COVID-19 Testing for Returning Workers is Not Required
By: Atty. Bayani B. Brillante, Jr.
For the benefit of the general public and the business sector, per Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) clarification, it was categorically confirmed that the National Government DOES NOT REQUIRE Covid-19 testing of all employees before they will be allowed to return to work.
This advisory is consistent with those of the Department of Health’s (DOH) Memorandum No. 2020-0220 and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATFs’ Omnibus Guidelines ( Section 8 [4 ]) dated 15 May 2020 which provides that in no case shall the testing of all returning workers be construed as a condition precedent for his/her return.
In accordance with the DOH guidelines, returning employees and workers physically reporting to their place of employment shall be screened for symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, colds and other respiratory symptoms, and/or relevant history of travel or exposure within the last 14 days. Those who are SYMPTOMATIC with relevant history of travel/exposure on the date of work resumption shall not be allowed to physically return to work and must consult with their primary care provider. As the gold standard, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing will be administered only to this group who are SYMPTOMATIC and/or SUSPECTED of having COVID-19. The rest of employees who are ASYMPTOMATIC within the last fourteen (14) days prior to the date of work resumption can be cleared to physically return to work.
Further to this, companies also have the OPTION to conduct testing for all their employees especially those who are ASYMPTOMATIC but have a high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their work, exposure or travel history. Such testing may be done in a representative sample of those who have returned to work using RT-PCR to look for any evidence of asymptomatic transmitters. The next action to be taken by the concerned company shall depend on the results. Thus:
a. If tested positive, the returning employee/worker is a COVID-19 case and will be isolated and referred accordingly for appropriate management. All close contacts shall be isolated and tested accordingly based on Department Memorandum 2020-0180.
b. If found negative, returning employee and worker can continue working with usual precautions.
c. If initially tested negative but developed symptoms, the employee must be tested accordingly based on Department Memorandum 2020-0180.
i. If found positive, all close contacts of returning employees and workers shall be isolated and tested accordingly based on Department Memorandum 2020-0180.
d. Employers shall report the results to DOH in accordance with Administrative Order No. 2020-0013, entitled “Revised Guidelines for the Inclusion of COVID-19 in the List of Notifiable Diseases for Mandatory Reporting to the Department of Health” and Administrative Order No. 2020-0014 entitled “Guidelines in Securing a License to Operate a COVID-19 Testing Laboratory in the Philippines.”
Alternatively, testing using FDA-approved rapid antibody-based tests among representative samples for baseline can also be conducted up to every 14 days.
The cost of testing not covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) shall be borne by the employer. But this also means the employer can reimburse the cost from PhilHealth up to the amount allowed and under such conditions sanctioned by PhilHealth. One of these conditions is that testing must be in accordance with DOH protocols.
In closing and to reiterate, PCR testing is not required for all employees but only for those who are symptomatic and are suspected of having COVID-19 following DOH protocol.
- DOH Department Memorandum No.2020-0220
- Omnibus Guidelines On The Implementation of Community Quarantine In The Philippines dated 15 May 2020