Many are under the impression that increased access to data means decreased privacy, and while that may have been true in certain circumstances, COVID-19 has forced us to find a way to strike a balance between personal privacy and operational safety. The general public and employees are tired of being forced to compromise privacy for convenience in other facets of their life and wary of more of the same when it comes to their COVID health data.

In order to get the future right, the reopening process must balance COVID-19's numerous implications—health, safety, rights, and freedoms. We don’t need to dismiss privacy to gain value from the health data involved.

But before we discuss how to find that balance, we need to understand the role data plays in the decision-making process and why that is even more important now.


Data and the decision-making process

We live in a probabilistic world, meaning there are a number of variables at play, therefore a number of probable outcomes at play. The only way to approach a probabilistic problem is to have as much data as possible at our disposal. This makes us better equipped to determine the many outcomes and solutions possible, as well as the best path forward.

In the era of COVID-19, presently, no single type of testing or evaluation method is fully reliable. Diagnostic testing can produce false positives and negatives and often take days to return a result, while at the same time, the CDC and the WHO have recommended against solely relying on antibody testing. In addition, the CDC recently encouraged employers to take a “symptom-based strategy” (self-attesting any symptoms before entering the workplace) rather than a “test-based strategy” in light of these challenges. Although these tests are not always completely reliable, they still provide us with a basis of information that allows us to assess risk and probability.

In an environment where COVID-19 continues to influence every decision we make, data is king. These data points are the key to removing the fear associated with reopening and building confidence among people that we can operate in a world that respects individuals’ privacy and choice.


Privacy cannot be a tradeoff

The majority (84%) of Americans fear data collection efforts aimed at helping to contain the coronavirus sacrifice too much of their privacy. This leaves employers trying to strike the elusive balance of respecting people’s data privacy while safely reopening and operating during the pandemic.

As employers, the most important thing you can do is remain flexible and diligent in continuing to educate yourself on the ever-evolving information surrounding COVID-19. Although we’re learning more about the virus every day, we still don’t know enough, which is why it is so critical to create a plan that can evolve, be revisited, and adjusted as needed. Not only does this protect the company from liability complaints, but also it helps to mitigate risk for everyone involved, and make employees feel confident in your direction, and their safety.

Now is the time to get your ducks in a row and develop a framework that will streamline the reopening process while also keeping people and their data safe. Currently, there are many solutions and portals at play that don’t work well with each other. Rather than further fragmenting the system by working in silos, we need to look at this as a puzzle to put the pieces together so they fit into one holistic solution. Employees should have access to one platform that holds all of their COVID-19 data that can easily be shared with employers. The ecosystem of tools available and being developed to combat and/or mitigate COVID-19 risks need a conduit that is secure and private.

Having a framework will allow you to stay educated and have access to every data point possible, however, in this digital era, we are conditioned to associate sharing data with an invasion of privacy. With that in mind, COVID-19 presents a difficult challenge for workplace safety. One that requires honesty, transparency, and active participation from both the employee and their employer.

In order to dissolve that fear, people need to have agency over their own personal data. People should be able to access their health data quickly, efficiently, and seamlessly, while having the power of controlling who can access their data, and when. This trusted dynamic encourages active participation. By putting the control in the hands of the employee, you improve participation rates and provide employers with a risk mitigation strategy for safely operating amid and post-COVID-19, while still preserving rights to privacy, data security, and individual dignity.


Our responsibility to each other

At the end of the day, we are all human, and we face a daunting task with no easy or one-size-fits-all solution, but we are all in this together. We’ve already come together in lockdown, to keep each other safe, and now comes the next step as we plan for reopening—whenever that will be.

With that in mind comes the understanding of the critical role we play as we continue to battle COVID-19. We have a responsibility to share any potential symptoms or contacts that can put our colleagues, and their families, at risk. Only we have the power, as active, informed participants, to help our employers mitigate the risk for all involved. At the same time companies need to be transparent about its processes, how technology is using employee data, and how it is ensuring privacy.

Even the most informed employer, with the best of intentions, cannot make the workplace completely safe, but with the active participation of its employees and the right ecosystem of tools, they can create an environment, with respect for privacy, that is rooted in confidence, transparency, and comradery.