- Some people may be reluctant to get tested for COVID-19 for fear of missing work or being quarantined.
- Testing hesitancy could increase the risk of transmission as states begin to lift mask regulations.
- Advocates say workers should understand their rights and educate each other before major policy changes.
To monitor the spread of COVID-19, public health experts are encouraging widespread testing. But some people may be reluctant to get tested for COVID-19 for fear of having to quarantine and miss work.
Many companies follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends five days for people who test positive for a COVID-19 isolate. While some workplaces have guaranteed paid time off for employees who need to quarantine, some hourly workers have been forced to take unpaid leave. In some cases, people have been fired after testing positive.
Testing hesitancy could increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission as states begin to lift mask regulations. People who are hesitant to test may unknowingly contract COVID-19 and be quarantined as recommended to limit transmission. But public health advocates say the problem isn’t new — it’s a product of systemic inequalities in America’s health care system and economy.
Is it really safe to quarantine for only five days if you have COVID-19?
“Not everyone has the luxury of staying home if they test positive,” Kristin Urquiza, founder of Marked By COVID, a grassroots group that advocates for better public health policy, told VigorTip.
Urquiza said exam hesitancy appears to be more common among those who are financially insecure.
“I do come across a lot of people who just refuse to be tested when they have a runny nose or a cough,” Urquiza said. “When you actually sit down and talk to some people, there’s an underlying concern about job security.”
Is the Free N95 Mask Program Really Helping the Pandemic?
Hesitation may be especially prevalent among people with language barriers, distrusting government or from native or immigrant communities, she added.
“My grandparents were immigrants and there was always an ingrained philosophy of, ‘You work really hard, you don’t take time off, you make your boss happy so you don’t get fired because you’re expendable,'” Urquiza Say. “When you look at what this pandemic has exposed, it’s starting to connect the dots where we’re not prioritizing worker conditions, especially low-wage, front-line, non-remote positions.”
How an insensitive pandemic response led to testing hesitancy
Yosef Hershkop is the regional manager of the Kāmin Health Urgent Care Center in Crown Heights, New York, where he works with a predominantly Orthodox Jewish patient population. He said many in the community were reluctant to be tested for COVID-19, and government mistrust was a common reason for their hesitation or refusal.
Part of this distrust, Hershkop said, is the result of early contact tracing methods that were insensitive to the Orthodox Jewish community. From asking intrusive questions to knocking on doors on the Sabbath, the government’s tactics often feel coercive and disrespectful, he added.
In addition, many members of the community are descendants of Holocaust survivors or refugees from the former Soviet Union. For some of them, intrusive questions from strangers can feel threatening, even if their intentions are good, Hershkop said.
He added: “Even if government workers are asking the question literally and they have no ill intentions, people naturally don’t feel that the questions are best answered.”
He added that while the city has recruited some contact tracers from the community in the fall of 2021, previous interactions continue to leave “a very bitter taste in people’s minds.”
“People shouldn’t be afraid to go to a medical test if they’re not feeling well and their symptoms may be COVID-related,” Hershkop said. “We don’t want to create this culture of fear, but that’s how reality is created.”
How do we address exam hesitancy?
Addressing exam hesitancy means developing policies to change systemic inequalities, Urquiza said, and recognizing that these problems didn’t just arise when COVID-19 emerged.
“Because the pandemic has stress-tested all these different systems, we now as a society clearly see where our systems are not aligned with our values,” Urkiza said. “What we now have at our fingertips is a wealth of real-life stories about the impact of inaction.”
She added that before policy changes, people should educate each other about their rights and how to defend themselves.
“It’s important to help workers understand that they should raise these issues with their employers,” Urkiza said. “This communicates to management that people are paying attention, that they have access to information, and that can sometimes create a better, more level playing field between workers and management.”
what does this mean to you
Experts recommend that people get tested for COVID-19 when they are exposed or develop symptoms. But some are hesitant to test for fear of having to miss work or lose money if they test positive. Advocates say cracking down on testing hesitancy will take a multi-pronged approach, targeting systemic inequalities.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.