The Truth Behind PCRs, RATs, and Struggling Small Businesses
It's fair to say that the last two years have presented small businesses worldwide with their fair share of challenges. Many of Australia's small business owners have been unable to financially stand on their own two feet, requiring monetary support from the government, which hasn't always been available. While initially the challenge mainly lied in the form of financial hardship, the focus has now shifted towards the healthcare system's capacity and protecting vulnerable people. While the government has continued to change the testing requirements, placing increasing reliance on rapid antigen tests (RATs) to relieve the PCR testing waits, there is a larger truth about this changing dynamic that many are not aware of.
Seeing as the labour market is currently extremely difficult to find and recruit talent, business owners must do everything in their power to protect the health of their current employees. So the solution seems simple, use RATs on a semi-regular basis and keep people with COVID-19 at home. But here's where it gets complicated, both PCR and RAT tests are not 100% accurate.
The Truth About RATs
Not all RATs are created equal. Tests have differing sensitivities, meaning that your chance of detecting the virus when you have been infected also differs from test to test. So tests with a 'very high sensitivity' are more likely to detect the virus, while those with an 'acceptable sensitivity' are less likely. Another point to note is that most of these testing kits were approved before the Omicron variant existed; therefore, the accuracy is likely to be less again. As you can see by this list, the TGA has reviewed tests and states their accuracy at picking up different strains. Omicron isn't listed against any of the tests (probably because they are yet to be re-reviewed), and not all tests are effective at detecting Delta.
While a couple of our staff members tested positive over the Christmas holiday, some tried to use 'acceptable sensitivity' tests as this was all they could acquire at the time and returned (false) negative results. Then to later find out their PCR result came back positive and that their RATs were inaccurate.
This situation presents an enormous challenge for these businesses looking to protect their staff. While finding a RAT is difficult in itself, finding one that will provide you with an accurate result is even harder. This issue has led to many businesses running at half capacity as COVID-19 sweeps through their staff.
The Truth About PCRs
While a polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or RT-PCR) is considered the gold standard of testing worldwide, it also has an accuracy that is important to be aware of. While it's hard to pinpoint the exact sensitivity and probability of a PCR test, many studies are emerging, highlighting the tests inability to detect EVERY COVID-19 case. Understanding this fact is especially important for businesses employing people whose health is considered 'high risk' and when protecting the health of the rest of their staff.
How Businesses' Are Tackling The Change
Now that business owners have become aware of the new set of challenges their business faces, the focus on employee health has grown tenfold. By understanding that testing is not always accurate, employing strict social distancing and keeping key staff away from high-risk people (people that socialise a lot), productivity can hopefully remain at a somewhat profitable level.
Businesses are holding their breath at the moment. While millions of RATs are currently on order, and the accuracy of both RATs and PCRs presents challenges, separating staff members is the only method of protecting a business's ability to operate.
Where Is The Way Out?
If you went back three months before Omicron existed, we could have probably drawn an exit plan out of the pandemic. With new evidence emerging about Omicron from the WHO stating that the virus now has 'immune escape' capabilities, people can be reinfected, and vaccines have much less impact on transmission, making the exit plan out of the pandemic is hard to see.
The way out seems to be that vaccines are redeveloped and help lower caseloads, or herd immunity runs its course. In both cases, businesses will struggle through these next nine months, with staff shortages and people being scared of the virus.
Where does marketing play into this?
Now, after reading this entire blog learning more about the truth of the virus we currently battle, you're probably wondering to yourself… "how does marketing fit into all this?". As different trends emerge and situations arise, consumer behaviour also changes. During the long lockdowns experienced in Sydney and Melbourne over 2020 & 2021, purchases were being made online rather than in person, and marketing budgets followed the trend.
Investments into social media marketing, influencer marketing, and other forms of digital marketing showed to be the most effective amongst all else. As a business owner who's thinking about the future of their business, think about where your marketing budget lies relative to the future of the virus. Moving funds out of physical events, printed advertising, and public speaking opportunities and into digital marketing may be a way of preparing for the worst with the current COVID situation.
The situation that businesses worldwide are grappling with is extremely difficult, partly due to the low certainty and challenges around testing. By continuing to invest as much money as possible into business, either through staff health covers, marketing budgets, or staff support, businesses will ensure their chance of making it through the worlds next challenges are at their highest.