Chief Executive Officer
As a novel virus, COVID-19 is still shrouded in mystery. As the virus continues to spread across the globe, new symptoms crop up, some of them quite strange. Some people lose their sense of smell and taste, others experience hallucinations, diarrhea, skin eruptions and even toe lesions. Slowly, more clues emerge to understand its transmission and possible treatment. Around the world there is a race to understand the virus so that countries, doctors, scientists, and the public can contain it and treat it.
As a leader in the health sector in Puerto Rico, Triple-S has the responsibility to contribute to the growing knowledge on this virus, particularly in terms of how it has behaved in Puerto Rico. With this initiative, we are also providing for the safety and health of our employees and the public we serve. That is why we announced that we will be conducting an epidemiologic study of our employees and family members in our employer health plan.
We are one of the leading private employers in Puerto Rico, with a workforce that includes approximately 4,000 employees throughout the island. This widespread distribution of our employees may serve to see how it has impacted the different regions of Puerto Rico. When we add family members who are health plan participants, the sample of the study may grow. Of course, participation in the study is voluntary. But, because there is heightened interest among the populace around testing, as many of us want to know if we have been exposed to the virus or not, we are anticipating a healthy participation rate. When we presented this initiative to employees in a virtual meeting last week, it was well received. Having access to a sizable sample of participants can contribute greatly to a better understanding of this virus and how it can impact a workforce with similar characteristics.
Our chief medical officer, Dr. José Novoa, recommended this initiative and brought on a team to be led by the well-known epidemiologist, investigator and author, Dra. Rosa Pérez Perdomo. The study has several phases. The first phase includes coordination as well as testing employees. We have selected a new serological test with a high level of reliability from Quest Diagnostics. We are paying for the tests and Quest will assist in coordinating the logistics. Prior to taking the tests, the employee or his family member must fill out the questionnaire, which was designed jointly by Dr. Novoa and Dr. Pérez Perdomo, to collect valuable information on how COVID-19 has behaved in Puerto Rico. The form will capture information on whether the subject has experienced symptoms and of what type, in addition to whether the person has travelled or has been in contact with someone who has travelled. The latter information could be useful in indicating how widespread community spread has been in Puerto Rico.
Primarily, the study will determine the level of COVID-19 incidence among our employees. During the first phase, once test results are available, Dr. Pérez Perdomo’s team will report on the findings and what they indicate about the group sampled. Based on this data, she will provide us with recommendations that Dr. Novoa and our medical division will use to further protect our staff, their relatives and the public that visits our facilities. If any person has a positive result and symptoms, they will have the molecular test. With the data collected, we want to understand what percentage of those who have positive results were asymptomatic. In Germany, where a significant part of the population has been tested, they have found that 50% of the population was asymptomatic. In the U.S., the percentage is lower. What will our reality be?
After the first phase of the study concludes, the second phase begins, which will lead to the final report. The report, which should be ready in a little over three months, will be shared with the Health Department, companies, and other sectors. Since this study is based on a sizable sample of employees, it may be extrapolated to other workforces with similar characteristics. This may inform the development of policies that can support a speedier economic opening and it will also shed light on how the virus has affected our people.
We hope that this study serves to protect our employees and the public that visits us, in addition to helping dispel the mystery of COVID-19. The more information we can collect, the more effective we will be in facing the virus and limiting its disruptive effect on our lives, the health of our community and our economy.