Easy to let in, hard to get out – the virus crisis plaguing aged-care settings

Aug 20 2020

Shielding elderly and vulnerable aged-care communities from COVID-19 will continue to be a major challenge for health authorities, as the virus enters easily via community transmission then becomes inherently difficult to eradicate.

That’s the view of University of Newcastle and HMRI gastroenterologist and epidemiologist Laureate Professor Nick Talley.

“Aged care is an enormous issue because they're a very vulnerable population. They need the care – that's why it's set up that way – and the carers want to provide the care, yet there’s a high risk of community transmission into those facilities every time they visit,” Laureate Professor Talley, who is also Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia, says.

“It means donning PPE, personal protective equipment, all the time, which isn’t what they’re used to doing. So you can understand how it easily leaked in from the Victorian community into multiple nursing homes.”

Referring to Sweden’s controversial COVID-19 model – which aimed to protect the elderly, and those with chronic disease or weakened immunity, while allowing others to live relatively normally – Laureate Professor Talley says the data was unfavourable. The country’s high death rates were partly due to elderly populations being placed at risk.

Australia is similarly exposed, in Laureate Professor Talley’s view: “With our percolating continued cases, we are at risk of this also occurring here in the aged-cared environment.

“There is some experience that you can't bring it under control, but you will lose some elderly people even with the best intentions. So I think it's a real problem, and another terribly good reason to aim for elimination, which solves the issue.”