Data released by the Department of Health on January 7 shows COVID cases in aged care increased nearly tenfold since they were last reported on December 23.
Two days before Christmas, the latest data showed there were 385 active cases in aged care. By January 7, there were 3,205 cases in aged care homes, including 1,370 residents and 1,835 staff.
On December 23, here were outbreaks in 105 aged care homes, but by the end of the first week of January there were cases in 495 homes.
Twelve aged care residents have died from COVID-19 in the first week alone of the new year.
The shocking data comes amid further evidence of the government’s ‘strollout’ approach to vaccination.
On the weekend, Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed residents of only 1,500 aged care homes, just over half of all homes in Australia, have received their booster shots.
Yet he told a press conference on Sunday, “We’re ahead of expectations and schedule,” adding all aged care residents are expected to have received their boosters by the end of January.
Close contacts continue working
The industry has also been concerned about staff shortages, with soaring rates of infection in the community meaning large numbers of staff have had to self-isolate at home, leaving homes even more short-staffed than usual.
In New South Wales, asymptomatic healthcare workers who are classified as close contacts will “in exceptional circumstances” be permitted to leave self-isolation so that essential health services can continue to be delivered and not disrupted.
In Queensland, healthcare workers who are close contacts but who have tested negative will also be able to return to work.
National cabinet has already redefined the meaning of a ‘close contact’ to those who have spent more than four hours with a positive case in a household-type setting. Self-isolation has also been reduced from 14 to seven days.
Last week, Professor Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer, said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is considering national standards to allow aged care workers to get “back to work more quickly.”
He said Australia is moving towards a “risk-based approach” rather than the “no tolerance approach to risk,” which had been in place earlier.
Aged care needs prioritising as we ‘learn to live’ with COVID-19
As governments encourage ‘learning to live’ with COVID-19, aged care requires special attention due to the susceptibility of its population and the vulnerabilities in the aged care system.
Yet, the government has been too slow to deliver booster shots to residents. There haven’t been enough rapid antigen tests in aged care homes. The rapid lifting of restrictions, even in the face of Omicron, have exacerbated short-staffing in homes.
On top of that, many residents are still being banned from seeing their loved ones over the holidays.
It’s as though all the lessons of the last year, the royal commission, the inquiries, the reports, have amounted to very little.
How is your aged care home managing during the Omicron outbreak? Share your experiences in the comments below or email [email protected]