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Health district updates guidance on COVID-19 testing

Updated July 30, 2020 - 11:05 pm

Some casino operators have said employees with COVID-19 need to test negative before they can return to work.

Turns out, that may not be necessary.

On Wednesday, the Southern Nevada Health District said it no longer recommends people who tested positive for COVID-19 be tested again. This applies to businesses that required employees be retested before returning to work.

The updated guidance comes as the state’s testing system has become overwhelmed by an increase in COVID-19 cases.

The new health district guidance says those who had symptoms of COVID-19 can discontinue self-isolation after at least 10 days have passed since the symptoms began, at least 24 hours since breaking a fever without taking fever-reducing medication, and as long as there has been improvement in other symptoms.

The new guidance is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based on research that shows infected people are often no longer infectious after 10 to 20 days, depending on the severity of their illness.

The CDC says most employees should be considered noninfectious 10 days after the onset of their symptoms and should receive clearance to return to work. For those who were asymptomatic, release from isolation is 10 days from the test collection date, and those who had a severe case or are severely immunocompromised may need to isolate themselves up to 20 days after the onset of symptoms.

Brian Labus, a UNLV epidemiologist and member of the governor’s medical advisory team, said this method is a far easier way to return infected employees to work safely and puts less pressure on the state’s testing system.

Following this guidance is “easier, quicker and just as safe” as producing negative test results, Labus said, especially since a May report from Johns Hopkins Medicine found 20 percent of COVID-19 tests taken eight days after infection produce a false negative.

The rate of a faulty negative was even higher if the test was taken soon after the infection, according to the report.

“(Too much testing) burdens our testing system. That’s the sort of thing we’re encouraging people not to do,” Labus said. “It’s really not necessary, in most situations. Just give people enough time to clear the infection.”

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman David Strow said the company follows CDC guidelines. Boyd has infected employees wait at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms and 24 hours after breaking a fever before they can return to work.

On Wednesday morning, Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said the company requires employees to show proof of a negative test to return to work. He said the test should be taken no sooner than seven days after the positive test and added that Wynn pays up to 14 days sick leave for employees who test positive.

Weaver did not respond to a request for comment after the health district updated its guidance.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. tested all staff before Nevada resorts reopened, and now tests staff in front-line positions and “many third-party employees” monthly, and offers all staff the option to get tested monthly. Testing is also available to employees who report COVID-19 symptoms, or those who are suspected of having possible exposure to a COVID-19 through contact tracing.

“Since opening, the company continues to meet or exceed all additional recommendations of Southern Nevada Health District,” said company spokesman Keith Salwoski. He declined to comment on whether COVID-19-positive employees would need to show a negative test before returning to work.

MGM Resorts International has employees who test positive for COVID-19 stay home for a minimum of 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or 10 days since they first tested positive if they don’t display symptoms. They can return after 10 days if their symptoms have been gone at least 24 hours.

If an MGM employee had close contact — 6 feet or closer for at least 15 minutes — with someone who tested positive, they’re required to stay home for two weeks since their last contact with the infected person. They are required to provide a negative test result within three days before their return.

“Our COVID-19 employee testing policy is based on CDC guidance and we are focused on preventing and identifying potential cases and supporting the community’s efforts to stop the virus’ spread,” said MGM spokesman Brian Ahern. “Having testing readily available and results returned quickly is critical to the community’s ability to respond to cases rapidly and prevent further infections.”

Representatives for Caesars Entertainment Inc. and Station Casinos did not respond to requests for comment on how they determine when an infected employee can return to work.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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