Tomorrow, the country’s mandatory COVID-19 isolation rules come to an end as the nation inches closer to COVID-19 normal living, but isolation and vaccine mandates will still apply to aged care workers as the sector is monitored closely for any increase of COVID cases.
Aged care workers still need to have up-to-date vaccination status, continue to isolate if they receive a positive COVID diagnosis, and wear masks.
However, for other Australians who do not work in high-risk settings, it will be up to them to decide if they isolate or not if they test positive and do not need to declare their positive result to the Government.
While this means workers may have a higher risk of being exposed to or contracting COVID in the wider community, visitors also increase the risk of COVID coming into a residential aged care facility due to the relaxed isolation rules.
Aged care workers who contract COVID will need to discuss their options with their employer on a case-by-case basis.
Casual aged care workers will still have pandemic leave support available to them so they can stay home if they contract the virus, but carers should be on alert that the restrictions in the general public have changed.
There is no specific advice for what workers should do if they become infected, but Australian Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, said aged care facilities and the sector as a whole will be monitored to gauge the impact of the new relaxed rules.
“Aged care is a really helpful way of looking at and monitoring the situation going forward because of the close attention we are giving to that particularly vulnerable setting and we will continue to do that,” he said.
“In terms of the occupational elements, particularly in those high-risk settings, that will remain a discussion with employers.
“Work health and safety elements apply for all sorts of infectious diseases, COVID should be seen like that.”
During July and August of this year, there were over 1,200 aged care facilities with outbreaks and as of the start of October, there were just over 200 aged care outbreaks.
Professor Kelly explained the new rules came from a decrease in cases, hospitalisations, and intensive care admissions and aged care outbreaks due to “hybrid immunity”, as many people have either had COVID or are up to date with their vaccinations.
He described the current situation as “stable” but emphasised the pandemic was far from over, noting it is highly likely that there will be further waves of infection, and that it would continue to occur for at least another two years.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), Tom Symondson, said that he was concerned the decision did not consider that COVID-19 was still a very real threat for aged care and those who live and work in facilities.
“For many in our community, COVID is fast becoming an unpleasant memory as case numbers fall and restrictions are removed,” he said.
“But for Australia’s aged care providers, COVID continues to be an ever-present threat and they continue to do everything they can to keep their residents, clients and staff safe.”
Mr Symondson was particularly disappointed about the isolation periods being dropped for the general population.
Many HelloCare readers, however, have expressed issues with current requirements placed on workers and want to see COVID-19 restrictions reviewed and better reflect where the workforce is at.
Each individual aged care facility may have specific rules in place for visitors to its facility, your employer should discuss with staff directly about what steps you will need to take going forward to protect aged care residents.
As an aged care worker, you will likely need to upkeep your current COVID-19 safety regime.
In general, at any residential aged care facilities in Australia, visitors are not to enter if they have:
Visitors are also required to wear a mask, and you may need to help orchestrate visits outside or in a well-ventilated area for anyone wanting to visit a resident.
Professor Kelly warned that Australia could be subjected to another variant before the end of 2022 and, depending on its severity, the old isolation rules could be brought back in.
In his letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Professor Kelly suggested the need for a transition plan to make sure Australia is prepared for any future surge in cases, of which the National Cabinet agreed.
You may find that your aged care employer is preparing, or already prepared, for future outbreaks and a return to tighter restrictions.