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.

Managing your service during winter 2022

With the co-circulation of both COVID-19 and influenza, the Department has produced the Winter Plan – A guide for residential aged care providers (the Plan). The Plan provides overarching guidance and resources for aged care providers to support their readiness, response and recovery from exposures and outbreaks of COVID-19 and/or influenza during winter 2022.

Targeted primarily at the residential setting, the Plan includes Checklists of practical, on‑the‑ground actions which providers (of both residential and/or community based aged care) should be considering in the lead-up and throughout Winter 2022.   

Definition of an exposure or outbreak

The Communicable Disease Network Australia’s national guidelines for the prevention, control and public health management of COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care facilities, defines:

  • Residential aged care facility COVID-19 exposure as:
    • Any case of COVID-19 in staff, resident or a visitor at the facility during their infectious period that does not meet the definition of an outbreak.
  • A residential aged care facility COVID-19 outbreak is defined as either:
    • Two or more residents of a residential care facility who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 via RAT or PCR test within 5 days and has been onsite at the residential aged care facility at any time during their infectious period, or
    • Five or more staff, visitors and/or resident of the residential aged care facility diagnosed with COVID-19 through RAT or PCR test within the past 7 days who worked/visited during their infectious period.

Reporting COVID-19 cases in residential aged care

Residential aged care services are required to submit a notification report of a COVID-19 outbreak or exposure via the COVID-19 Support portal.

The department has made enhancements to the notification form to streamline reporting by residential aged care services.

The improved form for reporting COVID-19 outbreaks or exposures is available from 20 July 2022.

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

For more information on this process, please see the fact sheetuser guide and FAQs.

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.

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.

In the event of an outbreak, providers should activate their 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. If you have difficulties in finding additional staff, we can provide advice on aged care workforce contingencies.

During an outbreak, you must also make sure 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 familiar with 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 onsite 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 2023. 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 improved for future outbreaks.

We have commissioned a number of independent reviews into COVID-19 outbreaks in residential aged care facilities.

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.

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