• Residents of residential aged care facilities are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and are more vulnerable to serious complications if they do become infected.
  • If COVID-19 gets into a residential care facility it can spread easily.​
Last updated: 01 July 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.

What are the symptoms?

Most patients have had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Patients with more severe disease have had evidence of pneumonia (chest infection).

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?

There is no vaccine or treatment for people who are infected with COVID-19, so it is crucial that the disease is not introduced to residential aged care facilities.

Staff should not enter the facility if they:

  • have returned from the greater Melbourne metropolitan area or overseas in the past 14 days.
  • have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days. A contact is defined as anyone who has been in contact with a known case while they were infectious, which includes the 48 hours before they became symptomatic.
  • have fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath).
  • 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 all staff who have not received a current influenza vaccination must wear a mask whilst in contact with residents

The best way to protect yourself and to prevent infections spreading in the facility is to 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) wear gloves, a gown and a mask according to contact and droplet precautions​

Measures for limiting visitors and visits

To reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to residents, facilities should implement the following measures for restricting visits and visitors:

  • No large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment (including school groups of any size).
  • Limit visits to a maximum of two visitors at any one time .
  • Visits should be conducted in the resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific designated area, rather than in communal areas where the risk of transmission to other residents is greater.
  • All visitors should be encouraged to practice social distancing where possible, including maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres. 
  • All visitors must have up to date vaccination against influenza unless they have an approved medical certificate signed by the medical practitioner
  • Exemptions to the limits can be assessed on a case-by-case basis, for example where the resident is in palliative care

Who should get 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.

Testing is only useful to diagnose COVID-19 when people develop symptoms. If someone has been exposed to the virus but has no symptoms, a negative test can’t show that they are no longer at risk of infection. 

Further information about who should be tested for COVID-19 is on Updated advice for health professionals

More information

For more information see the COVID-19 FAQs

Page Updated: Wednesday 1 July 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW