How Remote Work Changed Our Lives — and Our Health

Mixed up work schedule, missing out on workouts and feeling like it’s all running together? Yeah, you’re not alone.

By Leslie Nemo | April 3, 2021 5:00 PM

Even if people wanted to work entirely from home before the pandemic began, their year of telecommuting probably didn’t start the way they had envisioned it — stripped of child care while avoiding contact with people outside their bubble, all in the effort to dodge a novel coronavirus.

Welcome or not, the remote workforce had to adjust, maybe watch their physical and mental health change in the process, and possibly find themselves in scenarios they would like to keep going long after their office buildings officially reopen.

New Virus, New Schedule

From May to June of 2020, a team of University of California, Los Angeles researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 newly-remote employees about how their days and habits had changed. One of the biggest modifications workers reported dealt with when they sat down to work: Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed had shifted their work hours, while 37 percent had rearranged their schedule to accommodate others in their home. Who people worked alongside changed, too: Nearly half said other people were in their workspace at the same time.

For some employees, a chance to rearrange work schedules and work from home is exactly what they wanted. Disability rights advocates have long been pushing for employees with disabilities to have the freedom to telecommute if that’s what they need. The pandemic has made that scenario a reality for everyone, and is particularly valuable to workers whose disabilities mean they are also more vulnerable to getting COVID-19 and need to socially distance. Though it’s painful to see that remote work was widely acceptable only once people outside the disability community wanted it, “it’s nice to realize that it’s working fine and should have been implemented decades ago,” says Charles Catherine, the associate director at the National Organization on Disability, a nonprofit that advocates for employment of people with disabilities.

Default work from home and remote gatherings have meant that employees who can’t drive have been able to go without time-consuming and expensive alternative transportation options to the office. For Nicole LeBlanc, advisory group coordinator for the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems and a disability rights activist, perpetual work from home has meant no longer scheduling and paying for a 6 a.m. pick up in time for a 9 a.m. drop off at her office, a commute that takes people in their own cars 40 minutes. “Spending half your paycheck on transit doesn’t make sense,” she says. “Now that it’s virtual, I don’t have that stress.” Employees with disabilities who regularly see doctors now might be in an office culture where there’s less focus on when they have to be in the building and more emphasis on getting tasks done, leaving them the freedom to schedule work around appointments.

Flexibility in someone’s daily work hours accommodates other demands in their life, and some people cope better with a constant back and forth between responsibilities than others. Clear boundaries between work and home help some people create order in their lives, says Tammy Allen, an industrial-organizational psychologist at the University of South Florida. Transitions between the different phases, like when a parent is getting ready for work in the morning but also preparing kids for a day of school, can create conflict and stress. The more moments of overlap, the more anxiety. So instead of undertaking a couple of challenging periods in a day, people working from home during the pandemic might constantly ping-pong between responsibilities, crossing boundaries — and feeling stressed — more often. Or, if they’re trying to parent throughout work, the day could be one big overlap.

When Allen and her team surveyed people about their work-life balance when first made to work from home, they expected the boundary-lovers to have the hardest time keeping a good mix of work, leisure and family time in their new routines. They were surprised to learn that wasn’t the case. Instead, participants who liked segmentation weren’t any worse off than others who liked more overlap in their day. Allen and her team think that maybe employees had developed coping skills in the pre-COVID era that they were able to carry home with them, or learned new tactics quickly out of a desire to keep the boundaries. For example, “they shut off that computer and they put it away at 5 o’clock,” Allen says, or learn to detach for a while. “Having some period of time where you let work go is beneficial for an individual’s health and well being.”

Where Stress and Parenting Collide

Being able to separate home life from work life can be helpful, as can compartmentalizing the struggles of raising kids. Research has shown that parent and kid stress during the pandemic go hand in hand. In one study, for example, adults who said they were coping with moderate or severe anxiety during the pandemic were more likely to report that their kids had higher anxiety, too. At-home schooling threw another complication into the dynamic. The less capable a parent felt of helping their kid through home school, the more likely that parent was to meet qualifications of moderate or severe depression.

The tight connections between parent and kid well-being made Christine Limbers, a psychologist at Baylor University, wonder what exercise, a well-known stress reliever, could do for mothers during the pandemic. Limbers and her colleagues surveyed moms working from home in the spring of 2020 — when a vast majority of respondents said their kids’ daycare was closed and that they did a majority of the parental work. Moms who regularly fit moderately intense activity into their schedules, they found, were less likely to feel like parenting stress was interfering with the rest of their life.

Of course, multitasking work and childrearing from home during the pandemic can leave families — and moms — without the time for a run or yoga class. Surveys have found that on average, people working from home during the pandemic are exercising less than before, and that even before the global health crisis, working moms often feel guilty for taking time to squeeze in a workout, Limbers says. But her research pointed out that mothers taking time to address their needs could improve every relationship in a household. “This has implications for the whole family,” she says, “and not just the individual who’s engaging in exercise.”

Ideally, the 2020 pivot to work-from-home means remote work will extend beyond the pandemic. Catherine thinks that knowing remote work is possible might encourage more companies to hire people with disabilities — in 2020, the unemployment rate for those with disabilities was 12.6 percent but 7.9 percent for those without disabilities. If any jobs stay entirely remote, some people might have the opportunity to choose not to disclose their disability and relieve themselves of facing workplace or hiring discrimination altogether.

Generally, the employees that Allen surveys want a hybrid office and home model in the future. “People can, perhaps, quickly develop skills or try out a new situation, and that changes their preference,” she says. And if the goal is to have people working in set-ups that fit them best, then maybe remote work will stick around post-pandemic, especially if it comes with the freedom to see friends.


This article was originally published on on discovermagazine.com 

NPR Planet Money Podast Interviews NOD President Carol Glazer: “The Old Rules Were Dumb Anyway”

August 28, 2020 – When the pandemic hit, the old rules went out the window. What rules will stay broken when things go back to normal? NPR’s Planet Money asked NOD President Carol Glazer to weigh in.

In this podcast, Glazer shares how employees with disabilities were among the first to get laid off when the pandemic hit the U.S. – in fact, more than one million lost their jobs. But, Glazer shares how the wave of companies implementing remote work is dispelling many of the myths that kept those with disabilities out of the workplace.

Listen:

Jump to 17:30 to hear Carol Glazer’s interview


This podcast was originally posted on NPR.org.

Has the Great WFH Experiment Delivered for Workers with Disabilities?

Coworkers discussing project in architects office
Coworkers discussing project in architects office | Getty Images

August 27, 2020 · Alex Hickey

For many workers with mental or physical disabilities, being “last hired, first fired” is an all-too-familiar story—and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the worst unemployment crisis in decades.

But the pandemic also presented a unique opportunity: a tectonic shift to remote work. Have those opportunities been realized for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses?

A rough few months

In 2019, even with record-low unemployment (3.5%!) that had companies scrambling for talent, disabled workers weren’t making meaningful gains. The employment rate for disabled workers with a college degree was less than half that of adults without a disability who held a high school diploma or less.

And then COVID-19 happened. In the last few months, tens of millions of Americans have been put out of a job, and people with disabilities continue to face higher levels of joblessness.

  • The unemployment rate for workers with a disability peaked in April at 18.9%. It was 14.3% for workers without a disability.
  • By July, unemployment for workers with a disability had fallen to 14.3%, while it hit 10.3% for workers with no disability.

Now, competing for limited open positions, disabled workers have to combat misperceptions that they are higher risk and more expensive.

Can remote work close the gap?

“There’s no question that more people with disabilities will be able to work when telework becomes more routine,” Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, told the Brew.

Eighty-three percent of workers with a disability or a chronic illness surveyed by GitLab said remote work allowed them to participate in the workforce. And over half said it gives them an opportunity to contribute to company direction, values, and processes.

Remote reduces or eliminates time spent on commuting, which can take longer and be more logistically challenging for some people with disabilities. In New York City, only 25% of subway stations are accessible for travelers who require mobility devices or service animals. Remote work also gives employees more discretion to set up physical workspaces that suit their needs, avoid workplace stressors or sensory overload, and have extra flexibility to schedule appointments and care as needed with less disruption to their work.

When COVID-19 forced offices to close, many employers extended WFH arrangements, equipment, technology, and other resources to employees. But the nearly overnight spin up of telework exposed a painful double standard for some workers with disabilities.

  • “Many of us have long asked, fought for, and have been denied these reasonable accommodations, and have even lost their job as a result,” journalist Danielle Campoamor writes for Teen Vogue.
  • “It can feel painful to watch policies we’ve been told were impossibilities, unfair work arrangements, or somehow detrimental to the energy of the workplace, be so widely and effortlessly implemented.”

Even in the best of times, remote work is not accessible to all. It’s often extended to workers with more education and in higher-earning roles, Brookings analyst Nicole Bateman told the Brew. BLS data shows workers with disabilities are more likely to be employed in roles like production, transportation, and non-professional services, which typically provide less opportunity for remote work.

Plus, many leading platforms for workplace communication and collaboration aren’t fully equipped with features for visually or hearing-impaired workers.

Employers can also be slow to implement accessibility initiatives. It was an uphill battle getting employers to invest in accessibility programs before the pandemic. During hard economic times, new initiatives for accessibility, training, and recruitment are often not prioritized, Glazer and Bateman said.

  • State and local governments, which often create incentives for firms to make accessibility investments, have seen the pandemic decimate their budgets even as they’re being asked to do more than ever, according to Bateman.

What’s next?

The current national conversation about barriers facing marginalized communities has brought more attention to issues of workplace discrimination, but people with disabilities still face a tougher road to economic recovery even with increased flexible working arrangements.

  • During and after the Great Recession, employment levels for people with a disability recovered more slowly than for workers without a disability, according to Bateman.

What can companies do? The National Organization on Disability created a scorecard to help companies benchmark their inclusion policies. Employers who successfully hire and retain workers with disabilities frequently have policies such as mentorship programs, employee resource groups, clear explanations of accommodations, and training for staff about disability to demystify it, according to Glazer.

Workers with disabilities can help companies rebound. As businesses undergo a period of unprecedented economic and social change, hiring managers would be wise to team up with “people who are much better at dealing with fear and uncertainty. People who are great problem solvers, who are undaunted by challenges,” Glazer said.


This article was originally published on Morning Brew

This Year’s ADA Anniversary Marks A Time to Make Certain We Are Not Losing Ground | Blog by Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem

Governor Tom Ridge, Merrill Friedman of Anthem, and Carol Glazer of NOD smiling and holding an award
Merrill Friedman receives NOD’s Leading Disability Employer award on behalf of Anthem, with NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge and President Carol Glazer

By Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement from Anthem, Inc.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

I had planned to pause in 2020 to honor the ADA, thinking about what it has meant for people with disabilities and, of course, what work needs to be done to continue moving forward. I looked forward to the flurry of events, seeing people from across the country, and setting some expectations for the next 30 years. Then, we saw the onset of a pandemic, COVID-19. While I, and others here at Anthem, will absolutely include activities to mark this milestone, I find myself thinking that instead of so much focus on gaining ground, we need to worry we don’t lose any.

Exposure to COVID-19 for people with disabilities has several implications, including the threat of health care rationing, restrictions on loved ones having advocates to support them in the hospital, their DSPs and PCAs not being considered “essential workers,” or not having equitable access to PPE. This, along with the staggering unemployment rate, means we need to make sure people with disabilities do not lose the progress hard-won since the ADA was passed 30 years ago.

People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to experience unemployment. And they are often among the first to lose their jobs when the economy sours; as the economy turns around, it is not necessarily those same workers who get hired back.

There are 60 million people with disabilities in the United States, and those numbers will only grow because of COVID-19. Many survivors will have lasting physical and mental health conditions, which means the unemployment figures could rise even further.

What is frustrating is that high joblessness does not have to be part of the story for people with disabilities. Given their life experiences, they can lead the way for all of us on working effectively from home. They have advocated long before the pandemic that given support, flexibility, and access to equipment and broadband, they can thrive like other employees. This has been our experience at Anthem.

We started preparing for COVID-19 early and with great thoughtfulness. By the time the pandemic was overwhelming the public and shelter-in-place orders were rolling out, 99 percent of our employees were in the process of being supported to work remotely with the tools they needed.

We made sure everyone had the resources necessary to be successful. I am very proud of what the company has done and continues to do. If an employee with a disability requires an accommodation while working from home, we provide it as we would if they were in the office. We have also ensured focus and precision in supporting people with disabilities who access their health care through Anthem plans so they can maintain access to critical supports like their providers, food, and other services.

Mental health support during the pandemic is also critical for all of our associates, who in addition to coping with stress and uncertainty in their own lives, internalize the stress and anxiety that our members share when we speak with them. We recognized that our health care services needed to be easily accessible to both associates and members and expanded telehealth and increased the options for physical, mental health, substance use, and social supports through this platform.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we created #MeMinutes, a reminder for employees to think about their own self-care and to take time for themselves for the purpose of individual health and wellbeing and to better support other people. We know that we only move through this challenging time if we work together.

What has been so interesting is that many of the practices we have adopted recently have been recommended by our colleagues with disabilities for years, showing how important it is to listen to the experiences of people with disabilities.

My hope is that we continue to build on the knowledge and practice gained during this time of crisis and consider when recruiting people with disabilities that they know how to adapt to different work environments effectively with the right supports. Let’s not lose what we have learned as we have navigated the pandemic so we can continue to level the playing field toward true inclusive employment, realizing the promise of the ADA. If that happens, we will all have reason to pause and celebrate this year.


Anthem is a longtime member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of NOD’s Look Closer awareness campaign. For its exemplary disability employment practices, NOD has recognized Anthem as a Leading Disability Employer Seal every year since the award’s inception in 2016.  

 

 

 

 

Outreach Campaign Encourages People to Overcome Hospital Fears

Posted on August 5th, 2020 | By Mike Moen

A new study says since the start of the pandemic, 911 calls for emergency medical services in the United States have dropped by 26% compared with the past two years.

RICHMOND, Va. — New coronavirus cases are climbing in states such as Virginia, but concerns persist that people dealing with other health emergencies may be avoiding the hospital out of infection fears. A new awareness campaignaims to ease those concerns, especially for people of color.

An online survey for the American Heart Association found that 55% of Hispanics and 45% of Blacks said they’d be scared to go to a hospital with heart attack or stroke symptoms because of COVID-19 fears.

Dr. Federico Asch at MedStar Washington Hospital Center said the results mirror fewer 911 calls in recent months, but these warning signs shouldn’t be ignored.

“These are situations that can actually kill people, like heart attack or stroke, at a much higher rate than COVID itself,” he said.

Health experts have said COVID-19 cases disproportionately have affected certain ethnic groups, which is likely to be creating these concerns.

The Heart Association is launching a public awareness campaign in English and Spanish. Called “Don’t Die of Doubt,” it reminds people that a hospital is the safest place to go if they’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

Asch, who also is a regional board president for the Heart Association, said that while it’s reasonable to worry about becoming infected with COVID if you go to the hospital, it isn’t likely to happen.

“They have everything possible in place to prevent you from getting infected by COVID,” he said.

If stroke or heart attack symptoms are ignored, health officials have said, the next round of symptoms could be much more severe.

More details about the “Don’t Die of Doubt” campaign are on the American Heart Association’s website.

Disclosure: American Heart Association Mid Atlantic Affiliate contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Poverty Issues, Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service – VA

AT&T Survey: 70% of Large Businesses Think Remote Working Makes Them More Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By Mike Robuck

According to new research from AT&T, businesses are understandably skittish in regards to remote workers being exposed to more cyberattacks.

AT&T’s survey found that 70% of the large business felt remote working made them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. AT&T’s study of 800 cybersecurity professionals across the U.K., France and Germany found that more than half (55%) now believe remote working is making their companies more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

With “work from anywhere” policies in place for millions of employees due to Covid-19, the security perimeter has moved out of office spaces, which has provided cybercriminals with new vectors of attack.

AT&T Alien Labs Open Threat Exchange (OTX) is one of the largest intelligence-sharing communities in the world, with more than 140,000 security and IT professionals from 140 countries daily contributing and sharing information. In March, as the coronavirus pandemic became more widespread and organizations around the world started implementing wide-scale remote working policies, OTX experienced a 2,000% month-over-month increase in Covid-related incidents of comprise (IOCs).

Along the same lines, Nokia Deepfield saw a significant increase in Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack volumes during March. That trend continued throughout April and May. In June, the aggregate volume of DDoS traffic was 40% to 50% above the pre-pandemic levels from February.

“Cybercriminals are opportunistic, taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding issues like the current global health and economic situation as well as sudden shifts and exposures in IT environments to launch attack campaigns,” said John Vladimir Slamecka, AT&T region president, EMEA, in a statement. “It can be a challenge for IT organizations to stay on top of emergent threat activity in the wild.”

RELATED: Covid-19 takes a $2.8 billion bite out of AT&T’s second quarter

According to AT&T’s survey, employees were the biggest risk identified by the cyber experts. At 31%, AT&T’s research found there was a lack of awareness, apathy or reluctance to embrace new technologies as the biggest challenges for implementing better cybersecurity practices within businesses.

One in three (35%) of the employees utilize the same devices for both work and personal uses while 24% are sharing or storing sensitive information in unsanctioned cloud applications. With work from home employees, 18% of the employees were sharing their devices with another family member.

Somewhat surprisingly, 25% of the businesses haven’t offered additional cybersecurity training for their employees while 24% haven’t created secure gateways to applications hosted in cloud or data centers.

In addition, 22% hadn’t increased endpoint protection for laptops and mobile while 17% hadn’t installed internet browsing protection for web-base threats.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also created fertile ground for phishing and other fraud-related activities. Among the cybersecurity experts’ responses in the survey, 44% cited ransomware and/or malware as their top security concern. Phishing (39%) and external threats such as nation-state attacks or hacking (39%) rounded out their top three concerns.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated businesses’ digital transformations. Cybersecurity experts are gearing up for new innovations as a response to business conditions around Covid-19. Almost half (47%) expect more digital transformation of business processes and cloud implementation in the year to come.

RELATED: Masergy’s Watson: Third phase of COVID-19 fallout could be a long haul for businesses

Two in five (40%) believe that their business will adopt new automation and robotic tools. For the largest businesses, those with more than 5,000 employees, nearly half (48%) will be changing their technology partners in the next year.

“While many organizations had already supported some remote workers on a regular basis, the sudden increase has put stress on IT systems, processes, and teams,” said Slamecka.  “Others have had to scramble to quickly roll out solutions focused on keeping their entire workforce connected and productive.

“In either case, sudden and unplanned changes in the way workers connect to the corporate network and access corporate data and applications in the data center and cloud can introduce new cyber risks and vulnerabilities.”

Pandemic May Move Companies to Fix Gender and Other Inequalities, Says PwC

Report reflects marked gender inequality in corporate sector, with only 6% of listed companies having female CEOs

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By Ntando Thukwana

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has prompted companies to place greater emphasis on their social responsibilities, may give companies the impetus to address gender and other inequalities, reports advisory firm PwC.

The report issued on Tuesday came as the country observes women’s month honouring women who marched against the pass laws 64 years ago. It paints a picture of pronounced gender inequality in the  corporate sector with only 6% of listed companies having female CEOs.

Advocates Seek Increase to Supplemental Security Income to Benefit People with Disabilities

People receiving the maximum SSI live on $783 a month. The Chicago Disability Activism Collective is proposing an additional $266 per month.

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By

 

With the coronavirus heightening challenges already faced by people with disabilities, activists are calling for an increase monthly Supplemental Security Income.

The SSI Justice Campaign is proposing the state add $266 to people’s monthly SSI, a federal income program designed to help aged and disabled people who have minimal or no income. The current federal monthly maximum is $783.

The Chicago Disability Activism Collective launched the campaign with full support of Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents the 7th District on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Many people with disabilities can’t work and rely solely on SSI to cover rent, food and other basic needs, Anaya said. Coupled with a cost of living in Cook County that’s higher than the national average, Anaya said an increase to Illinois’ SSI is “far overdue.” The increase would also benefit undocumented people with disabilities, Anaya said.

The additional $266 would be funded through a state-level inheritance tax increase, according to the draft resolution. Anaya said the resolution will be introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

People who rely on SSI have faced challenges long before the coronavirus pandemic, said Monia Taylor, a member of CDAC. When bills roll in and demand payment, Taylor said she can’t wait for another monthly SSI installment to come through.

“The poverty Black people and disabled people face on a daily basis didn’t start with COVID,” Taylor said. “The virus just exacerbated the problem, having to choose between rent and buying food because you don’t have enough money for both.”

Adam Ballard, a housing and transport policy advocate advising the campaign, said high rent forces many people with disabilities to live in congregate settings if they don’t have a housing voucher. Even people who have housing vouchers have to contribute 30% of their SSI to rent, Ballard said, already leaving people “in a pinch.”

Transportation costs can also quickly stack up, even with subsidized taxi rides through the Chicago Taxi Access Program and other services, Ballard said.

The number of Chicago taxi medallions surrendered this year increased from 552 as of March 11 when the pandemic hit the city to 2,501 on June 11, according to data obtained by the Sun-Times through a FOIA request. The decrease leaves 636 licensed taxis in the city.

“We have a system that forces people to make decisions that limit their travel as well,” Ballard said. “Their outcomes limit their freedom.”

People in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for example, can’t use the benefits to have groceries delivered. Instead, they must make a trip to the store.

Angela Lacy, president of CDAC, said she’s been living in a “pandemic situation” for a long time, kept from social events and being unable to afford services and goods because of the economic strain of relying on SSI.

“We’re surviving, but we’re not living,” Lacy said. “The lack of income from SSI has caused me to live this way.”

 

‘It’s Like Having No Testing’: Coronavirus Test Results Are Still Delayed

A shortage of chemicals needed to test for the virus is part of what is slowing turnaround times.

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By Sarah Mervosh and

patient handing sample to medical professional

 

Frustrated by a nationwide testing backlog, the governors of six states took the unusual step of banding together on Tuesday to reduce the turnaround time for coronavirus test results from days to minutes.

 

The agreement, by three Republican governors and three Democratic governors, was called the first interstate testing compact of its kind. The six states — Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia — agreed to work with the Rockefeller Foundation and two U.S. manufacturers of rapid tests to buy three million tests.

The bipartisan plan highlights the depth of the testing problems in the United States more than six months into the pandemic.

The United States is testing about 755,000 people a day, up from about 640,000 per day a month ago, and far more than in April and May, according to the Covid Tracking Project. But numbers alone do not tell the whole story. With testing chemicals and other equipment in short supply, and a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide leading to skyrocketing demands, many Americans are still having to wait many days for results, effectively rendering those tests useless.

 

Most people who are tested for the virus do not receive results within the 24 to 48 hours recommended by public health experts to effectively stall the virus’s spread and quickly conduct contact tracing, according to a new national survey by researchers from Harvard University, Northeastern University, Northwestern University and Rutgers University.
The survey — representing 19,000 people from 50 states and Washington, D.C., who responded to an online questionnaire last month — found lengthy wait times among those who had been tested for the virus, about 18 percent of all respondents. People who had been tested for the virus in July reported an average wait time of about four days. That is about the same wait time for those who reported taking a test in April. Over all, about 10 percent of people reported waiting 10 days or more.
Respondents in a vast majority of states reported a median turnaround time of at least three days, including residents of California, Florida, Texas and other hot spots.

The survey also found disparities across racial groups, an indication that people who are hit hardest by the pandemic are also having to wait longer for test results. Black people surveyed reported an average wait time for results of five days, and Hispanic respondents reported an average wait time of 4.6 days, compared with 3.9 days for white people.

 

“Testing is just not quick enough,” said Matthew A. Baum, a professor of public policy at Harvard University and one of the researchers in the group, which found that wait times were “strikingly similar” across the country. “This is an enormously widespread problem.”

 

The challenge, experts say, is a basic issue of supply and demand. About half of all coronavirus tests are conducted by large-scale commercial laboratory companies like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, which are racing to turn around swabs while competing with a global market. There is also a critical shortage of certain equipment and supplies, including reagents, the chemical ingredients needed to detect whether the coronavirus is present in a sample.

 

Federal officials argue that long wait times are unusual, citing figures that more than 80 percent of tests are completed within three days. With plans to reduce the share of tests done by commercial labs, shifting more responsibility to hospitals and other facilities where tests can be done in as little as 15 minutes, officials say that turnaround times are expected to improve soon. Still, labs around the country have been feeling the pressure for weeks.

 

In Brunswick, Ga., lab technicians are working around the clock. Machines churn out results in 50 minutes to four and a half hours, but there are so many orders that the labs cannot keep up. Regular shipments of chemicals needed to test for the virus do not last even a week, so pathologists have begun to carefully dole out their supplies.

 

“We literally ration tests,” said Dr. Patrick Godbey, the president of the College of American Pathologists and the director of two labs in the Brunswick area. He estimated that for every test his labs are able to perform, they have to send three to national commercial laboratory companies.

 

“Why keep a backlog?” he said. “Tomorrow is going to be just as busy.”

 

In California, Dr. Amir Jamali, an orthopedic surgeon, had to order swabs from eBay in order to test surgery patients at his practice in the Bay Area. He paid about $50 for a bundle of five, which he said was far above the normal price. But now, Dr. Jamali said, the effort has been largely for naught because turnaround times at local labs are inching longer by the day.

 

“We used to be able to get it within 24 and 48 hours,” Dr. Jamali said. “Almost every week it’s increasing to three day, five days, seven days, 10 days.” In that time, he fears his patients could have gone to a party or a barbecue, potentially exposing other people, as well as his staff and other patients. Some days, he has had to cancel surgery rather than risk exposure.

 

“It’s like having no testing,” he said.

 

The problem spans much of the country. In Alabama, the health department recently put out a warning that the turnaround time for test results has ballooned to an average of seven days.

 

“A test result that comes back in seven or eight days is worthless for everybody — it shouldn’t even be counted,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and a physician in Pittsburgh. “It’s not a test in any kind of effective manner because it’s not actionable.”

 

Despite a shortage of the chemical reagents, Dr. Adalja said he typically has no problem getting a quick test for hospitalized patients, who are given priority. But people who go to a drive-through clinic or walk into a CVS may have to wait much longer for their tests to come through the system.

Based on federal guidance, LabCorp said it was prioritizing hospitalized patients and nursing home tests. “All other testing for patients are performed in the order in which they are received,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. As of July 30, the company reported that its turnaround time for test results was two to three days from when the sample was picked up.

Quest Diagnostics, another major commercial lab, is reporting a turnaround time of five days for all patients, and two for patients who were the highest priority.

 

James Davis, executive vice president of general diagnostics for Quest, said that the company had recently ramped up testing by acquiring its own testing process and ingredients, and that it was already seeing improvements in turnaround times. But he said there was only so much that can be done because a majority of about 150,000 tests that Quest performs each day rely on automated testing machines from two companies that must use reagent kits from those companies, similar to a Honda car that needed a replacement part made by Honda.

 

“Right now, we live hand to mouth,” he said of the chemicals. “I need a shipment on Monday to make sure all of my labs run through Wednesday, and then on Wednesday, I need another shipment,” he said, adding, “That’s how tight the supply chain is.”

 

The six-state agreement announced on Tuesday showed how the lack of a federal testing program has left municipalities and states to fend for themselves. The Trump administration has provided new support to hard-hit regions by providing free coronavirus testing in cities through a “surge testing” program announced last month. But the bulk of government-sponsored testing has been provided by cities, counties and states that hire third-party contractors such as Quest and LabCorp. As a result, the length of the delay varies between states, and within them.

 

In Texas, officials in San Antonio said it was taking 24 to 36 hours to get test results back at a free government-run testing site at Freeman Coliseum. The wait was longer at Legacy Community Health clinics in Houston and the surrounding Gulf Coast region, where test results were on a two-day to five-day turnaround time.

 

On Tuesday, officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said they were increasing testing capacity and shortening lab turnaround times as part of federal “surge testing.” The temporary support, which lasts until 30,000 testing samples are reached at two free testing sites, will have test results in three to five business days.

 

The compact was negotiated by the Rockefeller Foundation and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, during the final days of his tenure as chairman of the National Governors Association. Instead of each of the six states separately ordering thousands of tests, the group of states is instead in discussions with the two U.S. manufacturers of antigen tests, the Quidel Corporation and Becton, Dickinson & Company, to buy three million tests, or 500,000 tests per state.

 

Unlike the more readily available tests that use polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., antigen tests can rapidly determine whether a person has been infected by the virus by detecting fragments of virus in a sample. The tests will deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes, the governors said. Still, scientists have said the tests can frequently miss infections. Tests from both Becton Dickinson and Quidel could produce false negative results between 15 and 20 percent of the time.

 

The Trump administration’s testing czar, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, told Congress last week that “turnaround times are definitely improving.” But Admiral Giroir, a doctor and the assistant secretary for health, testified that getting test results within two to three days “is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today.”

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.

L’Oreal USA Could Require Employees to Hand Over Their Medical History to Continue Working From Home — and it May Be a Sign of What’s to Come

Posted on August 4th, 2020 | By Shoshy Ciment and Amanda Krause

  • L’Oréal US employees who want to work from home are being required to give the company access to their medical history, two current L’Oreal employees confirmed.
  • Beauty watchdog Instagram account esteelaundry shared a photo of the form employees must sign that releases “information regarding any physical or mental limitation(s)” that could affect their ability to “safely perform work” during the pandemic.
  • According to Helen Rella, an employment and labor lawyer at Wilk Auslander, L’Oreal is perfectly within its rights to request medical records or information from its employees who are requesting accommodations.
  • “We have never seen a situation like this before with anticipated mass applications for disability-based accommodations,” Rella said. “Employers and employees are encouraged to work together in an interactive process to address the situation and keep the workforce functioning.”
  • A spokesperson for ‘L’Oréal USA said the company “does not ask for any employee’s actual medical records or details of a medical diagnosis.” The request form includes the release of  “medical information.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the US slowly reopens, employers are grappling with how — if at all — to bring people back into the office.

In the case of L’Oréal USA, a push to return to the office has some employees in an uncomfortable situation. Those employees who wish to remain working from home must provide access to their medical records in order for any accommodations from the company to be considered, according to a post on beauty watchdog Instagram account esteelaundry.

The post, which was published about a week ago, shows the form that L’Oreal employees can sign that would release “information regarding any physical or mental limitation(s)” that may affect their ability to “safely perform work,” during the pandemic, which they must fill out if they wish to remain working from home. Two current L’Oreal employees confirmed the arrangement to Business Insider.

A spokesperson for ‘L’Oréal USA, which employs nearly 11,000 people noted that the company “does not ask for any employee’s actual medical records or details of a medical diagnosis. Any employee seeking a medical exemption from returning to in-office work is required to provide verification from their physician. In most instances, a doctor’s note is a sufficient verification.”

The request form includes the release of  “medical information.”

The spokesperson added: “Any confidential information shared by employees is managed by a third-party provider in conjunction with HIPAA-trained HR professionals who determine eligibility for medical exemptions from returning to in-office work.”

The legal implications of requesting medical information

According to Helen Rella, an employment and labor lawyer at Wilk Auslander, L’Oreal is perfectly within its rights to request access to medical information from its employees who are requesting to stay at home.

Rella explained that it is up to an employer to set the terms and conditions of employment, which includes where the job is physically carried out. Since statewide restrictions and stay-at-home orders have been lifted, employees have technically been required to come back into work if their job demands it and could be subject to termination of they refuse.

However, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on disabilities, allows employees with underlying medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to request accommodations from their employers, which includes working from home.

In the event an employee makes this type of request, the employer has the legal right to ask for pertaining medical certification and records in order to justify any accommodation.

“Employee medical records are considered highly confidential and an employer may only request information related to the stated disability and need for an accommodation, and may not generally request all medical records of the employee,” said Rella.

The practice of releasing medical information to one’s employer during the process of requesting workplace accommodations has been the norm in employment law for some time. But the pandemic is making situations like these a lot more common across a variety of workplaces, Rella said.

“We have never seen a situation like this before with anticipated mass applications for disability-based accommodations,” Rella said. “Employers and employees are encouraged to work together in an interactive process to address the situation and keep the workforce functioning.”

L’Oréal could face lawsuits down the line as a result of these medical-release documents

Jackie Voronov and Jeffrey Daitz, labor and employment attorneys at Hall Booth Smith, P.C., told Insider that while L’Oréal’s documents are not inherently illegal or unethical, they could lead to issues for the company at a later time.

“You could sue somebody based on a perceived disability, and questionnaires like this can put you into a lawsuit on a perception of an Americans with Disabilities Act violation, so it’s a very sensitive and delicate issue,” Daitz told Insider.

Voronov added: “As a rule of thumb in this day and age, in the year 2020, where anybody can say ‘You’re discriminating against me because I’m disabled,’ there’s better ways to get the information you seek.”

Are you an employee in retail working during the pandemic? Email retail@businessinsider.com to share your story. 

Update: This story has been updated to include L’Oréal’s comment and to clarify that the company’s authorization form includes the release of medical information not medical records.