antibody tests
    Antibody tests are not recommended for diagnosing acute infection by CDC and other organizations.  At this time, antibody tests are not specific or sensitive enough to use generally.
    Viral tests (e.g. PCR) are the recommended standard for diagnosing acute infection.
  • While COVID-19 viral (PCR) tests are accurate tests, they only provide results for the moment in time that the test is collected – kind of like taking a picture with a camera.
  • Viral tests are best used in targeted fashion to diagnose symptomatic people or to test an asymptomatic person before they undergo a procedure that may generate aerosols that could spread infection.
  • Viral testing should be used as directed by providers for individuals that recognize symptoms during self-monitoring or have symptoms identified during screening.

About Testing in General

  • Medical testing is used to support a medical opinion associated with an individual with a medical condition.
  • Medical testing is a point-in-time test. The results will vary as a function of the human response and progression of the disease.  It is because of this, that universal population testing is not recommended.
  • Respiratory viruses like SARS-COV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, are found in our community. Therefore, a negative molecular test for the virus could be easily negated via unprotected exposure the very next day through a visit to your local grocery store or other community setting.
  • Our best defense against respiratory viruses is to reduce unprotected close contacts, meticulous symptom monitoring, wearing a face mask, and frequently cleaning hands.

Additional Resources:

IDSA statement on serology: https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/immunity-passports-in-the-context-of-covid-19

List of FDA EUA approvals (Nucleic acid testing, serology testing, other devices): https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/emergency-situations-medical-devices/emergency-use-authorizations

FDA FAQs on Diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV2: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/emergency-situations-medical-devices/faqs-testing-sars-cov-2 

FDA statement on serologic testing: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-serological-test-validation-and-education-efforts

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