Residents of retirement communities are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and are more vulnerable to serious complications if they do become infected. Residents of retirement communities may be more vulnerable than older people living in the general community because they may live in closer proximity to other vulnerable individuals or undertake more shared activities provided by the retirement community.
As there is currently no vaccination to prevent COVID-19, avoidance of exposure is the single most important measure for preventing COVID-19 in any setting.
This guidance has been developed by NSW Health and is designed to be used alongside other available resources, including those from the Australian Department of Health.
Due to the rapidly changing situation, retirement village operators and residents are reminded to regularly review official information sources for updates.
Requirements under the Public Health Order
Generally residents in retirement villages have their own discrete homes even though they may share some common facilities for recreation and other activities. In the context of controls to limit the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the interaction between residents using these shared facilities represents an elevated risk to the retirement village community.
Retirement village operators and residents are required to comply with directions restricting gatherings and movement.
Some restrictions will be eased progressively over time. For up to date information, see the NSW Government advice on what you can and can’t do under the rules.
Recommended measures to limit visitors and visits
The ongoing well-being of residents must consider a balance of physical, social and mental health factors. Engagement with family and close friends is an important health consideration.
To reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to residents, retirement village operators are encouraged to implement the following measures for restricting visits and visitors where it is possible to do so:
- Require all visitors to sign in before entering the village – ensure only those with an essential need are granted access to the village.
- Clearly place signs at the entrance to the village advising all visitors to sign in prior to visiting any individual in the village.
- Consider designating a single entrance point to the village (where there are multiple entrances) to enable monitoring of visitors entering the village.
- Consider screening processes for all visitors and staff to monitor for symptoms of respiratory illness or contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Advise all visitors and staff to stay away from the village while they are unwell. Visitors and staff must not enter the village if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Limit visits to a shorter duration.
- Limit the number of visitors attending the village (or resident) at any one time to a maximum number in accordance with directions of the Public Health Order. These may be immediate social supports (family members, close friends) or professional service or advocacy.
- No group visits should occur in any retirement village especially by school children.
- All visitors should be encouraged to practice social distancing where possible, including maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres and adopting good hygiene practices.
- Visitors, including family and friends, should be encouraged to maintain contact with residents by phone and other social communication apps, as appropriate.
Other guidance for retirement village operators
- Advise all residents and visitors that all persons are required to stay home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave their residence. See the NSW Government advice on what you can and can’t do under the rules.
- Advise all residents that the following groups are most at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and are advised to stay home to self-isolate and limit contact with others as much as possible:
- people aged 70 and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians over 50
- anyone with a chronic medical condition.
- Consider alternative arrangements for some services provided by the retirement village. For example
- meal services in a dining hall could be modified to allow meals to be picked up or delivered to residents to eat in their own units
- group activities and meetings provided via video call (e.g. FaceTime, Zoom, Skype).
- Advise residents that they are able to seek medical support from their GPs through bulk-billed “telehealth” (videolink) and telephone services.
- Support residents to make phone or video calls where possible, to enable regular communication with family members.
- Maintain regular communication with all residents about changes to certain services and functions that would normally be provided.
- Work with residents to ensure recommended social distancing measures are put in place, and hand sanitiser or hand washing facilities are readily available at strategic locations throughout the village.
- Ensure there is regular cleaning and sanitising of common areas e.g. elevator buttons, handrails, door handles etc.
- Provide clear information to residents and families regarding cough/sneeze etiquette, hand hygiene; and what to do if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 or another respiratory illness (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, cough, sore throat).
- Abide by all requirements of SafeWork NSW to ensure the safety of staff and residents. This includes providing information and briefing all workers, including domestic and cleaning staff, on relevant information and procedures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
- Ensure staff and residents are aware of retirement village procedures where a resident, staff member or visitor is suspected to have or has been confirmed with COVID-19. Fair Trading NSW has further advice on what information village operators are allowed to disclose.
What to do if a resident is concerned they have COVID-19
Advise them to:
- Avoid interacting with other residents by isolating within their unit pending medical advice
- Call their GP
- Call 1800 020 080 (the National Coronavirus Health Information Line)
- If the resident is deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech or communication impairment, contact National Relay Service on 1800 555 677 and ask them to call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line
- Visit one of the public COVID-19 clinics
- Visit one of the Australian Government COVID-19 GP Respiratory Clinics
If it is a medical emergency, call Triple Zero (000)
Guidance for retirement village operators where a resident has suspected or confirmed COVID-19
Where a resident has disclosed to a retirement village operator they have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, retirement village operators should:
- Seek advice from their local Public Health Unit (PHU) by calling 1300 066 055
- Support the PHU with contact tracing as directed
- This may include sharing of visitor logs and resident and staff information
- The PHU is responsible for providing relevant advice to all contacts identified by the public health investigation, including information on self-isolation and testing. NSW Health is following national guidance on the definition and management of contacts
- Advise staff and residents of the situation, noting the identity of the resident should not be disclosed by the operator without the consent of the resident. Information provided should include:
- Symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath) residents and staff should self-monitor for
- Where to seek advice and help
- Reminders to staff to not enter the village if they are unwell
- Advice on physical distancing and personal hygiene measures
- What infection control measures village operators have put in place, including cleaning of common areas
- Any advice provided to the operator by public health authorities
- Consider what further information is able to be disclosed to staff and other residents. NSW Fair Trading has further advice on Information for older people, people with disability and carers
- Implement infection control measures as directed by public health authorities.