Protecting Older Australians: COVID-19 Update 8 July 2022

In this issue: Preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak, ensuring your facility and staff are prepared, reporting COVID-19 cases in RACFs, PPE and testing, and treatments for COVID-19.

Date published:
Subscriber announcement
Health sector

New name for the Department

The Department of Health is now called the Department of Health and Aged Care. The change of name reflects the importance of aged care to the Australian community and the high priority the Government places on aged care reform.

The Department name change came into effect on 1 July 2022.

There will be no change to email addresses or the Department’s website address.

Preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 continues to affect a significant number of aged care providers across the country. As the current wave of infections grows, driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, the risk of cases in Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) continues to increase with elderly Australians, and those caring for them, remaining vulnerable. The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has released a statement on COVID-19 winter update and ongoing health protection measures to support our community.

It is important all RACFs remain prepared to manage a COVID‑19 outbreak. This includes making sure all staff are familiar with the immediate steps to take in the event of a positive COVID-19 case and ensuring you stay up to date with the State and Territory Government public health directions as well as Commonwealth requirements.

Ensure your facility and staff are prepared

RACFs have primary responsibility for managing COVID-19 outbreaks in their facility. As such, it is essential that you and your staff understand what an outbreak is, and what to do if one occurs in your facility, including how to activate your Outbreak Management Plan. The national guidelines include an outbreak preparedness checklist to assist you. More information on managing an outbreak can be found at: Managing a COVID-19 outbreak in residential aged care.

The first 24 hours after a positive case is identified is crucial in managing COVID-19 in a RACF. The First 24 hours fact sheet describes the steps you should take following the identification of a COVID-19 positive case. Rapid implementation of these steps is critical to reducing the impact of an outbreak.

You should have a workforce management plan with contingencies for an outbreak and should include finding staff through recruitment agencies and within the wider organisation. If you have difficulties in finding additional staff, the Department can provide advice on aged care workforce contingencies.

Reporting COVID-19 cases in RACFs

If a staff member or resident becomes positive with COVID-19 you must immediately:

Australian Government support

The Australian Government continues to support facilities experiencing outbreaks with a range of resources, including facilitating access to in-reach testing or the provision of PPE in emergency situations where commercial supply is unavailable. Given the anticipated caseload, Commonwealth Case Managers will only be assigned to a facility experiencing a high number of positive case load or severe workforce shortages. If you need urgent help outside of normal business hours, please contact our office in your state or territory.

If your service is managing an outbreak, financial support through the Aged Care Support Program Extension (ACSP-E) grant is available to providers to cover some of the direct costs of managing the outbreak including workforce surge and PPE until 31 January 2023. This is a reimbursement grant, where invoices must be managed and paid by the facility in the first instance. Find further information about the ACSP-E grant (GO4863) on the GrantConnect website.

Reinforcing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Practices in your RACF

In order to prepare for and prevent an outbreak, you should regularly review IPC guidance from state health departments and the Commonwealth. All staff should have completed their COVID-19 infection control training and repeat this training regularly to maintain their competence.

The Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG) has developed these national guidelines for COVID-19 infection prevention and control in residential care facilities in Australia. National guidelines for RACFs, prepared by the Communicable Disease Network of Australia (CDNA) also provides practical information about IPC in RACFs.

All RACFs should have an IPC clinical lead located on site at each facility. The role of IPC leads is to observe, assess and report on the service’s IPC. They are expected to have clear clinical pathways and be involved in all response activities to provide on‑the‑ground clinical leadership and guidance. More information is available on the IPC leads page.

PPE and Testing

Providers are responsible for sourcing PPE and RAT kits and should have sufficient levels on hand for managing safe, quality care and any infectious disease outbreaks. Providers must contact commercial suppliers in the first instance to source supplies and make sure they are able to re-stock as needed throughout an outbreak.

The Department is aware that there is currently sufficient stock in the domestic market and providers should order stock through their existing commercial supplier.

If you cannot source enough stock from your supplier, PPE can be sourced from the National Medical Stockpile via the COVID-19 Support Portal, accessed via the My Aged Care provider portal. The amount of PPE available to a facility will be precalculated when a request is made. Please do not submit orders via direct email to the Department.

In-reach PCR testing, provided by Sonic Healthcare (Sonic), remains available for RACFs managing COVID-19 outbreaks until 30 September 2022. Sonic provides COVID-19 pathology testing services for RACFs for outbreak testing only. Please note that asymptomatic surveillance testing of facilities in all jurisdictions has ceased. COVID-19 testing through Sonic must be requested by a medical practitioner who considers the test to be clinically necessary.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) continue to be made available to RACFs to support surveillance testing of staff and residents and therefore PCR tests should not be used for surveillance of staff or residents. During an outbreak, PCR testing should be prioritised where available, including in residents where symptoms are displayed but a RAT returns a negative result.

Treatments for COVID-19

Antiviral medications to treat COVID -19 are effective but work best when taken within five days from onset of symptoms. They can help to prevent your residents from becoming seriously unwell and requiring hospitalisation from COVID-19.

It's very important to have clinical referral pathways established with your GPs and with your pathology providers and for the nursing staff on site to be across what those clinical pathways are so they can be activated quickly. Acting quickly will give you the best chance to effectively administer antiviral treatments.

For information on how to access antiviral treatments, please see the new fact sheet: How to access treatments for flu and COVID-19.