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Mask and Outbreak Guidance Updated in Care Settings

Guidance on the use of face masks in all care settings and on outbreaks in care homes has been updated to give settings the flexibility to ensure ongoing COVID-19 measures are proportionate.

Previous guidance stated that face masks in care settings should be worn at all times and that care homes should seek advice from a local health protection team in the event of COVID-19 outbreak, but this pre-Christmas change enables providers to further utilise their own skills and knowledge on appropriate measures.

As from Thursday 15 December, providers can make risk-based decisions on when face masks are used, and care homes can initiate their own outbreak risk assessments to make decisions about which outbreak measures make sense for their individual settings. Decisions around masks will be based on factors like the risk to specific individuals, if the setting is in an outbreak or the preferences of the individual receiving care. Support remains available from health protection teams and other local partners for care homes when needed.

Testing guidance has also been streamlined for small care homes to reduce the number of tests staff and residents need to take in the event of an outbreak. This, alongside new flexibility for rapid response testing in these settings, is in line with the latest public health advice.

Social care settings will continue to be equipped with free personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep staff and people receiving care safe over winter and protected against COVID-19 where necessary.

Minister of State for Care Helen Whately said:

“The darkest days of the pandemic are thankfully behind us. But it doesn’t feel like that for people living in care homes or being cared for at home, when many of the people they see are still behind a mask.

“So much of what we communicate is through our expressions, our faces, and our smiles – especially for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many rely on lip reading, and face masks don’t make the job any easier for care workers either.

“That’s why we’re making this change. We want care agencies and residential homes to decide what’s best for the people they look after. I hope this means thousands of people who are looked after by care workers will get to see a smile this Christmas.

“Care providers are now able to adopt a risk-based approach with decisions on the use of face masks balanced with the risk of infections spreading and considering any risks or benefits that arise from their use. Care homes can make use of new flexibility in the updated guidance on outbreak management and, in all circumstances, should ensure visits between loved ones are supported, with each resident able to have at least one visitor even in an outbreak. Outbreak measures should only be implemented if at least 2 of the cases of COVID-19 are linked and should be proportionate to factors specific to the care home such as if it’s well ventilated, easy to keep some parts isolated and how vulnerable people in the home are to COVID-19.

“Providers should continue to ensure adherence to guidance and be able to evidence this to the Care Quality Commission when asked.

“People receiving care can ask for staff to wear face masks, and staff should, of course, work in whatever way will make the person they are caring for most comfortable.

“Vaccination remains the best defence against flu and COVID-19, and with both viruses circulating this winter, it is vital that all those eligible – including care workers – come forward to top up their immunity and protect themselves and those they care for.”