As things start to ease up with COVID-19 movement restrictions, we’re seeing borders opening again and more people moving around, returning to some semblance of normality — in most States of Australia anyway. But the outbreak and subsequent return to lockdown for areas in Victoria is a sobering reminder that the war has not yet been won. Outbreaks can and will flare up again. It’s Melbourne today, it could be Adelaide, Darwin, Brisbane, Hobart or a large rural town tomorrow, and we need to remain vigilant and prepared — not for if it happens, but when it happens.

Senior filling out paperwork with text reading: COVID-19 Action Plans for seniors.

What happens if your suburb or town becomes the next hot-spot?

What do you do if there is a widespread second wave of infections across Australia? How can aged care services support their clients or residents to prepare and respond quickly and appropriately should this happen?

This is something I was discussing with a service provider in a rural location just this week. Their service was finding that a number of consumers expressed a reluctance to return to group activities. They felt the possibility of picking up infections was higher — and their concern is valid. While we don’t want people to become complacent or take unnecessary risks, we can’t live locked away forever, plus there are times when the risk of moving about in our communities is safer.

We discussed the need to talk with consumers and identify what worked in the last lockdown, where the gaps are, and what needs to be put in place should an outbreak occur in their community.

As well as developing or amending the response plan at the organisation level, there needs to be a way of helping consumers to also consider what they need to do to prepare for another outbreak. What they need is an individualised emergency response plan.

Lo and behold, into my inbox later that afternoon came the latest Protecting Older Australians email alert from the Department of Health.

It contained the news that the Commonwealth Government had released a COVID-19 Action Plan template for use by individuals who are at increased risk and high risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. It’s also handy for anyone who has an interest in developing their own individualised COVID-19 response plan.

While the plan is primarily aimed at people living in a community setting, it may be helpful for those living in retirement villages and independent living units. It would also be relevant for residents in care homes, where people move about within their local community area, a more common occurrence in some rural and regional settings.

The plan is available to be downloaded as a PDF or a Word document, so it can be completed and printed off. Placing it in a person’s home file or on their fridge or other prominent location can assist consumers to remember what they need to do to protect themselves at each stage of an outbreak.

Download the full action plan from the Department's website.

The first level (green) is where there are no current known cases in the community. While this doesn’t mean there are no cases it means that community transmission of the virus is low and there is therefore less risk to individuals when out and about in the community. 

This is when ‘at risk’ people can more confidently get out and about, attend activities and visit friends and family whilst still maintaining recommended social distancing recommendations. They can go shopping for non-essential items and perhaps catch up with a friend over coffee or afternoon tea.

The second level (amber) recognises that there is some community transmission occurring and that people who are in the ‘at risk’ category need to consider taking additional precautions to stay safe. This might include being more selective about who they interact with, perhaps just a small group of individuals, avoiding closed or indoor environments where there are more people, such as shopping centres, as well as limiting the amount of non-essential activities and time spent with others in larger group settings, such as church or exercise groups.

It’s at this point that the person should have discussions with their service provider about any changes to services or supports that might be required should the situation escalate.

The third level (red) comes into play once there are significant or rising numbers of community transmissions in the person’s own community. This is when those plans for amendments to service delivery supports are enacted, where the individual retreats to the safety of their home and perhaps utilises online services such as shopping, banking and telehealth appointments.

Of course, everyone is different and each person will have their own risk tolerance, so each action plan will be slightly different.

While service providers can assist and encourage consumers to consider developing their own plan either in person or over the phone or internet, the consumer, and their family where relevant, should be actively involved in completing their action plan. This way the response outlined at each level of an outbreak will have been considered and have relevance to the consumer for their specific situation. When the consumer has ownership over the contents of their action plan, they are more likely to remember and use it.

And if the time doesn’t come, if the outbreak never eventuates in your area because of good planning and fast, effective responses, you’ll still have had the chance to sit down with consumers and get to know them that little bit better, learn something more about them and perhaps pick up on something that you weren't aware of previously that can help you provide even better care and support to them.

If you can think of someone else who might benefit from this article, send them a link. We’d appreciate it! And if you’re looking for more helpful resources, why not check out our Total Quality Package resource hub? We have culturally appropriate, tailored resources that are designed to make your job simpler and help you provide quality care to your clients. Click here to find out more.

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