Back to Blog

What to Do if an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

By Jorge Acosta   |   

The food processing and manufacturing world is currently in an especially precarious position in this pandemic, as workers often interact in close quarters, and social distancing isn’t always possible. And staying home to flatten the curve (which works!) isn’t always feasible since food, and its production, is essential.


At this point in time, we have enough data to support that the coronavirus is not transmitted via food. It’s an upper respiratory infection — in order to become infected, it has to get transmitted from either an infected individual through microdroplets, or from touching a dirty surface, then transferring the virus by touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.


With that in mind, we developed this step-by-step procedure on what to do when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 to help give industry leaders a good rule of thumb. We relied on recommendations from either academia or entities such as WHO, CDC, and the FDA.


1. First: you must screen employees on a daily basis. The CDC and WHO recommends that companies identify those who may be sick, as it helps prevent an infected individual from transmitting the virus to an entire workforce.


A good process entails utilizing thermal imaging for temperature checks and relying upon self-reported symptoms. If anyone is exhibiting a temperature of higher than 99.8, or experiencing labored breathing, or a cough, they are sent to a secondary location for a more in-depth evaluation. At this point, more questions are asked by a health care professional.


2. If the employee is sent to a secondary location, their temperature should be taken with a non-contact infrared thermometer (NCIT). If it registers a temperature of 100.4 or above, or more symptoms and/or emergency warning signs are exhibited, such as

  • trouble breathing,

  • persistent pain,

  • pressure in the chest,

  • confusion,

  • bluish lips or face,


then they should seek medical attention at once and should be sent home immediately for at least two weeks with pay as per company policy or statutory requirements. The employee needs to be provided with relevant information as to where to be tested or directed to their primary care provider.


3. If the employee was suspected to be positive for COVID-19 and the employee’s test comes back positive*, they cannot return to work until all the following have been met:

  • at least three days have passed without a fever (without fever-reducing medication)

  • there has been an improvement in respiratory symptoms

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.


*For a full list of guidelines that address each potential scenario, please see the section “When it’s Safe to be Around Others: Ending Home Isolation” below.

4. In the meantime, while waiting to hear back from the employee as they wait for their test results, you must clean and disinfect all surfaces that the employee came into contact with with any of the featured products on List N of EPA-registered products deemed effective against COVID-19.

In addition, clean and disinfect the breakroom, including the interior and exterior of the breakroom refrigerator, the kitchen sink faucets, and discard all food that might be shared in the breakroom and refrigerator.

Keep any of the tested worker’s property segregated, cleaned, and disinfected. Clean and disinfect their locker and discard all food.

5. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The employer should instruct fellow employees about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.

There’s not a second to waste!

6. Next, you’ll want to identify any workers who worked in close contact with the infected employee within the last 48 hours and report them to your local health department.

“Close contact” applies to any coworker who worked side-by-side or on the same team, a household member, or someone providing care in the household. They will have to get tested and/or self-monitor for symptoms.

7. Prepare for the possibility that that employees who came into contact with the infected colleague will also have to stay home.

8. By now, you hopefully know the drill: it’s time to clean and disinfect all of the surface areas the employees in question came into contact with.

9. If the coworkers did not exhibit any symptoms and/or tested negative, they can return to work at the end of their initial two-week quarantine.

10. However, if the coworkers develop symptoms of their own during quarantine, they must inform you, their local health department, and reach out to their doctor for testing. See below for full guidelines on returning to work.

11. Assess the risk to your business based on the information your health department gives you once a positive case is confirmed. If the number of workers who need to be tested is low, you can manage production by adjusting shift procedures, wearing face masks and gloves, and social distancing when possible.

When it’s Safe to be Around Others: Ending Home Isolation

Depending on the circumstances of each situation, there are specific guidelines to follow. Here are instructions per the CDC:

People with COVID-19 or its symptoms who:

  • are recovering at home (or other non-hospital setting), and

  • will not be tested to determine if they are no longer contagious

can leave their “sick room” and home when:

  • They have had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever) without the use of medicine that reduces fevers


  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)


  • At least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.


People with COVID-19 or its symptoms who:

  • are recovering at home (or other non-hospital setting), and

  • will be tested to determine if they are no longer contagious

can leave their “sick room” and home when:

  • They no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)


  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)


  • They received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart.


People who did not have COVID-19 symptoms, but tested positive who:

  • are self-isolating at home (or other non-hospital setting)

can leave their “sick room” and home when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of the first positive test


  • They continue to have no symptoms (no cough or shortness of breath) since the test.


More Helpful Hints


1. Have a plan in place: Remember that employees can develop symptoms within two to three days, which can equate to a sizable chunk of workers missing from the facility all at the same time. Many facilities employ cross-training for this very purpose.


2. The worst thing to do is resume production normally while waiting for results. You must ensure:

  • that the infected worker is quarantining,

  • that any close contact workers are quarantining and getting tested,

  • that you are cleaning and disinfecting all contacted surfaces.


If this all feels overwhelming, know that you are not alone, and know that the more knowledge you have, the more empowered you will feel. 


Visit the CDC, WHO, and FDA for guidance, or you can also visit our resource page where we compiled a comprehensive list on workforce training, business continuation, PPE, financial assistance, and more industry-related resources regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.


You may also want to check out what other manufacturers such as Bumble Bee Foods or Campbell’s Snacks are doing to keep employees safe and mitigate the spread of the virus within their facilities.



Share:       |    Related Topics:    Alchemy News & Events

Like what you see?

Join our network of innovators and stay on top of the latest tips, trends, and best practices for manufacturing professionals.