Getting back to the office in the midst of coronavirus is going to be complicated

Getting back to the office in the midst of coronavirus is going to be complicated

Good afternoon, readers.

How do you reopen a country—and workplaces specifically—on lockdown in the midst of a pandemic? We are… still figuring it out.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this week revised its guidance regarding coronavirus antibody tests, the diagnostics which tell you whether or not you’ve recovered from and developed an immune response to COVID-19. The working theory is that these tests will eventually prove critical to wide-scale reopening since those who test positive for antibodies may be able to ward off the virus and thus have a lower chance of infecting other people, as well.

But not so fast, says the CDC—such tests “should not be used to make decisions about grouping persons residing in or being admitted to congregate settings, such as schools, dormitories, or correctional facilities” and also “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.”

Why? For one thing, many antibody tests which have been given emergency authorization during the outbreak aren’t particularly accurate. It will take time to figure out exactly which ones are. It will take even more time to figure out what the presence of these antibodies even means when it comes to immunity.

States such as Texas, South Carolina, Florida, and others have begun the reopening process, although many are still maintaining special rules such as reduced capacity and social distancing for reopened businesses (others have had a more difficult time at crowd control and enforcing public health protocols.)

In traditional office spaces, some companies will likely employ a mix of strategies. Temperature checks may become a regular part of air travel and in other businesses, for instance. Even that might come with some problems since the novel coronavirus has a weeks-long incubation period, meaning you may not have symptoms such as a fever despite being infected.

Distancing within enclosed spaces may very well become a norm. And at some companies, like pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, the employees who are still expected to come in to manufacturing plants to make drugs have safety mechanisms in place.

“We have a mechanism for that employee to be tested, and we also have the ability to track the contacts that that person may have had in a plant to alert the people who may have been in contact with them,” Bristol-Myers CEO Giovanni Caforio told me for Fortune‘s latest print issue.

Overall, coming back into work will likely prove a multi-pronged, gradual, and complex dance for many businesses. If you have any personal stories about how your own business is grappling with the process, please shoot me a note.

Read on for the day’s news, and we’ll see you again next week.

Sy Mukherjee
[email protected]
@the_sy_guy