COVID-19 Update: Latest Update to the COVID-19 Series of National Guidelines (SoNG)
WHAT ARE THE SERIES OF NATIONAL GUIDELINES (SoNG)?
The Series of National Guidelines are developed by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA), the peak body of Australian experts who advise the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC). The AHPPC is the committee of chief medical officers which advise Australia’s National Cabinet of Federal, State and Territorial leaders. The CDNA’s job is to produce the reference COVID-19 SoNG that is used to underpin nationally consistent advice and guidance to all public health units when responding to a notifiable disease event, such as COVID-19.
The SoNG can also assist employers with their pandemic policy and procedures. It is important to remember the primary goal of the SoNG is to guide the management of all the available public health resources, understanding the anticipated demand on the capacity to the health care system to service the needs of the Australian population. Public Health units look after the people and resources necessary to diagnose and manage cases until your worker is released from isolation, when they return to your responsibility.
To protect the wellbeing of your workforce and to maintain business continuity, the challenge is to convert the guidance provided by the COVID-19 SoNG into practical policy and procedures that supports your business needs. This includes:
- Understanding the lag between when a worker may be infectious and spreading virus within you workforce and when they are diagnosed;
- The difference between the SoNG criteria for the release of a person from isolation and their potential fitness to return to work in high-risk settings.
The SoNG are periodically updated. The most recent update was dated 17 April 2020 – Version 2.6 and was published over the weekend. The information below will provide you with a summary and the implications of this latest update.
INCREASE IN INFECTIOUS PERIOD FROM 24 HOURS TO 48 HOURS BEFORE FIRST SYMPTOMS
The virus needs to incubate in the body before it causes the person to become unwell, usually 5 days but can be up to two weeks. There are rare reports where the incubation period is longer. Previously, the amount of viral shedding before 24 hours prior to becoming unwell was considered very-low. Based on the current evidence, cases are now considered to be infectious 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.
Whilst the actual infectious period of COVID-19 remains unknown , there is growing evidence to support the existence of viral transmission consistent with pre-symptomatic disease (shedding virus before a person becomes unwell) and asymptomatic disease (the person develops the illness, sheds virus, but never knows they are unwell). This means that someone who is not showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 can spread the virus to your workgroup.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WORKPLACES?
This change means workplaces should immediately update their pandemic procedures and policies to ensure that you are identifying anyone who might be a close contact of a possible suspected case of COVID-19. This enables you to actively manage the risks to your business should the suspected case become a probable or confirmed case. If you wait until one of your employees is a confirmed case, their close contacts within your workforce may have already contracted the virus and it may be too late to stop an outbreak in your workplace.
FURTHER CLARIFICATION ON THE DEFINITION OF “CLOSE CONTACT”
The definition of “Close Contact” has been modified to read:
- face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed or probable case, for greater than 15 minutes cumulative over the course of a week, in the period extending from 48 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed or probable case, or
- sharing of a closed space with a confirmed or probable case for a prolonged period (e.g. more than 2 hours) in the period extending from 48 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed or probable case.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WORKPLACES?
Prior to this update, the exposure time for face-to-face contact before crossing the threshold from lower risk to higher risk was 15 minutes . This has now changed to indicate the cumulative exposure can occur over “one week”. This change will significantly increase the number of employees defined as a close contact should a person in your workforce be diagnosed as having COVID-19 . Workplaces should immediately update their pandemic procedures and policies and include this definition of “close contact” within your tool-box talks and educational material.
MANAGING A COVID-19 OUTBREAK IN YOUR WORKPLACE
As Governments consider relaxing the current restrictions, community transmission and outbreaks can be anticipated over the coming weeks and months. Consequently all businesses, those wishing to maintain business continuity of essential services, and those business emerging from hibernation, must expect and plan for an outbreak of COVID-19 in their workplace.
To minimise the potential impact on your workplace of an outbreak, active work-related contact management of workers who are potential suspect cases of COVID-19 is highly recommended. Such employees may need to be under heightened surveillance while at work or placed into quarantine until the clinical status of a worker who is unwell is known. Also, the employee who is recovering from COVID-19 may become asymptomatic but still be able to shed virus. Managing these workers’ return to work, will depend on the risk profile of the role they might fulfill.
Consequently, managing a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace could be an incredibly challenging process. As experts in Occupational Health, KINNECT can assist you by providing:
- Briefing sessions for your leadership team and key stakeholders
- Contact Management – determining those employees who are defined as a “close contact”
- Contact Management – assisting with the risk assessment and advising the surveillance or quarantine requirements for employees who have had either casual or close contact with a “possible” suspect case of COVID-19
- Contact Management – of employees whilst in quarantine or home-isolation
- Return to Work Management advise concerning confirmed, probable or suspected COVID-19 cases
To discuss our COVID-19 services further, please contact either your account manager or call 1300 546 632.