In recognition of the current Omicron wave and demand on pathology testing, the following revised protocol has been established to ensure appropriate access to pathology services and ensure that residential aged care facilities (RACFs) are able to access the support and resources required.
To help protect senior Australians from COVID-19, Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) have now been made available to RACFs to screen workers, visitors or symptomatic residents in aged care environments to help prevent outbreaks or contain the spread of outbreaks.
RACF staff should have a daily RAT (minimum twice weekly where supply constraints exist) at the commencement of each shift. Visitors should have a RAT prior to each visit. These regimes may be modified due to local considerations such as community prevalence of COVID-19 and the availability of RATs. PCR tests should not be used for asymptomatic surveillance of staff or residents where there has been no exposure or outbreak.
Any suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in staff, residents or visitors will trigger a risk assessment by the RACF. A RAT is required immediately for all resident and staff within the facility who had contact with the suspected case.
A symptomatic resident with a negative PCR or RAT should have appropriate infection control procedures maintained whilst testing for other respiratory pathogens (eg influenza) is underway.
In some locations PCR testing may be more immediately available than RAT – where results can also be returned in a timely fashion, this may be used in definite outbreaks or exposure.
To access PCR testing, the aged care provider should:
In the first instance ask their local pathology provider.
If this is unavailable, discuss with the local health district (LHD) their capacity to provide testing. Current local testing is severely constrained.
If this is unavailable, access to the supplementary Sonic in-reach program should be requested via the Commonwealth Department of Health case manager at NSWCOVIDcasemanagement@health.gov.au. The request must include advice on the number impacted residents for testing (see proposed testing schedule for exposure below) and whether the facility has the capacity to swab or needs assistance. Please note requests will be processed in order of receipt, the case manager will advise the facility when collection kits or testing teams are booked.
The PHU should also be notified at the same time that the facility's Outbreak Management Plan (OMP) has been activated.
At the time of the Sonic in reach request the Department of Health will arrange for a testing schedule as per this document. Where there is an extensive outbreak the PHU may provide additional guidance specific to the risk in that setting.
When one or more pathogens is circulating in the community other significant respiratory pathogens should be considered, including influenza.
Initial testing following positive RAT test in resident (with OMP activated and lockdown/cohorting etc in place):
Repeat RATs on staff and residents who had contact with the suspected case on Day 6 and Day 12
If initial or subsequent RATs positive, then: