A guide to COVID-19 testing

Please Note: All information was correct at time of writing on 21 October 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

With the increase in coronavirus cases, it’s important to ensure your business is COVID-secure and you can guarantee the safety of your employees and other persons who visit your premises.

This article explains what to do if an employee reports that they have COVID-19 symptoms, what to do while they’re waiting for their tests results, and the steps to take if your business is contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service.

Please note: this is guidance for businesses based in ENGLAND. For those based Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, please refer to the relevant government advice.

When and how should an employee be tested for COVID-19?

Employees with symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend work and they should instead inform you that they have symptoms and must self-isolate.

If an employee develops symptoms while at work, they must immediately leave the premises and go straight home to self-isolate.

Employees with symptoms should then be encouraged to take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible. There are a few test options available.

The simplest way to get a test is to book a visit with an NHS Test and Trace testing site or, depending on when the employee developed symptoms, a home testing kit can be ordered.

It’s important for those getting a test to be aware of the timescales that apply as to when this should be carried out:

  • The test will need to be done within the first eight days of a person developing symptoms.
  • This means that on days one to seven of symptoms developing, a test can be carried out at a test site OR at home if ordering a home testing kit. (A home testing kit can only be ordered NO later than 3pm on day seven).
  • By day 8 of symptoms developing, a test must be carried out at a testing site because it will be too late to order a home testing kit.

What should you do while your employee is awaiting test results?

Just because an employee has symptoms of COVD-19 does not necessarily mean that your business needs to close. However, such employees will be encouraged to alert people they have been in close contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptoms onset. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, they should raise this so that you can consider alerting those co-workers yourself.

Co-workers will not need to isolate unless requested to do so via the NHS Test and Trace service (or public health official) but you should ask them to:

  • avoid contact with high-risk and vulnerable people.
  • take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene.
  • self-isolate should they go on to develop symptoms.

In addition, if an employee developed symptoms whilst at work and then went home to self-isolate, further cleaning of the workplace should be carried out in line with government advice. For more information on the government guidelines, head here.

What steps should you take if you’re contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service?

It’s important for businesses* to assess the possible close contacts such as visitors and customers to support the NHS Test and Trace service and minimise the transmission of the virus.

Information you need to gather includes:

  • a record of the names and contact details of all staff working on your premises along with their shift times, on a given day.
  • the name and contact details of visitors and customers together with the date present on your premises and, where possible, the time of their arrival and departure.

Gathering this information will also help the NHS Test and Trace service make decisions about any further action you might need to take as a business.

The NHS Test and Trace service (or Public Health Officers) will contact you and ask for these records only where it’s necessary. For example, if your premises has been identified as the location of a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

If you receive a request for information from the NHS Test and Trace service, this does not mean that you must close your establishment. The service will, if necessary, undertake an assessment and guide you through what steps you need to take.

This could include arranging for people to be tested, asking them to take extra care with social distancing, and in some circumstances, asking them to self-isolate. The NHS Test and Trace service will also provide you with any necessary public health support and guidance.

Your staff will be included in any risk assessment process and the NHS Test and Trace service will advise them what they should do.

If one, or a number of your workers have been contacted and asked by the service to self-isolate because they have been deemed a close contact of a positive case, you should:
  • ensure they do not come into work and tell them to remain at home for their period of self-isolation.
  • ask them to let you know if they develop symptoms and encourage them to have a test.
  • allow them to work at home if they can.

Who can get a free test?

You can only get a free NHS test if at least one of the following applies:

  • you have a high temperature
  • you have a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
  • you’ve been asked to by a local council
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project
  • you’re going into hospital -you may need to get tested if you’re due to have surgery or a procedure. The hospital will arrange this for you. Contact your hospital department if you have any questions.

Who can’t get a free test?

You can’t get a free NHS test unless you have symptoms, have been asked to by your local council, live in England and have been told to by your hospital, or are taking part in a government pilot project.

This applies even if:

  • you live with someone who has coronavirus
  • you’ve had close contact with someone who has coronavirus
  • you’ve come to the UK from a high-risk country
  • you’re planning to leave the country
  • your employer or school has asked you to get a test

* Certain businesses and venues such as hospitality, leisure, and tourism services are legally required to display an NHS QR code poster on their premises. This enables those businesses to collect contact details of their visitors or customers when they scan the code. Customers and visitors may alternatively provide details on a log/visitor book held by the business.

For the full list of businesses that are legally required to display the poster along with more information on gathering and maintaining contact details, click here.

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