The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions (such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease or suppressed immunity) are at more risk of severe illness or death if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Last updated: 10 December 2020

What is COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. It is a new strain of coronavirus that was first identified in China in late 2019 and has now spread to many countries around the world.

How is it spread?

The virus can be easily spread from person to person through contaminated droplets. It may be spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

Who is at most risk?

The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions (such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease or suppressed immunity) are at more risk of severe illness or death if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, COVID-19 presents as a mild illness. The most common symptoms are:

  • fever (37.5°C or higher) or history of fever (night sweats, chills)
  • cough.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include headache, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny nose,
muscle pain, joint pain, loss of smell, loss of taste and nausea/vomiting.

How can I help protect the residents and myself?

Given the current risk of COVID-19 now in the community staff (including students on placement) should not enter the facility if they:

  • have a fever ≥ 37.5°C or respiratory symptoms, even mild. They should be advised to isolate at home and seek COVID-19 testing. Symptoms include: fever, cough, sore/ scratchy throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell. Residential aged care facilities should request staff to provde details on their current health status (screening for fever could also be considered upon entry)
  • visited any of the latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW at the same time as a confirmed case and should be excluded for a period of 14 days since their visit to the listed location. It is important to regularly check the website, as this list may expand.
  • have returned from overseas in the past 14 days.
  • have not been vaccinated against influenza (after 1 May 2020) unless:
    • the vaccination is not available to the person, or
    • the person presents to the residential aged care facility a certificate in the approved form, issued by a medical practitioner, certifying that the person has a medical contraindication to the vaccination against influenza. See the approved Influenza Vaccine Medical Contraindication Form
      In which case staff who have not received a current influenza vaccination must wear a mask whilst in contact with residents

Staff must wear a surgical mask if

Where staffing shortages occur due to restrictions on entry for staff having been to COVID hotspots a risk assessment may need to be conducted, this should be done with the assistance of your local public health unit.

The best way to protect yourself and to prevent infections spreading in the facility is to wear a surgical mask and wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand gel frequently – before and after contact with residents, linen, or surfaces touched by others. When caring for residents with any flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or runny nose) staff must wear gloves, a gown and a mask according to contact and droplet precautions.

Staff must ensure that adequate hand washing facilities and alcohol based hand rub, as well as tissues and lined disposal receptacles are available for visitors to use; at the entrance of the facility and in each resident's room. Staff should ensure visitors perform hand hygiene before entering and after leaving the resident's room and the residential aged care facility.

Who should be tested?

Any staff member who develops symptoms, even mild, must not attend work and seek immediate COVID testing and remain isolated until test results are known.

If there are COVID-19 cases in the facility, an expert team will review residents for signs of possible infection on a daily basis, which provides the best level of care and monitoring for possible infection.

Facilities should frequently review the Advice to Residential Aged Care Facilities for the most recent guidance on restricting access for staff.

Minimising staff movement across facilities

  • As part of preparedness planning, aged care providers should put in place arrangements to limit staff working across facilities.
  • Where ceasing staff movement across facilities is not practicable, staff movement should be minimised and additional measures should be put in place, such as maintaining records of staff and work locations and increasing use of Personal Protective Equipment.

Infection prevention & control - staff training and competency requirements

As part of your outbreak preparedness, facilities should ensure that:

  • There is an infection control lead or champion at the facility
  • Staff are well trained and can demonstrate competency in infection prevention and control, particularly use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Sufficient stocks of PPE are held on site.

There are a number of excellent resources specific to residential care facilities and staff available to support staff training listed in Advice to residential aged care facilities.

Managing visitors and visits

Facilities should frequently review the Advice to Residential Aged Care Facilities for the most recent guidance on managing visits and visitors.

Movement of residents into and out of the facility

In relation to the movement of residents in and out of the facility:

  • No new residents with COVID-19 compatible symptoms should be permitted to enter the facility.
  • Residents being admitted or re-admitted from other health facilities and communities should be actively screened for the symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Residents being admitted from other health facilities should be assessed by appropriate medical staff prior to admission to the facility.
  • Appropriate infection prevention practices should be implemented for residents returning from treatment or care at other facilities. Consult the Clinical Excellence Commission infection prevention and control information sheet for technical assistance.
  • External excursions for residents should be prohibited if the facility resides in any of the local government areas or suburbs listed in Advice to residential aged care facilities. Residents not living in an area listed may go out but should avoid crowded places and should wear a mask when around other people.

Contact your public health unit immediately on 1300 066 055 if three or more cases of influenza like illness (ILI) occur within 3 days, or if there is suspicion of COVID-19 transmission.

General advice for hygiene measures for COVID-19 and other respiratory outbreaks (e.g. influenza)

Signage and other forms of communication (i.e. information and factsheets) must be used to convey key messages, including what actions the facility is taking to protect visitors, residents and staff, and explaining what they can do to protect themselves and their family members. This includes signs on appropriate hand washing techniques upon entry and throughout the facility. Staff should:

  • ensure visitors perform hand hygiene before entering and after leaving the resident's room and the facility
  • promote the annual flu vaccine to visitors.

Facilities must ensure that the following are available at the entrance of the facility and in each resident's room:

  • adequate hand washing facilities and alcohol based hand rub
  • tissues
  • lined disposal receptacles.

Consult the CEC infection prevention and control information page for technical assistance and signage: Clinical Excellence Commission: Coronavirus COVID-19.

Adapting emergency plans for COVID-19

Residential aged care facilities are responsible for establishing emergency plans in the event of disease outbreaks or broader community epidemics. Many facilities will have existing plans focused on influenza and gastroenteritis, and these can be built upon to prepare for COVID-19. Emergency plans should include:

  • procedures to follow if an outbreak is suspected, including a method for seeking medical assessment and diagnosis
  • protocols to rapidly implement enhanced infection control measures
  • ensuring adequate and appropriate care is provided to the infected individual including isolation of the patient
  • maintaining adequate supplies of surgical gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitiser
  • rapid notification for staff, families, carers, and your local public health unit.

Further information

COVID-19 FAQs​​

Current as at: Thursday 10 December 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW