Managing a COVID-19 outbreak in residential aged care

Understand what an outbreak is, what you must do if one occurs in your facility, and what resources you can access to help manage the outbreak effectively.

Definition of an outbreak

An outbreak is a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in a resident, staff member or frequent attendee of a residential aged care facility.

This definition:

  • does not include a single case of an infrequent visitor to the facility
  • is a guideline
  • is used by the state or territory public health unit to help decide whether to declare an outbreak.

Providers should email agedcareCOVIDcases [at] health.gov.au about any case of COVID-19, even if they are unsure it meets the definition above. 

An outbreak of COVID-19 in a residential care facility is likely to be worse than an outbreak of the flu.

Reporting an outbreak

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

Responding to an outbreak

Please read the national guidelines on COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care facilities for advice on how to control and manage outbreaks.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s National aged care guidance on COVID-19 escalation tiers and aged care provider responses provides recommendations and actions for aged care providers based on the COVID-19 situation within their community.

Additional guidance is available to help you manage specific parts of an outbreak:

All states and territories have issued public health directions for aged care providers. Check with your local state or territory health department.

Outbreak management plan

To prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak, providers must have an outbreak management plan. The national guidelines include an outbreak preparedness checklist to assist you.

Activate your outbreak management plan and distribute it to all involved stakeholders so they are across the plan.

Staffing during an outbreak

You should have a workforce management plan with contingencies for an outbreak. Your plan should include finding staff through recruitment agencies and within the wider organisation. 

During an outbreak, you must also ensure that staff members:

  • do not move between their allocated room/section and other areas of the facility
  • only care for residents to whom they are assigned
  • are competent in the proper use of PPE including correct procedures on how to put on and remove PPE
  • continue to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and do not attend work if unwell, even if symptoms are mild
  • do not work in other facilities until the outbreak is declared over.

As a provider, please make sure you:

  • continue to check staff for symptoms and fever at the beginning of every shift
  • record staff testing details in a register
  • have all staff working on site participating in any whole-of-facility testing.

Emergency leave for residents

Emergency leave is available for permanent aged care residents allowing them to stay with friends or family during COVID-19. Emergency leave is available until 30 June 2021. Read more about emergency leave.

Departmental support during a COVID-19 outbreak

Support is available if there is an outbreak at an Australian Government-funded aged care service (residential and in-home care). For further details, please see Government supports for the aged care sector.

If you need urgent help outside of normal business hours, please contact our office in your state or territory.  

Support for providers in declared areas of Victoria

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre was established in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria. The centre coordinates resources to tackle the challenge of COVID-19 in aged care services in Victoria.

Declaring an outbreak over

The state or territory public health unit is responsible for deciding and declaring when an outbreak is over.

Repeat testing is essential to closely monitor an outbreak. In most cases, the public health unit can declare the outbreak is over when the last case tests negative after 14 days of isolation.

Recovering from an outbreak

The focus of recovery actions for your facility should:

  • support and maintain quality of care for residents, and in particular address any deterioration in the residents’ condition that may have occurred during lockdown
  • return staff to the service after the public health unit has cleared them fit to return
  • return residents to the facility if they were hospitalised during the outbreak.

After the public health unit declares the outbreak is over, the outbreak management team should consult with the local public health unit to consider holding a debrief of the situation. The debrief should identify:

  • strengths and weaknesses in the response and investigation
  • any policies, practices or procedures that should be modified to improve future responses.

We have commissioned a number of independent reviews into COVID-19 outbreaks in residential aged care facilities. The reports are available here.

Staying informed

We have an aged care COVID-19 newsletter ‘Protecting Older Australians’ with up to date advice on matters relating to COVID-19 in aged care.

To stay up to date on aged care and COVID-19:

Your local public health agency will have more information on the latest advice and resources in your state or territory.

Australian Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19

Join our COVID-19 WhatsApp channel to learn the latest on Australia's response to coronavirus (COVID-19). If you're already a WhatsApp user you can send a message to the channel to connect. If you don't have WhatsApp, download the app to join the channel.

Coronavirus Australia app

Stay up to date with official information and advice about the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. You can check your symptoms and get notified when urgent information and updates are published.

Last updated: 
11 October 2021

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