Protecting Older Australians – COVID-19 Update 7 January 2022

Thank you for continuing to stay up to date with the latest information and thank you for your continued support and dedication to protecting older Australians in your care.

Date published:
Subscriber announcement
Health sector

Thank you for continuing to stay up to date with the latest information and thank you for your continued support and dedication to protecting older Australians in your care.

We recognise the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly the emergence of the Omicron variant, continues to affect a significant number of aged care providers across the country, presenting new challenges for infection prevention and control. The risk of cases in aged care facilities continues to increase and senior Australians, and those caring for them, remain vulnerable. Aged care, however, remains a top priority for the Australian Government.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout program has been, and continues to be, highly successful and is saving lives. The high rates of vaccination for residents and staff is changing the impact of outbreaks and how we manage an outbreak.

But vaccination is not the only line of defence. Further steps are being taken, jointly by the Australian Government and state and territory governments, to adjust how we respond to and manage COVID-19 in aged care.

Booster clinics for residential aged care: Commonwealth vaccine administrators will contact you to confirm your in-reach service

The recommended dose interval between a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose has now been reduced to 4 months. If your facility has not had a booster clinic, a Commonwealth vaccine provider will contact you to schedule a clinic for January. For those who have a clinic scheduled, your vaccine provider may also call you to discuss bringing the date forward.

The booster clinic will be available to aged care residents and workers. We strongly encourage you to support as many residents and staff as possible to attend your booster clinic. Staff unable to attend a scheduled booster clinic can access a booster via the more than 10,000 vaccination sites, including GPs, Pharmacies and state clinics.

If your facility has a COVID outbreak or is in lock down due to an exposure at the time of your scheduled booster clinic, you should still be able to proceed with the clinic. Vaccine teams are typically considered to be essential workers and will use appropriate PPE and infection, prevention and control measures. It is important that you let your vaccine provider know so that they can prepare appropriately. Your local public health unit may also wish to provide direction.

To help you and your residents to prepare for your booster clinic, a copy of the clinic advice and consent form is available on the department's website.

Updated interim guidance for managing aged care workforce impacted by COVID-19

The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has approved an update to the Interim Guidance to support safe assessment and decision making when determining whether to place work restrictions on residential aged care workers.

This guidance follows the updated advice on the definition of contacts issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC). This guidance has been endorsed by both National Cabinet and AHPPC. The changes should assist in managing the aged care workforce, noting the challenges many providers are facing given the increasing number of cases in the community.

All providers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with this guidance and consider its application, noting local PHUs may implement additional requirements above those set out here.

PPE and Rapid Antigen Tests for outbreak sites

All residential aged care providers with a COVID-19 outbreak or exposure can request PPE and Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) from the National Medical Stockpile. The current high level of demand for PPE and RATs is extending timeframes for delivery.

It is critical that residential aged care facilities carefully monitor their PPE and RAT supplies and place orders in a timely way. We recommend that you place your order at least 5 working days ahead of that date that you will require the additional PPE and or RATs.

We have changed the process for ordering PPE and RATs for outbreak sites to make it faster and simpler. To place your order, please complete the online formthe new form will go live from 9am on 8 January 2022. Orders placed through the online form can be processed more quickly. Please do not submit orders via email to your Commonwealth Case Manager.

Due to the extremely high demand for RAT kits, we are prioritising immediate distribution to residential aged care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks or exposure. Further details on broader distribution to the sector will be available in coming days.

Update on SONIC testing services

In line with the updated testing guidance issued nationally, PCR tests are not being used for surveillance testing. This approach is also being adopted for aged care and testing services through SONIC will not include surveillance testing of asymptomatic staff and residents. Residential aged care facilities are encouraged to use RATs for surveillance testing where required.

The current very high community demand for PCR testing is also being reflected in the aged care sector. The current pressures on testing services are causing delays in provision of results for some services. SONIC are managing requests as quickly as possible. To ensure that testing is appropriately prioritised for outbreak sites, Commonwealth funded SONIC testing services can only be booked through the Commonwealth Case Manager. SONIC will not accept direct bookings from RACFs.

Reporting on workers’ booster shots to become mandatory

Reporting on aged care worker COVID-19 booster doses will become mandatory in coming weeks. Aged care providers, including residential and in-home and community aged care services, are encouraged to start reporting on workers’ COVID-19 booster doses through the My Aged Care portal ahead of the mandatory reporting requirement.

All aged care workers are strongly encouraged to receive a booster dose when they are eligible, to protect themselves and the people they care for.

Reporting on workers’ booster doses from next Tuesday will help providers prepare for the process.  It is already a requirement for residential aged care providers to report residents’ booster and third doses each Tuesday.