Managing the first 24 hours of a COVID outbreak: the first 60 minutes

While COVID rages around Australia devastating many aged care facilities, others brace themselves for the inevitable. Even facilities that have seen a COVID outbreak event are now waiting for the next unavoidable wave in what we hope are the death throes of the active global pandemic.

Aged care has been living with tension for so long, bracing themselves for the worst and hoping for the best. Covid has brought unprecedented challenges and disproportionate threats to older people’s lives and to the relationships and wellbeing of staff and residents. The hero in this story is good infection control practices, but for those of us working in aged care, there are challenges between theory and practice as Covid outbreaks increase our acuity and decrease staffing.

We spoke to our clinical team to ask how Bug Control could help prepare facilities for COVID outbreaks. We knew there were a lot of resources out there, but they were often too particular about time frames. “Things are happening too quickly, and no one’s looking at their watch to see how long it’s been.” Being prepared is our best defence knowing and feeling confident in managing the first 24 hours to have the greatest impact on the spread and impact of the virus. Let’s talk through the steps. 

Note:This is the first in a two-part series on managing the first 24 hours of a COVIDoutbreak. It covers the first hour after the outbreak has been discovered. Wewill share the second post shortly.

With that in mind, we wanted to give you an overview of the first 24 hours of a COVID outbreak. We’ve split this into two parts: the first one is the first hour of the outbreak, and the second is for the other 23 hours.

So what should you do if there’s a COVID outbreak in your facility?

The first 30–60 minutes of a Covid outbreak

1.      Take control of the situation

You won’t necessarily be at the facility when you get the call confirming the news we all dread. To manage a potential outbreak, you may need turn your attention in seconds from children’s homework and dinner to being a blackbelt in Covid management. As there may not be a registered nurse on duty, you need to give the simplest and the clearest of instructions to whoever is at the end of the phone.

2.      Isolate, Communicate, Assess

Memorise ‘Isolate, communicate and assess’ and keep using it during the outbreak. It is the easiest way to remember what should be done, especially during those crucial first few hours.

Isolate the resident or send the staff member home. Set up the PPE trolleys and consider how to separate shared facilities e.g. use a commode for the resident if they are sharing a bathroom.

Communicate the news to the staff and start enforcing proper PPE use and staff cohorting. Communicate the news to the resident in a sensitive way that considers their cognition and attempts to allay their anxiety. Don’t forget the families! In smaller communities news spreads fast, so provide clear direction to families about contact. Inform them of what the next 24 hours will look like and tell them what direct communication they can expect. This is particularly important because getting through to the facility once the announcement is made becomes an almost impossibility.

Assess the COVID-positive resident and report this outcome to the resident’s GP for guidance. You will need to continue assessments for positive residents and also maintain regular symptom checks of other non–COVID positive residents as per your procedures.

3.      Take a deep breath – you did it!

Look at you go!

The situation has been stabilised. Contact your line manager or as your OMP directs then get yourself to the facility. This is where a telephone box and a cape would come in handy.

The first hour of an outbreak is your first real opportunity to take charge of the situation. The steps you take when you first discover Covid in your facility can greatly minimise the difficulties you experience in the future. Establishing cool and collected leadership in the most panicky moments will help set a calmer, more orderly mood.

Tune in next week for our blog on managing the next 23 hours of a COVID outbreak.

If you can’t wait, here are some resources for you right now: