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An employee has tested positive for COVID-19. Now what?

Jackson County Public Health has created a two-page guide for businesses about what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce asked public health officials to create a short document that would help employers and answer their questions.

Chad Petersen, environmental public health manager for Jackson County Health & Human Services, said the department has been fielding calls from businesses about employees who have tested positive. Employers often need guidance about what to do.

“The first reaction is being a little scared and not sure exactly what to do at that point,” Petersen said. “They’re not sure if they should close or stay open and what the next steps are.”

He said most businesses don’t have to close because a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

The first step for employers is to assess the risk.

The infected person should immediately leave the workplace and not return until he or she is no longer infectious, according to the county health department’s guide for businesses.

The employer should gather information from the worker, including when the person began experiencing symptoms, if the person showed symptoms at work and, if so, for how long.

COVID-19 symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Identify employees who were in contact with the infected person for at least 15 minutes and within 6 feet, and whether they were wearing masks. Those workers will need to quarantine for 14 days at home.

Document the exposed workers’ names, their contact information and the last date they had contact with the infected co-worker.

Try to protect the privacy of the person who is infected while still disclosing enough information for co-workers, customers and vendors to assess their own personal health and potential exposure, the county advises.

The next step is to call Jackson County Public Health at 541-774-8209 to relay the information you’ve gathered about the infected employee and the other workers who were in close contact with the person.

Jackson County Public Health receives notices from the Oregon Health Authority about people who test positive for COVID-19 in the county, but sometimes businesses find out about an infected employee first. Usually workers let their employers know when they test positive, Petersen said.

“As soon as you know you may have an employee who tested positive, reach out. Get ahead of it,” he said.

A notification kicks off work by Jackson County’s case investigators and contact tracers to track down people who may have been exposed and advise them on how to quarantine. Contacts could include co-workers, family members, friends, neighbors and others who were within 6 feet of the person for at least 15 minutes.

The public health team can also tell people about community help if they don’t have the resources to quarantine safely at home.

Sometimes Jackson County Public Health receives word of an infected person before a business does. In that case, the department will reach out to notify the business, Petersen said.

Although businesses don’t usually have to shut down because of COVID-19 cases in the workplace, some have had to close temporarily because of quarantine requirements that leave them with too few workers to carry on, Petersen said.

Small restaurants and medical offices have been among those that have had to close, he said.

Petersen said small businesses are typically the ones that are less prepared to deal with the situation when a worker tests positive for COVID-19. Large businesses usually have a human resources department to handle the situation. If they’re part of a nationwide corporation, they’ve often been directed by headquarters to prepare a plan in advance.

Petersen encouraged all businesses to create plans for what they’ll do if a worker tests positive. Referring to the county’s two-page guide can help.

“This document could help them understand how to prepare and the information they’ll need if someone does test positive,” he said.

The guide is available at www.ashlandchamber.com/files/COVID-19_Guidance_for_Employers.pdf.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Tiffany Kampstra prepares to perform COVID-19 testing at Asante's south Medford drive-thru location. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune