Posted on Friday, 20th March, 2020
COVID-19 is the issue on everyone’s mind right now, especially the Aged Care industry. Due to the risk it presents to the elderly and infirm, Aged Care organisations are responding daily to the pandemic as new information comes to light.
While the standard Aged Care hygiene protocols are already in place to deal with an infectious outbreak at an Aged Care facility, a lot of organisations are implementing extra measures to help protect their residents.
The Australian Government in consultation with health authorities and the World Health Organization is continuing to provide updates, as the advice changes daily. It is therefore imperative to regularly check the government website.
The Australian Government Department of Health provides up-to-date, authoritative information and advice on COVID-19 for the health and Aged Care sector here.
A 30-minute online training module is now available: How to protect yourself and the people you are caring for from infection with COVID-19.
This training is for care workers across all health care settings – it covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19, including:
- COVID-19 – what is it?
- Signs and symptoms.
- Keeping safe – protecting yourself and others.
Blue Cross Aged Care in Victoria has implemented their standard infection control procedures, as well as the additional measure of having staff placed in compulsory isolation if they have been overseas, have family/household members who have been overseas or show any signs at all of the cold or flu.
Some Aged Care facilities in Orange, New South Wales have in recent weeks undertaken reviews of their plans and procedures to ensure that staff are up to date with them and that necessary supplies including protective equipment are available.
Altura Learning is also offering a COVID-19 course targeted at Aged Care as an option for training and further information.
- Ensure all kitchen staff, food service staff and volunteers are aware of all infection protocols, procedures and food safety standards.
- Ensure all kitchen staff, food service staff and volunteers are aware of the isolation criteria for your facility, prior to them entering your facility.
- Ensure your residents are aware, but not alarmed by any changes made to their dining routine due to the new conditions.
If you are in any doubt about the correct course of action to take, and to keep up with the latest advice, please refer to the Government Health Department in your state:
Important tips for Aged Care Chefs, kitchen staff, carers, resident family members and visitors to remember regarding COVID-19
Immediately isolate (and, if necessary, seek medical attention) if you:
- Have returned from any countries or regions that are at high or moderate risk of COVID-19.
- Think you may have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Develop a fever, cough and/or other symptoms.
It also makes sense to be extra vigilant when vetting casual staff and volunteers who may only be coming in to assist for a day or a few hours.
Visitors will also need to be assessed prior to entering the facility if there has been any recent international travel or illness.
Prevent the spread:
- Wash hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds using soap and water:
- Before starting work.
- Before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food.
- Before and after eating.
- After handling or preparing raw food.
- After handling waste.
- After cleaning duties.
- After using the toilet.
- After blowing the nose, sneezing or coughing.
- Cover coughs and sneezes in a flexed elbow or with tissues, throw tissues away in a closed bin, and use alcohol-based (at least 60% concentration) hand sanitisers.
- If unwell, stay away as much as possible.
- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold/flu-like symptoms.
- Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces frequently.
Regarding face masks, the NSW Government Department of Health says:
“Face masks are not recommended for the general population. People who have symptoms and might be infected with COVID-19 are required to stay in isolation at home, should wear a surgical face mask when in the same room as another person and should seek medical advice to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to anyone else.”
For Aged Care Chefs, ensuring your kitchen staff and food service staff are wearing a face mask is a good extra measure to take, given the vulnerability of your residents.
Based on current publicly available information, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be spread via food or food packaging. However, the NSW Government Department of Health states:
“Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).”
Therefore, it is essential that food safety standards for food preparation and handling are maintained in Aged Care facilities. The thorough cooking of meat and proper handling of meat products is specifically mentioned in the context of COVID-19 on the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand website.