Aged care facilities have featured heavily in Australia’s response to the coronavirus as older people are particularly vulnerable if they contract the illness.

One aged care facility in northern Sydney recorded a cluster of Australia’s first coronavirus cases, and tragically, two of Australia’s three deaths occurred at the home.

Contagious diseases, like coronavirus, can quickly spread through aged care facilities if they are not carefully managed, and facilities should always have strong infection control procedures in place.

First steps after a positive result

A great deal of information has been distributed about aged care’s response to coronavirus, but here at HelloCare we wanted to take a look at the steps aged care staff should take in the event of an outbreak in their facility.

The federal Department of Health website remains the main source of information for Australians about coronavirus.

The Department of Health’s ‘Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ also outlines the initial responses to an identified outbreak.

In the case of a positive identification of coronavirus, aged care facilities should take the following steps.

Minimise transmission to other residents, staff, and families

  • Isolation of identified cases.

  • Quarantine suspected cases and close contacts.

  • Where necessary, provide information and brief relevant staff, including domestic and cleaning staff, that they should remain isolated in their home.

  • Employees should advise their employer if they develop symptoms during the isolation period.

Ensure infection controls are in place

  • Facilities must ensure staff are fully educated in effective infection control measures.

  • Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence against most viruses. All staff, residents and visitors should:

    • Wash their hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet.

    • Cover their cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

    • If unwell, avoid contact with others.

  • When cleaning, staff should minimise the risk of being infected with coronavirus by wearing gloves and using alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves. If cleaning rooms or areas of the workplace where a person with a confirmed case of coronavirus or a person in isolation has frequented, staff may wish to wear a surgical mask as an added precaution. If a confirmed case of coronavirus or a person in isolation is in a room that cleaning staff need to enter, they may ask them to put on a surgical mask if they have one available.

Manage the care needs of initial cases and their contacts

  • Monitor health system capacity, establish triggers and thresholds for when capacity will be overwhelmed.

  • In some facilities, additional staff will be required to supplement the current workforce.

  • Provide personal protective equipment where needed.

  • Provide vaccines (if available) as appropriate to healthcare workers and others if required.

Provide information

  • Employers should provide information and brief all employees and contract staff, including domestic and cleaning staff where applicable, on relevant information and procedures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Ensure proportionate response 

  • Ensure the response is proportionate. The response should make the best use of the resources available and should minimise social disruption. Encourage people to remain calm and controlled. Provide reassurance.

While coronavirus is of concern, it is important to remember that most people displaying symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness, are likely suffering with a cold or other respiratory illness. Even those who do contract coronavirus will only suffer mild symptoms and will make a full recovery.

The number of cases in Australia still only stands at 156, and there have only been eight identified cases in aged care facilities, all within the one location.

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to the Department of Health’s coronavirus health alert page.

Call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.

If you are concerned about your health, speak to a doctor.

 

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