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COVID-19 Information for Audiology Australia Members

GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR WORKING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Given current concerns about coronavirus (COVID-19), it is important that Audiology Australia members understand how to keep yourself and the people that you support healthy.

This information is based on advice provided on the Australian Gove Department of Health website (COVID-19 documents and webinars for allied health professionals). A fact sheet is available here.

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms include fever, coughing, a sore throat and shortness of breath. The virus can spread from person to person, but good hygiene can prevent infection.

How does coronavirus spread?

The virus can spread from person to person through:

1. close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they had symptoms).

2. contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.

3. touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

COVID-19 is a new disease, so there is no existing immunity in our community. This means that COVID-19 could spread widely and quickly.

4. Airborne transmission: Saliva or tears from an infected person can stay in the air after they cough, sneeze, talk or even sing. This means that coronavirus (COVID-19) can be spread through these tiny infectious particles suspended in the air. Sometimes, the virus can remain in the air for some time in settings such as in indoor spaces with poor ventilation.

How can audiologists minimise risk at this time?

1. Do not go to work if you are unwell.

2. Before providing face to face services to clients, determine if the client needs to be seen now or whether the service can be delayed or addressed through telehealth

3. If the client needs to be seen in person, ascertain that the client is well. Ask if the person has fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, has returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. If the person has any of these symptoms they should not attend the clinic and may need to seek medical advice.

4. Maintain social distancing during appointments where possible and minimise the time spent working more closely with the client. This needs to be facilitated at reception, in the waiting area, in your office and testing areas.

5. Implement good hygiene practices and ask your clients to follow similar practices while at your clinic in relation to hand washing, cough etiquette, tissue disposal.

6. Watch the Department of Health infection control training video for further details. Click here for access.

7. In addition to implementing the usual infection control procedures, you should clean frequently touched surfaces after each client with disinfectant wipes. This includes reception, waiting areas, consultation and testing rooms. The length of time the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on inanimate surfaces varies depending on factors such as the amount of contaminated body fluid (e.g. respiratory droplets) or soiling present, and environmental temperature and humidity. Coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for many hours or more but are readily inactivated by cleaning and disinfection. It is good practice to routinely clean frequently touched surfaces with detergent solution or detergent/disinfectant wipes and clean general surfaces and fittings when visibly soiled and immediately after any spillage.

If the above strategies are implemented then it should not be necessary to use personal protective equipment (PPE) with clients who are not COVID-19 positive unless it is a procedure where PPE would normally be used. It can be difficult to maintain social distancing during appointments. It is important to try to minimise the time you need to be closer than 1.5m from the client. However, if this is not possible and you are concerned that you may come into contact with droplets from an asymptomatic client then consideration could be given to using PPE such as a mask or gloves in these circumstances. The most likely situations where this may occur are when testing young children (VROA or ABR appointments), working with older clients who may not follow cough etiquette e.g. clients with dementia or impression taking which may trigger a cough reflex

Most States produce density maps to indicate where COVID-19 cases have been identified. These maps could be used to help you determine the level of risk in working with clients in particularly locations.

Looking after yourself is important, too.

1. Do not go to work if you are unwell.

2. Your employer is responsible for your health and safety in the workplace. If your employer has issued guidelines for working with clients during the pandemic you should follow that advice.

3. If you are working outside of your usual workplace e.g. delivering services in a residential aged care facility (RACF), you should ask for and follow any protocols that have been issued by that facility.

4. If you have any concerns about your workplace, you should talk to your supervisor or manager, HR team or a workplace health and safety officer. If you are a member of a union, you could contact your union representative. If the concern relates to professional or ethical conduct it may be appropriate to make a complaint to the Ethics Review Committee via ethics@audiology.asn.au or 03 9940 3920.

5. If you are feeling anxious you could contact the Employee Assistance Program if available through your place of work, or Lifeline or beyondblue.

Further information including links to information from various state and federal health bodies, the Hearing Services Program and more can be found at www.audiology.asn.au. The information is being updated regularly so please check back regularly and keep an eye open for any communications from Audiology Australia via email.

Members are also encouraged to email info@audiology.asn.au or call 03 9940 3900 with any questions or concerns.

AUDIOLOGY AUSTRALIA OPERATIONS, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND MEMBER SERVICES UPDATES

Information will continue to be sent to members via email and eNews outlining operations during this time in the coming days and members can call Audiology Australia for any further information or support on 03 9940 3900 or email info@audiology.asn.au

Latest Covid Updates By State:

VACINATION REQUIREMENTS FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS

Audiology Australia Position Statement: Vaccination
All States and Territories
Audiology Australia has published a summary of mandatory vaccination requirements by jurisdiction. You can view and download it here.
NSW
Health care workers - NSW
The Public Health (COVID 19 Vaccination of Health Care Workers) Order 2021 commenced on 26 August 2021. The Order establishes mandatory requirements for health staff and persons working in health settings to be vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Order requires the first dose of a vaccine by 30 September 2021, with a second dose required by 30 November 2021
The Order applies to:
in the public sector, persons who work for the NSW Health Service, for a public health organisation, the Health Administration Corporation and Ambulance Service of NSW, as well as staff of the Ministry of Health
in the private sector a person who does work in a private health facility, being a private hospital or day procedure centre
in the private sector, registered paramedics whose work involves transporting, or assessing whether to transport, persons to and from a public or private health facility.
Work is defined broadly to cover employees, contractors, VMOs, visiting practitioners, volunteers and students undertaking clinical placements.
The Order does not however include private primary care providers such as GPs.
Employers are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure workers comply with the Order. Workers will need to provide evidence of having received a COVID-19 vaccination if requested to do so by their employer. Employers will be able to request this information. An exemption is available for a worker if they are unable to be vaccinated a due to a medical contraindication.
Workers will be required to provide evidence of a medical contraindication via a certificate from a medical practitioner, in a form approved by the CHO, that specifies the medical contraindication. There is an exemption that will apply if a person needs to do work in a medical emergency or non-medical emergency.
The Minister may exempt other persons from these requirements, but only if satisfied it is necessary to protect the health and well-being of patients in the facility.
Reporting COVID-19 vaccine side effects
The Australian Government has published patient factsheets on what individuals may expect after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. The factsheets can be viewed here.
Suspected side effects that are not listed on the patient factsheet should be reported to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA has published information on this process here.

Health professionals in NSW, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory or ACT are required under public health legislation to notify adverse events following immunisation to their state or territory health department. These reports will then be submitted to the TGA.
Where to report in each state / territory

ETHICS REVIEW COMMITTEE: ADVICE FOR AUDIOLOGY AUSTRALIA MEMBERS

The Ethics Review Committee (ERC) is a body committed to ensuring the highest standards of ethical practice in the hearing health sector. You can read more about the ERC here. The ERC has compiled a series of Frequently Asked Questions that may assist members. You can download a copy of the FAQs here.

INFORMATION AND UPDATES FROM THE HEARING SERVICES PROGRAM

On 25 June 2021, the program confirmed that the COVID special arrangements would cease on 30 June 2021 and announced a six-month transition period in the Contracted Service Provider Notice.

The six-month transition period from 1 July 2021 to 1 January 2022 aims to allow providers to adjust to the new changes and resume previous requirements, in line with the COVID-19 restrictions and arrangements in place in each state and territory. During this period, flexible service delivery options remain in place for providers. Please click here for more information.

For the latest information from the Hearing Services Program from, please click here.

INFORMATION FROM AON INSURANCE

AON Insurance has provided updates to members in relation to COVID-19. These can be found here and here. Information is also available for members regarding run-off cover and ceasing their professional services. Click here for further detail.

TELEHEALTH SERVICES

Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)
The Government has made new temporary MBS telehealth items available to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for patients and health care providers. A guide from the Department of Health about the use of MBS telehealth items during COVID-19 is available here.

Audiology Australia has developed a fact sheet, available for members here. This fact sheet was last updated on 27 April 2021.

Hearing Services Program
A Provider Factsheet on telehealth has been released by the Department of Health to provide further support to providers. The factsheet is available here.

UPDATE FOR ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONALS BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

The Department of Health has been holding updates regarding COVID-19 for Allied Health Practitioners. You can find the recordings for previous sessions and notifications for upcoming sessions here.

GENERAL RESOURCES AND LINKS

Members are advised to keep up to date with COVID-19 developments by regularly reviewing the information on the Australian Government Department of Health website. Resources include:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert - updated every day with the latest medical advice and official reports.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources for health professionals, including pathology providers and healthcare managers: A collection of resources for health professionals, including pathology providers and healthcare managers, about coronavirus (COVID-19).
Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources: A collection of resources for the general public, health professionals and industry about coronavirus

Members are also advised to review their State or Territory Department of Health websites for additional relevant information. The links to State and Territory Department of Health websites are listed below:

ACT Health

Latest information about Novel Coronavirus in the ACT

Resources for health professionals on Novel Coronavirus, including Chief Health Officer alerts

ACT Public Health Directions

Northern Territory Department of Health

Latest updates of Novel Coronavirus in the Northern Territory

Chief Health Officer Directions

NSW Health

Latest updates including resources to support health professionals in response to Novel Coronavirus

COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing

COVID-19 Vaccination For Workers

Public Health Orders and Restrictions

QLD Health
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Allied Health Resources
Chief Health Officer public health directions

SA Health

Novel Coronavirus infection information for health professionals

Emergency Declaration and Directions

Tasmanian Department of Health

Novel Coronavirus information

COVID-19 Resources, including current directions

Victorian Department of Health and Human Services

Resources for health services and general practitioners on Novel Coronavirus

Directions Issued By The Chief Health Officer

WA Health

Information on Novel Coronavirus, including factsheets and updates for health professionals and GPs

COVID-19 State of Emergency Declarations

GUIDELINES FOR THE PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF INFECTION

During this time, it is also crucial that members are aware of and maintaining appropriate hygiene standards and procedures for preventing and controlling infection.

The Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare are available here. These outline the basic principles of infection prevention and control and can be applied to a wide range of healthcare settings.

A summary of the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines with a focus on the audiology perspective is available for Audiology Australia members here.

In addition, we recommend that members consider implementing extra precautions for their clinical services such as asking consumers if they have been overseas in the last two weeks when you are confirming or booking their appointments.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

The Department of Health in Victoria has published new guidance on the use of face masks and shields by healthcare workers in areas with significant community transmission of COVID-19. The guideline can be found on the Department of Health website here.

Other guidance on PPE for healthcare workers can be found in the collection of COVID-19 resources for health professionals on the Department of Health website here.

The Federal Department of Health has released a video outlinining the use of personal protective equipment in allied health. You can view the video here.

The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce has developed an evidence based decision making tool for respiratory and eye protection guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Information about the allocation of Personal Protective Equipment in Victoria is available from Allied Health Professions Australia here.

TRAINING FOR INFECTION CONTROL

The Department of Health commissioned the development of online infection control training. An Infection Control training module has been developed for use by care workers across the health, aged care, disability and childcare sector. You can access the training here: https://covid-19training.com.au/

Members who complete the training can claim 1 CPD point (Category 3.2) as a non-endorsed event.

INFORMATION FOR MEMBERS WORKING WITH THE NDIS

The latest information for providers working with the NDIS is available here.

INFORMATION FOR EMPLOYEES

WorkSafe Victoria has provided employees with information about working safely during this time. Please click here for more information.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also provided information for employees to understand their workplace entitlements during this time. Please click here for more information.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has provided information on COVID-19 vaccinations and federal discrimination law. The information reflects current discrimination legislation, applicable judicial decisions, and guidance issued by government agencies. Please click here for more information.

INFORMATION FOR BUSINESSES AND EMPLOYERS

For information about financial assistance, eligibility and timing of Federal government business support, please click here.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has provided information for employers to understand their obligations during this time. Please click here for more information.

The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has developed a planning tool for businesses to keep their workers, customers and the community safe as they reopen their businesses. The planning tool can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia website here

WORKCOVER AND WORKERS COMPENSATION INFORMATION

South Australia: A fact sheet introducing telehealth arrangements for hearing providers in relation to COVID-19 is available here.

New South Wales: The State Insurance Regulatory Agency (SIRA) has introduced telehealth arrangements for hearing providers in relation to COVID-19 here.

OTHER RESOURCES, GUIDELINES, TOOLS AND SUPPORT

Please note below a range of external tools, resources, guidelines and suppport mechanisms that are currently available. This information may be useful to members in planning and managing clinics and public health at this time.

Deafness Forum has training resources for hearing assistance in aged care services and hospitals. For further information, please click here.

The American Academy of Audiology has published COVID-19 resources for practitioners, including information on treatment and management considerations. The information is directed towards hearing practitioners in the United States, however, there are resources provided which may be of help to members. For further information, click here.

AudA member, Ian Henderson has kindly provided a document with suggested guidelines for audiology practice at this time. To view the document, please click here.

The European Association of Hearing Aid Professionals has developed a document with suggested guidelines. To view the document, please click here.

Cochrane has provided information for clinicians, including around the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). To view, please click here. Cochrane has also provided guidelines, resources and information to assist those in the hearing sector. To view, please click here.

The audiological bodies in the United Kingdom has developed new COVID-19 guidance for practitioners. You can view the guidance here

Allied Health Professions Australia has release general guidelines in relation to infection control in Allied Health. This is available here.

* Information last updated 7.00pm 21 September 2021.

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