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COVID-19: Advice for carers

COVID-19 is causing confusion and concern for everyone. But, as you’re on the front-line, working with some of the people most at risk from the pandemic, it’s likely you have a lot of questions.

Given the circumstances, we’ve tried to answer some of the ones we’re most frequently asked by the carers we work with on COVID-19. This advice applies to both for those who are and aren’t on placement.

Of course, throughout this unprecedented period, we need carers to apply for placements more than ever.


COVID-19 information relating to:

General advice
On a placement
Not on a placement

General advice

What is COVID-19 and what are the symptoms?

COVID-19 is a new virus in the coronavirus family. The microbiology of the virus means it largely impacts the respiratory tract, impacting breathing. We’re still in the early stages of our understanding, but what has become apparent is that it disproportionately impacts those over 70 or with underlying health conditions.

The symptoms of coronavirus vary significantly depending on severity. Most people will simply show mild symptoms, which will be easily confused with a common cold.

In many cases, those who contract the virus will experience moderate symptoms, such as a persistent dry cough, a fever, and shortness of breath.

In severe cases these can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, which are critical and potential life-threatening.

How serious is COVID-19 for the elderly?

It can be very serious. The elderly are the group of people at the most risk from the virus. Current data from the World Health Organisation shows that 10-20% of the over 80s who contract the virus could die from it. What can I do to minimise risk of infection for both me and my client?

The Government has announced that everyone should stay indoors and stay away from others in a bid to minimise the spread of the virus. It’s also essential to practice good personal hygiene and, when leaving the house is unavoidable, practising social distancing.

What is good personal hygiene?

The basic principle is ensuring you keep yourself as clean as possible, especially after being in environments where you may have been exposed to the virus. Obviously, this means avoiding anyone with any cold or flu-like symptoms. On a day-to-day basis, the Government and NHS recommend:

  • Washing your hands more often, using soap and water for a least 20 seconds or hand sanitiser if you’re out and about. You should do this when you enter and exit a building, blow your nose, sneeze or cough, and before and after you eat and handle food.
  • Avoiding touching any part of your face, including eyes, nose and mouth where possible. When it’s unavoidable, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw it into a bin immediately.
  • Cleaning surfaces frequently using an antibacterial spray – ideally chlorine-based. As a rule, the more the surface is touched, the more you should clean it.
  • Making sure the house is well ventilated, by opening doors and windows.

Am I at risk of catching COVID-19 as a carer?

As a carer, you’re likely to spend more time in close contact with another person than most. However, over the coming weeks, it’s likely you’ll be provided with personal protective equipment to help reduce your likelihood of contracting the virus.

Minimising risk is all about following best practices. That means staying indoors unless it’s absolutely essential to leave the house. Whether or not you’re on a placement, you yourself should follow the Government advice for those over the age of 70 or with pre-existing conditions as if you were in that group. If you do this, you should not be at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

What is social distancing and self-isolation?

Social distancing

Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce the social interaction between people. In general it means avoiding seeing people, especially in groups of more than two. It is also literal in the sense you should be staying at least two metres away from people.

Self-isolation

This means isolating yourself and your client from the outside world, not leaving the house unless it’s for essential errands. This will help reduce the transmission of this coronavirus (COVID-19). This is what it means in practice:

  • Replace face-to-face contact: Stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact with friends and family. Keep in touch with people using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media instead.
  • Stay indoors: Avoid gatherings large and small. It is now not permitted to meet up with anyone you don’t live with. You can still take your client out for exercise, but ideally this would be in the home.
  • Stay away from the NHS if possible: Use telephone or online services to contact the GP or other essential services. Avoiding trips to the local surgery unless it’s completely necessary and calling 111 in the event of prolonged or worsening symptoms.

Shielding

If your client has been contacted by the Government or NHS to tell them they’re in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ category, it’s now recommended that they’re ‘shielded’ from the outside world.

It’s a more severe version of self-isolation. This means they ‘should not leave their homes, and within their homes should minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household.’

In short, that means unless it’s necessary as part of your caring duties, you should socially distance from your client. You should:

  • Still keep them in sight at all times, but stay two metres (3 steps) away where possible.
  • Use a different bathroom if that’s feasible.
  • Avoid taking them outside the house.
  • Use delivery services, rather than going to the shops yourself, where possible.
  • Use different sets of cutlery, and different towels to dry with where possible, washing utensils thoroughly with washing up liquid.

These measures can place additional stress upon you, but please remember to follow these fuels, it’s the best way to keep them safe until the peak of the pandemic has passed.

How can I test if I have COVID-19?

If you’re showing any of the symptoms of COVID-19, the best thing you can do is follow the Government’s advice and self-isolate. You should do so for a period of 14 days. If your symptoms continue after one week, or worsen, you should call the NHS on 111.

During the call, a trained specialist will talk through your symptoms and triage your case accordingly. They will put you forward for a test if they think it is necessary to do so.

Work is well underway to develop better testing techniques – with the hope of creating a test that can be used ‘at the bedside’, as well as an antibody test to see whether someone has had COVID-19 in the past.

No paid-for tests are available to the public yet, so it’s not worth buying anything advertising to be a COVID-19 test.

Do I have any special rights in this crisis, what does ‘key worker’ status mean for me?

Those with key worker status are able to send their children to school, and travel to perform important duties in helping combat COVID-19. As a professional carer, you fall into this category. You’re therefore able to send your children to school.

We’re sending proof to all carers currently on placement via email. We’d encourage you to print this out and show it to any relevant body. We’re able to verify its validity by phone call. If you haven’t received your proof of key worker status, please call us as soon as possible on 0333 150 2350.

What are the travel restrictions on carers?

The Government has put measures in place to ensure people stay in their homes, described by many as a “lockdown”. However, carers are exempt from travel restrictions.

However, when using public transport, it’s especially important to practice good personal hygiene. That means not touching your face – mouth, eyes and nose – and regularly using an alcohol-based hand santiser. When leaving public transport, sanitise your hands. Then wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds immediately on entering your clients property.

We’d also encourage you to avoid public transport where possible. If you’re able to get a taxi, by doing so you’ll minimise your chances of contracting the virus.

On a placement

Can my client’s family still visit?

While it’s more important than ever to encourage communication, you should strongly discourage your client’s family from visiting, as it’s against Government instructions. The more face-to-face visits a client has, the more likely they are to be exposed to the virus. This could have severe consequences for their health.

To do this, it could be a good idea to set up a call with the primary contact and explain in detail why you’re recommending they don’t visit. When doing so, be sure to highlight the alternative ways they can stay in touch, such as video and telephone calls, social media and email.

Can I still take my client out?

Getting outside is vital for maintaining good mental health, but it’s not a good idea to take your client anywhere there might be people who could expose them to the virus. That means no trips to the shop for food or other essentials. If your client has a garden, it’s a much better idea to get some outdoors time there instead.

The Government recommends only going out for exercise, and when doing so keeping a very safe distance from others. When returning from the outdoors, it’s important to ensure you both remove outer garments and wash your hands immediately.

How can you ensure the carer after me doesn’t have COVID-19?

Like anyone else, you should remain in your home unless absolutely necessary. We’re asking carers not on placement to rigorously practice social distancing, and if possible self-isolation. However, in short, we can’t ensure they won’t have COVID-19.

That’s why we’re encouraging all carers currently on a placement to extend it until the peak of the virus has passed. This may cause personal disruption, but could save your client’s life.

My client has symptoms similar to COVID-19, should I leave the placement?

If you think your client is showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should call 111 and let us know immediately. The NHS are best placed to triage and diagnose the case. You should remain on the placement until further notice. This is the safest option. By leaving it, you risk them being left alone and, if they’re infected, spreading the virus.

I have symptoms similar to COVID-19, should I leave the placement?

As with your client, you should call 111 and you should also let us know immediately. However, we ask you to remain on the placement unless your symptoms worsen significantly. As per the Government advice, staying where you are, with your client.

Someone in my own family has COVID-19, can I leave my placement?

In these tough times, we’re asking that you remain with your client. Although it’s always distressing to hear that a loved one becomes sick, due to the contagious nature of the virus, there’s likely very little you can do to help. Indeed, the most help you can provide in the fight against the disease is by supporting your client.

If a member of your family is in a critical condition, please call us and we’ll put special arrangements in place.

I have a break coming up, what do I do?

We’re asking all of the carers we work with to stay at their current placement for as long as possible. This will minimise the spread of infection and avoid the risk of a new carer bringing the virus with them. We understand this may be disruptive for you, but it could genuinely save your client’s life.

Not on a placement

Do I need to change my behaviour if I’m not on a placement?

Yes, as you’re looking after some of the most at-risk people – those over the age of 70 or with underlying health conditions – we ask you take the same measures the Government is currently recommending for them.

That means staying indoors and completely minimising your potential exposure – use delivery services for groceries where possible.

I am unwell before going on a placement, what should I do?

If you’re showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should follow the Government advice and self isolate for 14 days. Please let us know immediately. This is a critical time for the elderly, everything needs to be done to minimise the risk of infection. I’ve just returned from abroad, am I still able to get work with Elder?

In short, yes. Although we’re asking all those who have recently returned from abroad to wait 14 days before starting a placement. This will allow any symptoms to show. If you are showing symptoms at any point, we ask you to self-isolate for a further 14 days.

Are there still placements available?

Yes, given the scale of the pandemic that’s unfolding, we need carers looking for work to apply for placements more than ever. You can do so by logging into the Elder Hub. If you’re not currently registered with us, please visit our become a carer page on our website

Placements will remain available throughout “lockdown” measures – as those protecting the vulnerable have ‘key worker’ status. We’re working with all the relevant authorities to ensure we’re still able to help provide care for those in need throughout this time.