Balancing the Books

How should a business leader think about the cost of a COVID-19 testing program?

Sam Johnston
Cartoon of businessmen making financial decisions

September 2022: The CDC now recommends screening testing only when the COVID-19 Community Level is medium or high. When that happens, testing is recommended in workplaces that involve people living together, especially if those places house people who are high risk (for example, prisons, homeless shelters, and assisted-living facilities). 

=================================================================== A COVID-19 outbreak can be devastating for a business. In a previous blog post, we highlighted how an outbreak can be a marketing disaster for a brand. But there are other potential costs, including staffing shortages, workers’ compensation claims, and decreased revenue, as well.  Depending on the industry, these costs — particularly staffing issues — can even have downstream repercussions for the entire nation. For example, early in the pandemic, outbreaks at meatpacking plants left that industry struggling to fulfill the country’s demand.

Given the dire financial consequences of an outbreak, businesses ought to have a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation plan in place, including encouraging staff to get vaccinated, promoting mask-wearing, and implementing regular testing. While some tactics are relatively inexpensive, like promoting mask-wearing, COVID-19 testing may seem challenging  for many businesses, particularly those that already operate on thin margins and have large employee rosters, like grocery stores or distribution facilities.

So, how does a business owner balance employee health and business risk-mitigation with the added costs of implementing a testing program?’s Workplace Testing Planner was designed to help business and school leaders consider the issues involved, including:

  1. Type of testing —  PCR testing can diagnose nearly all infections, but also tends to be the most expensive, and results take longer to arrive. Antigen testing is usually less expensive and provides immediate results, but it needs to be used more frequently in order to maximize its accuracy. For some businesses, in which multiple samples are tested together as a pool, may be a cost-effective option if available. The Planner shows users all of these options. Detailed explanations of the different tests’ strengths and weaknesses are also available in the FAQs.

  2. Frequency of testing —  How often a business needs to test in order to prevent an outbreak depends on a variety of factors, including the type of test chosen, the location of the organization, and COVID mitigation tactics in place. The Planner takes all these factors into account, providing customized recommendations on test frequency that are specific to the organization and its level of risk. For example, if compliance with mask wearing is low and/or a business is located in COVID-19 hotspot, the Planner will recommend more frequent testing.

  3. Employee costs — In addition to the cost of the test themselves, business leaders also should consider other potential costs they may incur. These can include the cost of compensating staff while they are undergoing testing or the need to pay for additional staff to actually conduct the testing. The Planner's Advanced Settings allow the business leader to take these additional cost considerations into account.

By using the Workplace Testing Planner, a leader can get a concrete sense of exactly what type of testing program would be feasible for their business and obtain an estimate of the various costs involved. They can then weigh those costs against the risk of an outbreak — and the enormous financial and employee health costs that an outbreak would generate.