Coronavirus Testing and Vaccines: How Far Are We Willing to Go?
It was more than a year ago that the West was introduced to the coronavirus. No one ever expected we would still be dealing with it when the calendar turned to 2021. Yet here we are. The longer it lingers, the more we have to ask ourselves how far we are willing to go to contain it.
Since the summer of 2020, employers have been trying to answer the tricky question of whether or not they should test employees upon returning to work. In some industries, like healthcare for example, testing isn’t even optional. But that’s not the half of it.
With vaccinations now rolling out, there is talk of requiring people to produce a valid vaccination card in order to fly or take the train. There is talk of mandatory vaccinations before kids can go back to school. All the while there are people who, for medical reasons, cannot wear face coverings or get the vaccine. They have been prisoners in their own homes for the better part of the year.
Prevention Only Goes So Far
It is understandable that people would be willing to go to great lengths to prevent contracting an illness they so fear. We are incredibly careful about hygiene in restaurants to prevent spreading hepatitis. Every year we spend big money on public hand-washing campaigns in order to keep the flu in check.
The one thing all of our prevention efforts have in common is that they are never 100% effective. It doesn’t matter what disease we’re trying to avoid, prevention only goes so far. There is no way to eliminate all risk. And yet, it seems that this is exactly what we are trying to do with coronavirus.
We seem to want the assurance that we can get back to normal life without any risk whatsoever. And until we have such assurances, we are going to live in fear. We are going to treat one another as though we are all contagious. We’re going to potentially violate another’s civil rights to assuage our own fears.
BenefitMall published an excellent post in January 2021 discussing the tricky nature of COVID-19 testing in the workplace. The post laid out the fact that there are two different types of tests, one of which is allowed under federal law and another which is not.
The test employers are allowed require checks for the presence of coronavirus. It is allowed with the understanding that coronavirus poses an imminent threat, and that it’s the employer’s responsibility to mitigate that threat as much as possible.
The disallowed test checks for COVID-19 antibodies. It is not allowed because it only tests for past evidence of the virus. It has nothing to do with current infection or workplace safety. And yet the question lingers: should either type of test be required in the workplace at all?
The Risk of Crossing the Line
Reasonable people can agree that testing for coronavirus is wise in certain settings. For example, hospitals and nursing homes should probably test workers on a regular basis. But what about other industries? And what about vaccinations?
The problem we now face is being unable to see the line that should not be crossed. And of course, the risk is one of crossing it. Once crossed, there is no going back.
The world must step back and re-examine coronavirus in light of past pandemics and current problems, like Ebola. Though we cannot risk harming people through a lack of response, we also cannot risk overreacting either. Testing and vaccinations in the workplace is a microcosm of the dilemma.