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.

Last updated: 27 March 2020

What is COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that began in China and has now spread to many countries around the world.

How is it spread?

The virus can be spread from person to person through contaminated droplets 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.

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 and visitors should not enter the facility if they:

  • have returned from overseas in the past 14 days
  • had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • have not been vaccinated against influenza (after 1 May 2020)
  • have fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath).

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 touching 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.

Visits and visitors to the facility should also be limited, including:

  • Limit visits to a short duration.
  • 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 one time per day.
  • Children aged 16 years or younger should not be permitted to visit, as they are generally unable to comply with hygiene measures. Exemptions to this can be assessed on a case-by-case basis, for example, where the resident is in palliative care.
  • 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.

Who should get tested?

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

COVID-19 FAQs

Page Updated: Friday 27 March 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW