Prevent and prepare for COVID-19 in residential aged care

Residential aged care providers need to remain alert and prepared for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 at their facilities. This page covers the measures you should have in place at all times to prevent and prepare for an outbreak.

The National COVID-19 Health Management plan

The National COVID-19 Health Management Plan for 2023 consolidates the critical work already undertaken by the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments in providing guidance to manage COVID-19 in aged care.

A National Statement of Expectations on COVID-19 Management in Aged Care Settings also accompanies the National Plan. 

The National Statement of Expectations on COVID-19 Management in Aged Care Settings 

The National Statement of Expectations on COVID-19 Management in Aged Care Settings provides specific guidance to the aged care sector (for residential and care at home services) on their responsibilities for preparing for and responding to the impact of COVID-19.

Aged care services need to be responsive to changes in COVID-19 prevalence in their community so they can implement a hierarchy of infection prevention and control (IPC) measures and response activities. 

This National Statement is also a best practice reference document setting out the Commonwealth’s expectation of the actions aged care providers need to take when preparing for and responding to the impact of COVID-19. It should be read in conjunction with other approved guidelines, including those issued by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA).

Prepare and maintain your outbreak management plan

Residential aged care homes must have processes in places to prevent and manage COVID-19 impacts.  

To prevent COVID-19 cases and prepare for outbreaks, providers should:

  • train all staff in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and make sure they regularly update their skills.
  • work with their IPC lead nurse to assess their current IPC practices and procedures. 
  • have an Outbreak Management Plan which is regularly tested and updated.
  • have a workforce management plan with contingencies for an outbreak – this includes finding staff through recruitment agencies and within the wider organisation.  
  • do a stocktake of personal protective equipment (PPE) and source more PPE from commercial suppliers if needed.
  • engage with staff, residents and their families so they know how you are preparing for an outbreak including arrangements for visitors during an exposure or outbreak.   

Preventing and preparing resources

Here are some resources to help develop your outbreak management plan:

  • The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has practical guidance documents to support COVID-19 outbreak management planning and preparation in residential aged care facilities  
  • The National Statement of Expectations on COVID-19 Management in Aged Care Settings provides specific guidance to the aged care sector (for residential and care at home services) on their responsibilities for preparing for and responding to the impact of COVID-19.
  • The CDNA Guidelines provides guidance for a risk-based approach for the early detection of acute respiratory infections and management of outbreaks.
  • A fact sheet that sets out the steps you need to take in the first 24 hours after the identification of a COVID-19 positive case.

You may also wish to read the reviews of previous outbreaks and the national review to learn about what has and hasn’t worked when managing a COVID-19 outbreak.

Reduce infection risk – Screening and managing visitors

Screening on entry to a residential aged care home is vital. Anyone who visits a residential care home should be well and free of respiratory symptoms. Visitors are also strongly encouraged to undertake a Rapid Antigen Test prior to entry and wear a mask during their visit. 

Visitors that have tested positive to COVID-19 should not enter a residential aged care home for at least 7 days and until they remain symptom free. 

Providers should regularly review screening arrangements in line with their risk assessment of the current COVID-19 risk in their area. The National COVID-19 Community Protection Framework provides information on measures which could be used depending on the level of community cases.  You should stay up to date with current community case levels in your local area by regularly reviewing advice from your state or territory.

Infection prevention and control

Good Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) practices and procedures are fundamental in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in your homes and services. 

All aged care homes and services should make sure that they have up to date IPC policies and procedures. 

All staff should be trained in IPC and have the capabilities and guidance to achieve this. This should include kitchen, cleaning and laundry staff, volunteers, and administration and management staff.

Free online COVID-19 infection control training is available from the Department of Health and Aged care. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care also has free online infection control and hand hygiene eLearning modules that are relevant for the aged care sector.

All residential aged care homes should have an IPC lead nurse at each home. The role of IPC lead nurse is to observe, assess and report on the homes IPC capabilities. They provide advice within the home and are a key infection control contact in the event of an outbreak. More information is available on the IPC leads page.

In order to prepare and prevent an outbreak, your IPC lead nurse should be familiar with the latest guidelines on the management of COVID-19 in aged care homes, currently the National Guidelines for the prevention, control and public health management of COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care facilities in Australia, developed by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA).

Residential aged care homes should conduct self-audits and risk assessment to maintain required standards of IPC across all areas.

The Department of Health and Aged Care and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) use data sources to identify homes that are at high risk of an outbreak. More information about how providers can assess their risk is available at Aged Care COVID-19: Lowering transmission risk in residential aged care.

IPC resources

Further advice on IPC procedures is available:

Planning for visitors and communicating during a COVID-19 outbreak

Supporting visitation 

Industry Code for Visiting in Aged Care Homes

The aged care peak body and consumer advocacy organisations have released an Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes (the Code). The Code is a national approach to ensure your loved ones can receive visitors safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Code sets out the respective rights and responsibilities of providers, residents and visitors. Residential aged care facilities should:

  • allow residents to meet their visitors safely during the pandemic
  • minimise the risk of introducing or spreading COVID-19 within the residential aged care facility.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission also provides information on:

Communicating with families and loved ones

All residential aged care homes should prepare their communication systems in case they have an exposure, positive case or a COVID-19 outbreak.

The National COVID-19 Residential Aged Care Emergency Communication Guide provides guidance on communication in advance of and during a COVID-19 outbreak. It covers roles and responsibilities and communication protocols and processes for the Australian Government, State and Territory Governments, the ACQSC and residential aged care providers.

Further information is available on how to establish and maintain communications in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
 

State and territory preparedness and response resources

Your state or territory has resources on how an outbreak in aged care will be managed in their jurisdiction. You should ensure you are familiar with the plan in your state or territory.

 

Australian Capital Territory 

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

 

Flu vaccinations

It is very important that you reduce the risk of getting other illnesses while COVID-19 remains in our community. Vaccination for influenza by staff provides additional protection for elderly people receiving aged care. 

Residents of an aged care home have the right to choose to have vaccinations or not. They should be encouraged to talk to their doctor about whether they should also have the flu vaccination, which is recommended for everyone over 65. 

All aged care staff should make sure you stay up to date with your state or territory directions on flu vaccination requirements. 

Resources

Publications and fact sheets

Webinars

Online training

A 30-minute online COVID-19 infection control training module is available for care workers across all health care settings. Training specific to aged care is also available.

Register now

Staying informed

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

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

Last updated:

Help us improve health.gov.au

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.