Managing a COVID-19 outbreak in residential aged care

Understand what a COVID-19 outbreak is, what you must do if one occurs in your home, and what resources you can access to help you manage the outbreak effectively.

COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 is an infectious illness that may spread in residential aged care homes, from staff, visitors and residents.

An outbreak of COVID-19 occurs when 2 or more residents test positive to COVID-19 within a 72-hour period. This requires residential aged care homes to activate their outbreak management plan.

Responding to an outbreak

Use the national guidelines on acute respiratory illness outbreaks in residential care facilities for advice on how to plan, prepare, detect and manage COVID-19 outbreaks.

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

This includes how to:

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

Check with your state or territory health department for aged care provider public health advice.

Staffing during an outbreak

You should have a workforce management plan with strategies to ensure you can manage in a COVID-19 outbreak, including finding staff through recruitment agencies and within the wider sector.

For help with finding extra staff during a COVID-19 outbreak.

During an outbreak, you must make sure that staff:

  • do not move between their allocated room/section and other areas of the home
  • only care for the residents they are assigned
  • are familiar with the proper use of PPE, including correct procedures on how to doff and don PPE
  • continue to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 
  • do not attend work if unwell, even if symptoms are mild.

Isolating COVID-19 positive cases

Aged care providers and workers are expected to maintain infection prevention and control measures in line with current guidance:

  • Workers should not attend the workplace for at least 7 days if they test positive for COVID-19 or while symptoms persist.
  • Workers are encouraged to stay home if they have respiratory symptoms.
  • Residents who test positive for COVID-19 should be isolated or grouped together in line with IPC best practice, and for no longer than is clinically necessary.

Emergency leave for residents

An emergency leave type is available for permanent aged care residents that allows them to stay with friends or family during COVID-19.

This leave is available until 31 December 2023. 

Learn more about emergency leave.

Reporting all COVID-19 cases and resident deaths

Residential aged care homes must report all resident, worker and visitor COVID-19 cases through the My Aged Care service and support portal.

This data is important for us to maintain a view of current COVID-19 cases in homes, so we know the level of support needed for the sector.

It is important that you keep the information up to date, by reporting additional cases as they occur and then closing the record at the end of the episode.  

COVID-19 positive resident deaths should also be reported through the portal. This is when a resident passes away from COVID-19 or with COVID-19 when a clear alternative cause of death has not been found.

For help with your COVID-19 reporting, see:

Call the My Aged Care Provider and Assessor helpline on 1800 836 799 if you need assistance accessing the portal.

Declaring an outbreak over

A decision to declare an outbreak over should be made by the public health unit or the outbreak management team.

An outbreak can be declared over 7 days after the last COVID-19 case tests positive or the date of isolation of the last COVID-19 case in a resident, whichever is longer.

Repeat testing may be recommended by the public health unit in the 7 days following an outbreak being considered over.

Read more in the Communicable Diseases Network Australia acute respiratory infection guidelines.

Recovering from an outbreak

The focus of recovery actions for your home should:

  • support and maintain quality of care for residents
  • address any decline in the residents’ condition during isolation
  • return staff to the home after the public health unit has cleared them
  • return residents to the home if they were hospitalised during the outbreak.

After the outbreak is declared 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.

For lessons learned in managing a COVID-19 outbreak, read the:

Stay informed

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

Find the latest advice and resources in your state or territory from your local public health unit

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