Testing for COVID-19

Background Information

Testing for virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes illness COVID-19 is done in a few ways, of which two are useful for workers/workplaces.

The PCR test

The PCR test is the test that is conducted at government testing sites. The PRC test:

  • is used to detect presence of virus which causes COVID-19
  • is a diagnostic test – it tells you whether you have the virus or not
  • looks for genetic material from the virus
  • results take hours due to need to use expensive & specialized equipment
  • requires a swab to be taken from the nose and back of the throat– it can be uncomfortable
  • requires a health professional to take the swabs.
  • requires transport to a laboratory to perform testing.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT)

Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) have been required for certain groups of workers by state governments. These tests are less accurate than the PCR tests and need to be performed more frequently. Rapid Antigen Tests:

  • is a screening test, tells you if you might have the virus
  • looks for molecules on surface of virus
  • is less accurate than PCR, but if positive, it is likely the virus is present
  • if done frequently enough, eg 3 times a week, RAT are a good way to pick up infections before symptoms appear
  • some require a swab to be taken from inside the mouth or nose, not from the back of throat
  • can be run on site in about 20 minutes and is relatively inexpensive
  • currently requires supervision of a health professional to take the swab and perform testing. This may change in line with arrangements in other countries where people are able to self-test.

Workplace Introduction of Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT)

The use of RAT is another measure that workplaces can take to help limit the spread of the virus. The aim is to frequently conduct the test, before starting work to find workers who may have no symptoms or be unaware they are carrying the virus.

Workers, HSRs and their union must be consulted about the introduction of any testing policy, and the detail of the policy.

Currently, RAT can only be conducted under the supervision of a health professional

The health professional must be provided with the appropriate PPE.

When considering the type for RATto be used, the following will be taken into account:

  • Accuracy – specificity and sensitivity of the test
  • Time for conduct of the testing – shorter time the better
  • Ease of conduct of the test eg saliva vs nasal vs nasopharyngeal
  • Ease of access to the test and ‘convenience’ (not needing to leave home or go somewhere away from work to test)
  • Informed consent, given the test is a taking of a body sample.

For RAT the following needs to apply:

  • RAT performed in paid time – prior to starting work
  • Whilst waiting for the test result [up to 20 minutes], interactions between people must be minimised eg separate space, maintain social distancing
  • If the RAT result not negative – the person must not enter the workplace until a negative PCR test result is obtained
  • Paid leave must be provided to all workers who need to get and wait for PCR rest results [at a minimum 24 hours]
  • Paid Pandemic Leave must be available for all workers to isolate whilst awaiting result and if positive for COVID
  • Everyone – irrespective of work role – must be tested
  • Any private information must not be shared with the employer/PCBU
  • The employer/PCBU should receive only the results of the RAT.

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