New York, NY — The push to reopen the state’s economy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is on, and over the next several weeks, the state intends to open up segment by segment, region by region.
According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, “New York will reopen on a regional basis as each region meets the criteria necessary to protect public health.”
Frontline healthcare workers and worker advocates, however, remain gravely concerned about the safety of the workplace. The AFL-CIO put out a statement noting, “Nothing would be worse for the economy than a premature reopening followed by an explosion of the disease and a second shutdown Putting worker safety first is the first step in any viable plan to save lives, defeat the coronavirus and revive the economy.”
Dr. Bartley Bryt, Chief Medical Officer at MagnaCare, a health care enablement organization with strong ties to organized labor, talked to LaborPress about reopening the state’s economy amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
LP: What is important to know about COVID-19?
DB: This is a new disease where people easily catch it from one another, which means we can each help prevent its spread. Each of us has a role to plan in not giving it to others. When we wear a mask, when we cough into our sleeve, when we stay home and don’t go shopping or don’t go to the work site because we are sick, and when we wash our hands, we are preventing others from catching it from us. That helps everyone.
LP: Can you explain a bit about antibody testing, and coronavirus testing in general?
DB: There has been a lot of attention in the media about testing, and by now, you may know that there are two basic types of testing. Each plays an important role in re-opening our economy as safely as possible. The diagnostic test looks for the virus using a swab inserted into our nose, and when it is positive, the test tells us that we probably can give the infection to someone else. The other test, antibody testing, tests our blood and indicates whether we have been exposed to the virus in the past.
LP: What is the importance of testing people for the presence of antibodies?
DB: When we are exposed to a virus, our bodies produce antibodies, which help our immune system fight off infection. Typically, these antibodies remain in our bodies and protect us from future infection by the same virus. They also mean that we can’t give the infection to others. Whether this is the same for COVID-19 antibodies is still not known. Using antibody testing to help us get back to work safely is based on the reasonable assumption that people who have these antibodies are no longer contagious, and cannot be infected again by the virus that’s currently circulating in their community.
Our bodies also develop immunity when exposed to vaccines. But until an effective vaccine can be developed and the virus is better understood, antibody testing provides useful information. Antibody testing is not an all-clear button for the world. It is just one tool to use along with workplace and lifestyle modifications – such as barriers between individuals, adequate ventilation, and regular cleaning and disinfecting – that can help ensure worker safety.
LP: Please address the concerns about a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
DB: There has been much talk about a “second wave” of coronavirus cases. This refers to the concern that there might be a new large surge in infections in people who have not yet been exposed to the virus and therefore don’t have antibodies. The fear is that people not previously exposed to the virus during lockdown will be exposed to the virus as our area opens back up and will get severely ill, as in the period we just went through. Everyone wants to prevent this, since it might cause a re-closing of our local economy. The hope is that a second surge is less likely to occur if large numbers of people have antibodies to COVID-19.
LP: How does antibody testing help with back-to-work decisions?
DB: Knowing who has developed antibodies and who has not can help us keep people safe at work as we re-open. Assuming antibodies do provide protection to those that have it, knowing what percentage of the population has the antibodies is important for planning.
Whether you have antibodies or not, until we have more certain information about how much protection they provide, it’s extremely important we continue to practice good hygiene and social distancing. We should all make sure to wear a mask over our nose and mouth, and wash hands frequently.
LP: What is MagnaCare’s Antibody Testing Program?
DB: To help with employers’ back to work planning, MagnaCare has kicked off a COVID-19 Antibody Testing Program together with BioReference Laboratories, one of our participating lab partners. Through the program we enable the laboratory to administer the antibody test at our clients’ location. BioReference Laboratories assesses the testing site to make sure it can provide adequate social distancing and meets other requirements it requires to administer the tests. The tests are by appointment through a web link, so we can space out the visits to avoid crowding. We already launched the initiative, and DC 9 is the first Fund that is using the MagnaCare Antibody Testing Program to provide free on-site antibody testing to its members.
If you’re interested in arranging on-site antibody testing for your job site or for your members, employers or Funds can contact MagnaCare at firstname.lastname@example.org.