A Victorian aged care facility is battling a second wave of coronavirus infections just days after it began to ease strict PPE requirements.

Estia Health Keilor, located in Melbourne’s north-west, experienced an initial wave of coronavirus infections in early August. At that time two residents and two staff were infected. Infected residents were immediately transferred to hospital and staff members told to isolate.

By 21 August, no additional residents or staff had tested positive and the facility was considered free of the virus. As a result the Victoria Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) gave approval for the facility to begin to return to normal operations. This allowed residents to move freely around the facility and reduced PPE requirements for staff. 

According to DHHS guidelines, instead of wearing full gown, gloves, face mask and face shield, staff would only be required to wear a face mask and face shield from 5 September. 

Sadly on 6 September, a resident unknowingly carried the virus into the facility after a short hospital visit. Now, less than two weeks later, the facility has recorded 10 active COVID-19 cases: six residents and four staff. 

Families of residents are understandably upset, concerned that the PPE protocols were relaxed too quickly. Reports that the facility suffers ongoing staffing issues have added to the complexity of the situation.

Estia Health CEO Ian Thorley has responded, advising that the facility took precautions beyond DHHS requirements, requiring staff to don gowns and gloves whenever they came in close contact with residents.

The experience of Estia Health highlights how things can go wrong even when DHHS protocols are adhered to. Managing the balance between returning to a sense of normality and protecting residents and staff from contracting the virus is enormously difficult.

To date, there have been 574 coronavirus-related deaths in aged care facilities in Victoria.

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