Government releases guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) to care homes

The Department of Health has said care workers do not need to wear facemasks, stating they ‘only need to be worn by infected individuals when advised by a healthcare worker, to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people’. The guidance adds that it ‘remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected’. Public Health England (PHE) recommends that the best way to reduce any risk of infection for anyone is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact (within 2 metres) with any potentially infected person.

‘No need to do anything differently in any care setting at present’

The Department of Health told care homes ‘there is no need to do anything differently in any care setting at present’. It added: ‘If any of your staff do become infected through travel to affected countries you will be contacted by your local Health Protection Team to take you through a risk assessment for your particular setting.

‘You may find it helpful to know about your local health protection team in advance of any outbreak of disease.’

Symptoms of COVID-19 infection are difficulty in breathing, a cough and a fever. Older people, people with weakened immune systems and those with those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are more likely to be severely affected if they contract the virus.

There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus.

Care home staff urged to wash their hands often

To help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, the government is urging care home staff to wash their hands often – with soap and water, or use alcohol sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol if handwashing facilities are not available – this is particularly important after taking public transport.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin.
  • People who feel unwell should stay at home and should not attend work
  • Employees should wash their hands:
  • before leaving home
  • on arrival at work
  • after using the toilet
  • after breaks and sporting activities
  • before food preparation
  • before eating any food, including snacks
  • before leaving work
  • on arrival at home
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

If any staff are worried about their symptoms or those of a family member or colleague, please call NHS 111. They should not go to their GP or other healthcare environment.

General guidance for suspected infection

If staff, a member of the public or a care home resident becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least two metres away from other people. The guidance states ‘If possible find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a shut door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation’.

The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms. If the person affected is not able for any reason to call NHS 111 themselves then a staff member should call on their behalf.

Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111 or an ambulance to arrive, they should remain at least two metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available. This will apply only to the period of time while waiting for transport to hospital.

While a care home staff member or residents is waiting for results of a coronavirus test, there is no need to close the care home or send staff home. Even if someone is diagnosed with the disease, the Department of Health is not recommending that the care home close.

An assessment of each setting will be undertaken by PHE’s local Health Protection Team with the lead responsible person. Advice on the management of staff, members of the public or residents will be based on this assessment.

Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as offices or toilets will be given by the Health Protection

If a care worker or resident has contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus, then they can get advice from the local Health Protection Team. Those who have had close contact will be asked to self-isolate at home or in their own room in a care or residential home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow the home isolation advice sheet.

Further support

To read the full guidance from the UK Government click here.

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