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‘Deeply concerning’: COVID-19 cluster at aged care home linked to spike in Victorian cases

The outbreak has prompted renewed calls for increased testing in aged care homes, with elderly people at significantly higher risk of death if they become infected.

The first COVID-19 case at the aged care home was identified in late March. That person has since fully recovered.

More than three weeks later, a second COVID-19 case was detected, prompting expanded testing of all staff and residents, which identified three more cases.

Authorities are now probing whether the first and second cases are linked as they work to determine possible transmission sources.

Extensive cleaning has been undertaken at the aged care home and a ban has been enforced on new admissions and visitors.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said testing was being carried out among residents and staff at Hawthorn Grange.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.Credit:Getty Images

“I think we’ll get on top of that,” he said. “We’ve identified those additional cases and tested across the board for residents and staff.

“[Aged care facilities] are places where you absolutely need to act down on it immediately and that really means extensive testing, including individuals with no symptoms.”

Hawthorn Grange declined to comment when contacted by The Age.

There have been two other reports of coronavirus infections in aged care homes in Victoria, both in late March. They involved a staff member at the Assisi Centre in Rosanna, and a doctor who visited Carlton’s Rathdowne Place.

In NSW coronavirus-related deaths in aged care homes have accounted for more than one-third of the state’s overall tally.

“We don’t want to see that repeated in Victoria,” the Australian Medical Association’s Victorian president Julian Rait said.

“What this emphasises yet again is that hospitals and aged care facilities need to be subject to much more testing so you pick up cases and there is early warning.”

Professor Rait said a state government move to expand testing should be rolled out to nursing homes so residents and staff, as well as family members who visit, are regularly screened.

Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the outbreak at Hawthorn Grange was “deeply concerning”.

“Our hearts go out to the residents, staff and family members, as the home and health authorities fight to contain the spread,” Mr Rooney said.

“This outbreak is deeply concerning and emphasises the importance of maintaining strong coronavirus protections. Protecting vulnerable older people from COVID-19 is critical to keeping Australia’s death toll down.”

Victorian Minister for Ageing Luke Donnellan said government aged care specialists were providing support to the privately owned home’s operators.

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“It’s very early on,” Mr Donnellan said. “To date, we haven’t had outbreaks like with NSW. I very much hope that remains like that.”

Last Friday, health authorities confirmed an outbreak at the Albert Road Clinic, a privately run psychiatric clinic, was linked to 16 COVID-19 cases.

Doctors and family members of patients from the private psychiatric clinic are outraged by what they call “appalling” communication and a lack of transparency, raising concerns over Victoria’s management of outbreaks.

Three people remain in hospital as a result of of that outbreak, including one in intensive care.

One of the seven new cases announced on Thursday was related to Sunshine Hospital, where two-dozen staff were sent home to isolate after a patient who underwent emergency surgery later tested positive to COVID-19.

There have so far been no confirmed cases of staff at the hospital being infected with the virus as a result of the incident.

For several days over the past week, Victoria recorded just one or two new COVID-19 cases.

The number of cases that may have been acquired through community transmission stands at 140.

Ten mobile coronavirus testing sites are now operating across Melbourne as part of the state government’s ambitious target of testing up to 100,000 people in two weeks.

Victoria’s death toll remained at 18 on Thursday afternoon. There are 18 people in hospital, including nine patients in intensive care. Nearly 1300 Victorians have now recovered from the virus.

The earliest that stage-three social distancing restrictions will be lifted in Victoria is May 11, when a state of emergency ends.

Victoria Police conducted 656 spot checks in the 24 hours to Thursday morning and issued 43 fines. Four males “loitering in industrial areas for no reason” and six males who had been repeatedly warned for gathering in public were among those hit with fines.

Where to get tested

Your GP can test you for COVID-19, though you must call ahead. Your GP will either test you on site or refer you to other local testing services, such as a local pathology collection centre.

You can also go directly to one of the Acute Respiratory Assessment Clinics listed below:

  • Alfred Hospital
  • Austin Hospital 
  • Box Hill Hospital
  • Casey Hospital 
  • Dandenong Hospital
  • Frankston Hospital
  • Monash Medical Centre, Clayton
  • Northern Hospital 
  • Royal Children’s Hospital
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital 
  • St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne
  • Sunshine Hospital

There are also 10 mobile testing sites in Melbourne at:

  • Bayside shopping centre, Frankston
  • Bunnings, West Footscray
  • Chadstone shopping centre
  • Doncaster shopping centre
  • Highpoint shopping centre
  • Northland chopping centre
  • Pacific Werribee
  • Pacific Epping
  • Watergardens town centre
  • Westfield Fountain Gate

And across regional Victoria there are the following testing centres. You do not need a referral or a booking to attend, unless stated otherwise:

  • Barwon Health North, Geelong  (please call 03 4215 4445 before attending)
  • Barwon Health – University Hospital Geelong (please call 03 4215 4445 before attending)
  • Bacchus Marsh – Djerriwarrh Health Services
  • Ballarat Health Services
  • Benalla Health
  • Bendigo Hospital
  • Kyneton – Central Highlands Rural Health
  • Echuca Hospital – Echuca Regional Health
  • Hamilton – Western District Health Services
  • Horsham – Wimmera Health Care Group
  • Maryborough District Health Service
  • Melton – Djerriwarrh Health Services
  • Phillip Island Health Hub – Bass Coast Health
  • Portland District Health
  • Shepparton Hospital – Goulburn Valley Health
  • Stawell Regional Health
  • Swan Hill District Health
  • Wangaratta Hospital – Northeast Health
  • Warrnambool – South West Healthcare (please call 03 5563 1666 before attending)
  • Wodonga Campus – Albury Wodonga Health
  • Wonthaggi Hospital – Bass Coast Health

For more details call the 24-hour coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398 or visit the Health Department website

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