COVID-19 Infection Control

Advice regarding masks

The Infection Control Expert Control Group (ICEG)  provides expert advice and information to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on infection control to support best practice related to infection prevention and control in community, hospital and other institutional settings.

Specifically, ICEG provide advice on the use of PPE, including masks, as below.

When should masks be worn in the community, in Australia?

The advice about wearing masks in the community has been the same since the pandemic began: it is not generally recommended unless you are in a location where the wearing of masks has been mandated, such as in Victoria.

Most states and territories are easing restrictions and it is important to continue to take steps to protect yourself.

You should continue to:

  • stay at home if unwell
  • maintain physical distance (more than 1.5m) from other people, when out
  • avoid large gatherings and crowded indoor spaces
  • practise hand and respiratory hygiene

However, if you are in a region where community transmission is occurring or the wearing of masks has been mandated, you should take extra precautions, in some circumstances.

If physical distancing is difficult to maintain, e.g. in public transport, covering your face with a mask can provide some extra protection. You will still need to maintain all the regular protection measures.

The main value of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.

For people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 themselves ­because of older age or chronic illness, physical distancing is most important. If you cannot maintain physical distance, wearing a mask is an important protective measure.

For people who choose to wear a mask it is important to wear it properly:

  • wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on or taking it off
  • make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face
  • do not touch the front of your mask while wearing or removing it
  • do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose
  • do not reuse single use masks; wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean dry place.

The Australian Government’s Chief Nursing & Midwifery Officer provides a video demonstration of how to don (put on) and doff (take off) a mask.

An infographic is also available to explain when you need to wear a mask (if you’re outside a region where community transmission is occurring) and how to use a mask.

The Australian Government provides advice on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for community pharmacies.  Included in that advice is that Primary Health Networks (PHNs) can provide masks and respirators from the National Medical Stockpile to:

  • community pharmacies
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and Health Services
  • general practitioners

For further information on accessing masks see National Medical Stockpile.

The Australian Government advises that surgical or cloth masks are appropriate. Surgical masks should only be worn for four hours and then discarded safely.  Cloth masks should have a minimum of three layers of cloth and should be washed daily.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provides advice on the regulation and standards in relation to PPE (as at 23 September 2020), including masks (Utility, Surgical, N95 respirator and the Surgical N95/P2 respirator) and advice for healthcare professionals.

If a patient visits your pharmacy and suggests they have cold or flu-like symptoms, or they have just come from being tested for COVID, they should be given a surgical mask to wear.  If they have just been tested for COVID-19, then they should be asked to go home immediately and to self-isolate until they receive the results of their test from your local Public Health Unit.

For your staff, if they are within a region of community transmission there may be a requirement for them to wear a mask. If they are not within a region of community transmission, then the advice about the wearing of masks for the community applies – as above.

Advice regarding temperature checks

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that temperature checks are useful in places where there are patients in the vulnerable group, such as in aged care and hospitals, where they may be useful as an extra precaution.  That temperature checks are not as useful in other settings.  People with COVID-19 don’t always develop fever, or they might have a fever from another illness.  Some medications reduce fever.

Advice for Guild Members is in alignment with the Australian Government advice, that temperature checks are not as useful for pharmacies.  If a patient presents with symptoms including fever, they should be told to go home and/or get tested immediately.

Production of hand sanitiser by pharmacies

Due to the COVID-19 emergency, the Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has cut the red tape on the manufacturing of hand sanitiser, whilst maintaining strict safety requirements, to bolster supply in Australia.

The TGA has introduced an urgent legislative instrument and guidance to make it easier for local businesses to manufacture hand sanitiser.  This includes sanitisers for use in health care facilities - such as hospitals, aged care and other residential facilities - as well as for general consumer use.

This means:

  1. Pharmacies can produce and supply to healthcare facilities and consumers, provided they compound strictly using the recipe in the TGA Excluded Goods Order.
  2. If pharmacies are producing hand sanitiser for general consumer use, the TGA does not regulate this as it is regarded as a general consumer product and falling under State and Territory laws and professional practice standards.
  3. If pharmacies are producing hand sanitiser for healthcare facilities and/or sanitisers that makes specific claims, they must only compound for individual patients, either on prescription or as an OTC item (unless they use the recipe in the Excluded Goods Order).

Full details are available on the TGA website.