Advice on effectively screening staff, visitors against COVID

Aged care facilities should have a single point of entry that is continuously monitored by someone who screens all staff and visitors, the sector’s chief clinician advises.

Aged care facilities should have a single point of entry that is continuously monitoring by someone who screens all staff and visitors, the sector’s chief clinician advises.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission chief clinical advisor Melanie Wroth has written to residential care organisations with advice on strategies to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission through staff and visitor screening.

Dr Melanie Wroth

“In the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19, preventing exposure is the single most important step that any of us can take to protect ourselves and others from contracting this virus,” Dr Wroth said.

“Routine screening of staff and visitors on entry is strongly recommended for all residential services irrespective of size or location.”

She said it was especially important for facilities located in or drawing staff from communities where a local cluster of people are confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 or facilities considered at higher risk of an outbreak.

Dr Wroth recommends:

  • a single point of entry to the facility with someone tasked to continuously monitor that entry
  • ask every staff member and visitor arriving at the point of entry to respond to a standard set of risk screening questions
  • screening questions could include:
    • Have you been overseas or travelled on a cruise ship in the last 14 days?
    • Have you been in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
    • Are you in close contact with or caring for someone who is currently unwell?
    • Have you currently or within the last 7 days been unwell or been aware of any of the following symptoms:
    • fever, night sweats or chills
    • cough
    • runny nose sore or scratchy throat
    • shortness of breath?
  • consider giving the questions to each staff member or visitor on a pre-printed form on arrival to assist with understanding and recording.

Dr Wroth said facilities should amend the above screening questions as necessary to ensure compliance with all relevant visitor restrictions and legal requirements relating to staff and visitors that apply in their jurisdiction, including in relation to influenza immunisation.

“If the answer to any of the screening questions is ‘yes’, then the staff member or visitor should not enter the premises until the matter has been urgently escalated to and considered by a decision maker at the service,” Dr Wroth said.

Temperature testing on entry can support the question about fever and using a no-touch method, such as an infra-red temperature detection gun device, is recommended, she said.

“Even a low-grade fever can indicate possible infection,” she said.

The screening responses can also be accompanied by the signature of the staff member or visitor, Dr Wroth said.

She said it was important to note that:

  • a recent negative COVID-19 test does not guarantee the person is still negative
  • a person with very mild symptoms or no symptoms can be infected or transmitting the virus

Dr Wroth said staff and visitor screening does not replace other essential practices including rigorous hand hygiene, interpersonal distancing and thorough and frequent environmental cleaning.

Access the quality commission’s advice on supporting safe, quality care for aged care residents during visitor restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic here.

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Tags: covid-19, infection-control, melanie-wroth, screening,

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