COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions

What do we do with the surgical masks we have been allocated?

Commonwealth and State supplies of surgical masks are critically low. According to the World Health Organization, demand for face masks is up to 100 times higher than normal and rapidly outpacing supply.

WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) has, to date distributed 97,000 masks to General Practice and Pharmacy in response to the pandemic, as part of the national Australian Government supply.
 
These surgical masks are intended for single use by health professionals and patients, only when dealing with patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
 
Due to the aforementioned shortage, they are not intended for wider use, such as in waiting rooms, or to be given to other patients, or sold to pharmacy customers.

Who is receiving N95 masks and how should they be used?

WA Primary Health Alliance is currently distributing a limited supply of N95 masks to general practices across WA. The guideline for this distribution has been updated by the Australian Government.
 
N95 masks are to be reserved for patients with uncontrollable coughing, and those undergoing aerosol generating procedures, where they are not in close proximity to either an Emergency Department or COVID Clinic.
 
General practices are only expected to undertake detailed assessments, if there is no suitable facility for assessment nearby, for example an Emergency Department or COVID clinic.
 
As such, N95 masks are no longer being distributed to general practices in the metropolitan area, due to their proximity to either an Emergency Department or COVID Clinic to which they can refer a patient for a detailed assessment.
 
If your practice has already placed an order for N95 masks, your order will be fulfilled.
 
Read more about the eligibility guidelines, and guidance on the supply of masks from the National Medical Stockpile.
 
Surgical masks remain the appropriate mask to use when assessing patients whose symptoms are suggestive of COVID-19 and meet the case definition.
 

Why are more surgical masks than N95 masks being provided?

While extremely limited, stocks of surgical masks are more plentiful than N95 masks. Surgical masks are suitable for consultations with patients whose symptoms and epidemiological history are suggestive of COVID-19. It is likely that those patients will have relatively mild symptoms, therefore surgical masks are adequate.

 

Please visit WA Health’s website which has regularly updated comprehensive information https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus (or go to the home page health.wa.gov.au and click on the link to the coronavirus page). 

Some information sources say surgical masks are ineffective in protecting from the virus, so why are you distributing them?

According to the guidelines distributed by both the Australian Government Department of Health and WA Health, surgical masks do offer protection during routine consultations. Please refer to the links below.

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-information-sheet-for-primary-and-community-health-workers
 
https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus

Why are pharmacies not receiving N95 masks?

N95 masks are to be reserved for patients with uncontrollable coughing, and those undergoing aerosol generating procedures, where they are not in close proximity to either an Emergency Department or COVID Clinic. Pharmacy will not be required to undertake these detailed assessments, and so N95 masks are not required.

 

Surgical masks are suitable for routine patient consultations with patients whose symptoms and epidemiological history are suggestive of COVID-19.

I am a general practice / pharmacy and I have not received surgical masks. Can I still request some?

All practices and pharmacies can now apply via this online form.

When will more masks be available and how can I reorder?

All practices can now re-order via this online form.

How do I access other personal protective equipment such as gowns, goggles, or hand sanitiser?

PHNs have only been provided with limited supplies of surgical and N95 masks, the latter for use by general practices who do not have a suitable facility for assessment nearby, for example an Emergency Department or COVID clinic.

We do not have any other personal protective equipment to provide at this time.

Can you give me clinical information about how to handle these patients?

You should visit WA Health’s website which has regularly updated comprehensive information https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus
 
The RACGP website also has information on infection control and pandemic management. 
https://www.racgp.org.au/ 

Should I be taking specimens from / testing a patient?

GPs are no longer to test for COVID-19. WA Health has confirmed GPs should refer patients to COVID clinics or, in regional areas where they are not available, a public hospital, health services or remote clinic. The full list of clinics is available here.

I am an allied health professional / other health professional and I want to get masks. How can I do so?

The Australian Government Department has instructed us to supply masks to general practices and pharmacies only. The Australian Government Department of Health are aware of supply chain issues and are actively investigating alternatives. We will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.

I am an in home / aged care provider and I want to get masks. How can I do so?

25 March 2020: NEW PROCESS FOR ORDERING PPE SUPPLIES FOR AGED CARE SECTOR
 
Aged care providers that require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must now email agedcarecovidppe@health.gov.au for all requests – please don’t approach Primary Health Networks (in WA, this is WA Primary Health Alliance).
 
All requests will be triaged by the Australian Government Department of Health with priority given to facilities, programs and workers where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.
 
The following information must be provided in your email request:

  • the facility, program or service requiring PPE
  • if you have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your facility, program or service
  • types and quantities of PPE required – please note, only surgical masks are available at this stage and other PPE will be provided when available
  • details of other suppliers you have attempted to source PPE stock from.

 
If your facility, program or service is experiencing an outbreak of influenza the above process also applies. The Department of Health will triage your request to determine priority and may be in contact with you for further information. Once approved the request for supplies will be shared with the National Incident Room who will work with your State or Territory Government to distribute the supplies.

It is important to remember that if you do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 within your facility, program or service you should expect delays in receiving your PPE due to the increase in demand.

I have been asked by patients who are asymptomatic if they should wear a mask. What should I tell them?


WA Health does not recommend the use of facemasks for the general community (who have no symptoms of respiratory illness), to prevent the risk of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The community can find out more practical information about the virus, including what they can do to protect themselves, on the Healthy WA website.
 

How does the advent of community transmission change how I should operate my practice, or the advice I should give to my patients?

Until we receive further advice from the Department of Health WA, our advice remains the same with regard to social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Practices should continue to operate as per the WA Department of Health’s COVID-19 clinician guidelines

What should I do to protect my patients in higher risk categories, e.g. Aboriginal people, those with chronic conditions and the elderly?

General practice should remain very much aware of the higher risk categories:

  • Those aged 70 years
  • Those aged > 50 years in Indigenous communities
  • Those who are pregnant, and parents who have children aged <12months
  • Immunosuppressed patients
  • Those with other co-morbidities:  including cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer
  • People who smoke

 
You should remind patients to continue to protect themselves with regard to social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette. You should also encourage them to have their flu vaccination and pneumonia vaccination when recommended, while assisting them to keep their health conditions under the best possible control.
 
 
For COVID-19 information relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, visit the NACCHO Coronavirus site and subscribe to the NACCHO Communique
 
The RACGP has regularly updated advice here

What is the testing criteria for healthcare and aged workers?

As of 26 March 2020, WA Department of Health has confirmed:
 
  • All healthcare workers, aged care workers and police officers with fever OR acute respiratory infection with or without fever should now be tested for COVID-19. This applies with or without direct contact with symptomatic patients. Testing should be at a COVID clinic or a designated regional testing centre.
 
  • Suspect COVID-19, approved by Public Health, in high risk settings: aged and residential care, military operational, boarding school, correctional facility, detention centres, Aboriginal rural and remote communities. Contact Public Health for advice to arrange testing in these settings.
 
Read WA Health’s latest Clinician Alerts here.
 

What arrangements are in place for patients who can’t access repeat prescriptions?

A temporary, special authority extending continued dispensing provisions has been issued by the WA Chief Health Officer. This permits supply of Schedule 4 prescription medicines from a pharmacy in WA in circumstances where a patient does not have a current prescription. The authority is in place until 31 May 2020 and will be reviewed and extended, as needed, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
 
The existing arrangements for emergency supply of Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines using telephone or electronic directions remain in place and are encouraged to be used by prescribers and pharmacists, as necessary.

Read the full advice here.
 

What are the changes to hospital visiting hours?

Visiting hours at Western Australian public hospitals were tightened from Monday March 23 onward, to limit the flow of people through hospitals to better protect patients and staff.
  • All children under 16 will not be able to visit patients.
  • Hospital visiting hours will be limited to two hours a day – one in the morning and one in the evening.
  • All adult patients, including those in maternity wards, will be restricted to two visitors per day, the same two visitors may visit morning and evening.
  • Visitors to paediatric patients must be the same family members each day.
  • No visitors will be allowed to see confirmed COVID-19 adult inpatients or COVID-19 inpatients under investigation.
 
More Coronavirus: COVID-19 Community Advice is available here. 
 
Practice Assist acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country
and recognises the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these
contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.