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SA imposes aged care safeguards despite no new COVID cases

South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, has announced two new residential aged care facility protocols to come into effect on 27 August, enforcing a one site workforce policy for all staff as well as masks for all personal care workers and health professionals who come within 1.5 metres of a resident.

SA is the first to implement precautionary measures that are beyond the Industry Code on Visiting Residential Aged Care​. [Source: Steven Marshall Facebook livestream]
SA is the first to implement precautionary measures that are beyond the Industry Code on Visiting Residential Aged Care​. [Source: Steven Marshall Facebook livestream]

These two new protocols have been alluded to over the past week, Professor Nicola Spurrier, Chief Public Health Officer of SA Health, even mentioned the potential move in her statement to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety this week.

Premier Marshall says while South Australia has an unblemished record with infections in residential aged care, he doesn't want the State to become complacent, especially with the COVID-19 nursing home outbreaks seen in other States.

"When we look at the devastating infection rate and, unfortunately, fatality rate in residential aged care facilities in other jurisdictions, then we need to constantly look at that level of protection that we are putting in place," says Premier Marshall.

"We don't do these things lightly, we don't put additional restrictions in place without very good reason and we do have good reason. 

"When we look at the devastating situation in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, where we have seen very significant infections, then we know we need to act swiftly, listen to the expert advice and stay ahead of the curve. We are very proud that we haven't had infection or fatality in our residential aged care facilit[ies], and our goal is to keep it that way.

"[The restrictions] are not going to be easy for many businesses, we understand this, but they are far better than other alternatives we have seen in other parts of the country at the moment."

Aged care providers in South Australia have two weeks to secure their workforce rosters and confirm that their workers are not working across aged care facilities.

State Minister for Health, Stephen Wade, confirmed that this not only applies to all workers that come into contact with older residents in aged care facilities, but also applies to health and aged care staff at SA Health facilities, private facilities, for profit facilities and agencies.

He also confirmed that the masks worn by health and aged care professionals need to be surgical masks Level 1-3, but does not include N95 masks, and use of basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), however, masks are the main requirement for aged care staff.

Minister Wade says, "I would like to speak to the personal care workers who will be affected by these changes. We greatly appreciate the care you provide to older South Australians, day in, day out. 

"We appreciate this direction will be disruptive to you and your work patterns, but we are very keen to make sure we continue to engage you in providing care, we are urging the aged care sector to work with different facilities...

"I would like to pay tribute to the industry, we are yet to have a single COVID-19 case among residents in residential aged care facilities in South Australia. This announcement today is all about making sure we can continue to keep residential aged care facilities safe. 

"One thing that is completely distinctive about South Australian public health is that we are swift and we are decisive. We are not waiting for an infection to take a foothold in one of our residential aged care facilities. We are at the front door trying to stop it getting in in the first place."

Professor Spurrier adds that the State Government is trying to put South Australia in the best position possible when it comes to COVID-19, especially for the State's most vulnerable people.

She admits that these changes will be difficult for the State sector to meet, however, they have been working closely with the industry and will provide as much support as possible.

Aged care workers will also be required to undertake a higher level of training in infection control. A team from Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital have been putting together a training package for this very purpose.

Professor Spurrier also answered a question about whether Australia should be worried about the recent, unexplained surge in New Zealand COVID-19 cases. She stated that there is absolutely a level of concern that South Australia needs to consider.

"I think it is absolutely a warning sign for South Australia. New Zealand did a fantastic job of really eliminating that virus. There was absolutely no evidence for it there. And what New Zealand did was to go back to business as usual. There were no restrictions whatsoever," says Professor Spurrier.

"I have always said that we may eliminate the virus, but we don't eliminate the risk and it is obvious that we still have the risk of the virus."

In South Australia, there are currently only eight active cases of COVID-19. SA is the first to implement precautionary measures that are beyond the Industry Code on Visiting Residential Aged Care.

Otherwise, increased COVID-19 affected States, like Victoria and New South Wales, have implemented stricter regulations around masks and PPE, single site operations, and immediate transfer to hospitals once a resident is diagnosed with COVID-19.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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