LASA says the aged care sector has mandatory infection control measures in place and has been on rising alert levels since January over the COVID-19 virus.

With the news that a Sydney aged care worker has tested positive, LASA CEO Sean Rooney said maximising the protection of older Australians was the sector’s top priority but it was also a community duty.

“Protecting older Australians in care and the staff who look after them is critical with extensive infection control planning and protocols in place,” he said.

“At the same time, keeping the most vulnerable older Australians safe is a broader responsibility.

“It is extremely concerning that we do not know the source of the virus that has infected this dedicated aged care worker.

“Absolute vigilance and caution is required, both across the community and within aged care homes, because the virus can be transmitted before showing symptoms.

“Everything must be done on a precautionary footing. Service providers understand the importance of infection control and have comprehensive strategies in place, which are mandated by the new Aged Care Quality Standards, introduced last year.”

Mr Rooney said residential care homes took part in a national focus on infection controls, following the 2017 influenza outbreak, with an emphasis on staffing provision and protocols, to contain the spread of viruses and maintain an adequate workforce.

“While providers face the annual outbreak of influenza, it is critical they add to these protocols by closely following the Department of Health’s updated COVID-19 advice,” he said.

“This includes special guidance for staff, family and community members who may be at risk of transmitting the virus to aged care residents. Self-monitoring and strict compliance with official COVID-19 directions and service provider protocols is vital, especially regarding isolation rules.”

Mr Rooney said it was crucial aged care providers took note of a recent letter sent to them by the Chief Medical Officer about assessing the risk of and taking steps to prevent, detect and control the spread of infections, in line with the national guidelines.

They also needed to note a letter from Commissioner Janet Anderson at the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission sent this week.

“LASA regularly updates aged care operators on the Government’s latest advice regarding vigilance and adherence to stringent disease containment procedures,” he said.

“Infection control is a core responsibility for providers and it is imperative the sector continues to work closely with the Department of Health, and LASA is committed to ensure sure this happens.”

As well as implementing an infection control program, there should be established protocols in place to manage any health emergencies that arise, including service-wide infection outbreaks or broader community epidemics.

The Department of Health has developed a reference tool the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus to assist in preparing emergency plans.

The Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) has also published National Guidelines for Public Health Units in its Series of National Guidelines.

Factsheets and resources specifically for aged care staff, residents and families are available on the Department’s website.

The 24-hour National Coronavirus Health Information Line is 1800 020 080.