This information should be read alongside COVID-19 information developed by the Australian Government Department of Health for healthcare workers, and additional information on the Tasmanian and Australian Departments of Health websites about home quarantine, physical distancing and border control measures. This information is not attended as clinical guidance for healthcare workers directly caring for confirmed, probable or suspect cases of COVID-19.
What are the best sources of information on COVID-19
- The Australian Department of Health website, which has a wide range of resources, including information targeting healthcare workers and communiques from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
- The Communicable Disease Network of Australia Series of National Guidelines, which includes COVID-19 guidelines for public health units, including definitions of cases, probable cases and suspect cases.
- The Tasmanian Department of Health website, which has information about the situation in Tasmania and the local response.
- The World Health Organization website, which has information about the international situation, including emerging information about the virus that causes COVID-19.
Who fits under the definition of healthcare worker
In this document, healthcare workers are staff providing direct care to patients in healthcare and aged care facilities and in community settings. This includes staff registered through the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency, students within those professions and medical attendants.
What should I do if I think I might have COVID-19
If you think you might have COVID-19, you must:
- contact your GP or Public Health Services on 1800 671 738 immediately for advice
- quarantine, preferably at home, until testing is arranged
- be stringent about hand hygiene
- cover all coughs and sneezes, preferably with a tissue, and put the used tissue in the rubbish straight away; if a tissue is not handy, use the inside of your elbow.
What does physical distancing mean for frontline health workers
Physical distancing means increasing the physical space between yourself and others as much as possible. Clearly this is not always possible when healthcare workers are providing direct patient care. When it is safe and practicable to increase distance, you must do so.
- when conducting clinic appointments, place patients’ chairs at least 1.5 metres from your own and keep your distance when not doing physical examinations;
- avoid handshakes, hugging and kissing people as greetings;
- increase distances between chairs in waiting rooms, especially for people who are vulnerable to severe illness;
- minimise staffing changes for patients who are vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19;
- minimise unnecessary visits to patients who are vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19;
- avoid crowding in lunch-rooms and offices, including during shift handovers;
- maintain distance from colleagues where possible;
- minimise face-to-face meetings; use teleconference and videoconference for meetings where possible and limit the size and duration of meetings;
- minimise patient visitors and the number of people accompanying patients.
Can patients in quarantine still attend appointments
Patients can leave quarantine to access arranged medical care when this is supported by their healthcare provider and the care cannot safely or feasibly be postponed. Patients must contact their healthcare provider before the appointment and let you know they are in quarantine for COVID-19. You should determine if the appointment can be safely or feasibly deferred and provide advice on safe travel (which should be direct to/from the medical premises, to minimise potential spread of illness and protect others) if the appointment proceeds.
For these purposes, medical care includes:
- antenatal appointments;
- specialist appointments;
- outpatient clinic appointments;
- urgent primary care appointments that cannot be safely postponed;
- urgent and emergency transport to hospital.
If I'm looking after someone who is in quarantine, what precautions do I need to take
Contact and droplet precautions are recommended for routine care of patients in quarantine or with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
Contact and airborne precautions are recommended when performing aerosol-generating procedures, including intubation and bronchoscopy, and for care of critically ill patients.
Remember to change your facemask if/when it becomes damp.
The Tasmanian Infection Prevention and Control Unit has published instructional videos on the use of personal protective equipment here.
For more information about infection control precautions, see your service’s infection prevention and control guidelines or contact your infection prevention and control staff.
What else can I do to slow the spread of infection
- When a patient who meets the ‘suspect case’ definition presents to a healthcare setting (GP, hospital, emergency department, or pathology collection centre), whether or not respiratory symptoms are present, immediately give the patient a surgical mask to wear and direct them to a single room if possible.
- Provide alcohol-based hand rub and encourage patients and visitors to use this at reception.
- Provide alcohol-based hand rub on desks and in the kitchen for regular use by staff.
- Provide tissues and a no-touch rubbish bin for use by patients and visitors.
- Provide soap and paper towels at all hand basins (staff and patient). Use paper towel to turn taps off (so your hands stay clean).
- Display posters about hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
- If the patient has severe symptoms suggestive of pneumonia, move them to a negative pressure room, if available, or a room from which the air does not circulate to other areas.
- If a patient with confirmed COVID-19 needs to be transferred out of their quarantine room, instruct and support the patient to wear a surgical facemask and follow respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.
What precautions should I take when cleaning
When cleaning, staff should minimise the risk of being infected by wearing disposable gloves and washing their hands with soap and running water before and after wearing gloves.
If cleaning rooms or areas that have been used by a person in quarantine or isolation, staff should wear PPE for contact and droplet precautions, ie surgical mask, disposable gloves and gown, following standard donning and doffing procedures. Staff should also follow the facility’s terminal cleaning procedure.
If staff need to clean a room in which there is a person known to have COVID-19, staff should ask that person to wear a surgical mask if one is available. Staff should also maintain at least two large steps from that person.
When do healthcare workers need to stay away from work
You cannot go to work as a healthcare worker if:
- you have direct patient contact AND you develop a fever (≥38°C) or history of fever (eg night sweats, chills) OR an acute respiratory infection (eg shortness of breath, cough, sore throat); you fit the definition of a suspect case of COVID-19 and may need to be tested*
- you meet any criteria for quarantine and have not been given exemption from quarantine to attend work; you need to stay at home
- you had unprotected close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days^; you need to quarantine for 14 days from your last contact with the confirmed case
*This does not include contact you may have with confirmed cases while using recommended personal protective equipment and infection control measures as part of your work.
^Early detection of COVID-19 in healthcare workers is an important protective mechanism for the higher risk population that we care for. For this reason, healthcare workers that provide direct care have a lower threshold for being a suspect case.
If you need to stay away from work but cannot do this in your own home, you may be eligible for emergency accommodation.
Can I get exemption from having to complete 14 days of quarantine after returning to Tasmania from interstate
Some healthcare workers (clinicians, including medical, nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals, paramedics and ambulance officers) may receive exemption from completing 14 days quarantine after travelling to Tasmania from interstate, in order to work. If you intend to seek exemption, you must complete and submit an application form at least 24 hours before arriving in Tasmania. Without an exemption, you will need to quarantine for 14 days. Exemptions cannot be done retrospectively.
Exemptions may be made for:
- trained healthcare workers returning home for work
- non-resident trained healthcare workers coming to Tasmania to provide health services not otherwise available in Tasmania
- paramedics and other ambulance officers returning to Tasmania as soon as practicable after or while providing medical transport to a patient
- people working with interstate retrieval teams, including air ambulance retrievals and organ retrieval teams visiting Tasmania to retrieve organs
- allied health professional students ordinarily resident in Tasmania, where placement is an essential requirement for approved (accredited) program of study.
Exemption is only granted after careful assessment of the risk and benefit for each healthcare worker’s unique situation. Travel, work and contact history are considered for each application.
Exemption will only be granted for the purposes of carrying out the health services in your initial application. You will need to reapply for an exemption to undertake additional services and must remain in quarantine when not carrying out approved work duties.
If you receive exemption, you must use personal protective equipment as per the requirements for the type of work you are engaged in, or as directed by the Tasmanian Director of Public Health. You must also practice with a high degree of caution and practice hand hygiene and physical distancing while conducting your work.
How to apply for exemption
To apply, complete the attached application form and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should fill out the application form at least 24 hours prior to your arrival in Tasmania. Every healthcare worker seeking an exemption from quarantine must complete an application form.
If you arrived in Tasmania without an exemption, you are required to quarantine yourself until such time that you are advised that an exemption has been granted.
If you are approved for an Essential Traveller status then you will need to comply with the Quarantine conditions for essential travellers.
To find out more, email email@example.com
When can I leave quarantine
You can leave quarantine and return to work and normal activities 14 days after your departure from interstate (or arrival from overseas) or contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 except if you show symptoms of COVID-19 during those 14 days or you meet other criteria for quarantine in those 14 days (for example, a household member becomes a confirmed case).
If you have been told to quarantine, it’s because you might have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and may become unwell. It can take up to 14 days for people who have been infected with the virus to become sick, and it’s possible to spread the virus to others 24 hours before you feel sick. Quarantining yourself is very important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Tasmania. If you have been told to quarantine, you must do so.
You should monitor your health while you are in quarantine, and call your GP or the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 if you begin to feel unwell.
Can I use telehealth for consultations
The Australian Government is enabling all vulnerable GPs and other vulnerable health professionals who are authorised to use telehealth item numbers, to use telehealth for all consultations with all their patients.
This includes health care providers who:
- are aged at least 70 years old;
- are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and at least 50 years old;
- are pregnant;
- are a parent of a child under 12 months;
- are immune compromised;
- have a chronic medical condition that results in increased risk from coronavirus infection.
What if I’m from overseas and I’m not eligible for Medicare
Overseas travellers who fall ill in Australia (and are not eligible for Medicare) often have health or travel insurance.
For those who do not have adequate insurance coverage, Tasmanian hospitals will waive the costs of treatment. This includes waiving payment and debt recovery procedures for ambulance transfers of people suspected to have coronavirus (COVID-19), who are taken to Tasmanian hospitals for assessment.
These arrangements have been put in place to ensure payment issues are not a barrier for people from overseas with symptoms seeking early medical advice.