People who have signs of respiratory illness should see a doctor. But many Covid-19 patients have mild or no symptoms. Without prompt testing to differentiate mild colds from the novel coronavirus, people could spread the virus unknowingly. Portable and relatively inexpensive testing platforms can be brought to businesses in mobile vans or deployed on-site and administered by professionals. Testing companies are ramping up supply, and businesses can start placing orders now.
This should be part of a broader employer effort to fight respiratory illnesses in the workplace. Employers have long offered flu vaccines and passed out hand sanitizer in the winter. This coronavirus should be treated similarly, with employers invested in protecting workers. Until there is a vaccine, preventing Covid-19 outbreaks will depend mostly on testing, isolation and tracing the contacts of people who test positive. Workplace testing would catch the disease where it spreads—especially for employees who can’t work remotely and risk infection by coming in contact with many others during the day, such as store clerks.
Systems on the market are well suited to this mission. The GeneXpert by Cepheid is a highly sensitive machine that uses a chemical process called polymerase chain reaction to test for infection by detecting the viral RNA.