The Department of Health has issued an update to advise health services regarding the COVID-19 JN.1 variant. The following is advice from the Department.

JN.1 has emerged internationally and in Victoria as the dominant circulating COVID-19 variant.

It is expected that JN.1 will cause further increased COVID-19 activity in Victoria throughout January, placing additional demand on our health services.

For the ongoing protection of patients, visitors and healthcare workers, the Department has reminded health services to follow the updated COVID-19 guidance in determining mask requirements and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing of patients.

“During periods of high COVID-19 activity, health services should require all staff in clinical areas to wear N95 or P2 respirators and should undertake asymptomatic surveillance COVID-19 testing on admission of all patients being admitted overnight.”

The Health System Response

A reminder that the Health System Response (HSR) is set at Stage Two.

Implementation of Stage Two enables health services:

  1. Utilisation of cross-care workforce models, potential changes to shift length in consultation with healthcare worker unions, and redeployment of staff, where possible
  1. Expanded telehealth utilisation (including inpatient settings) to support workforce efficiencies
  1. Health services, if not already doing so, and based on local assessment and where clinically appropriate, should prioritise planned surgery, expand eligibility for HITH and Virtual ED’s, facilitate direct admission into ED and implement rapid review clinics.

A full list of the levers associated with Stage Two of the HSR is attached, along with original presentation.

Implementing Stage Two of the HSR should not interrupt clinical care, and services are not required to cancel planned activity. In line with the current COVID-19 guidance for health services, and noting varied system pressures across the state, Stage Two levers should only be implemented at a local level when deemed necessary via local risk assessments.

Health services are reminded of the notification process to the Department: DH CSI Health Service notification process.

The Department of Health will continue to monitor demand across the health system and will provide health services an update to any changes to the HSR Stage.

If you find your health service is not providing adequate PPE or protections, please speak with your HSR or contact VAHPA for assistance. We appreciate how much pressure is on the health system at the moment and it is important to not only look after yourself, but look out for your colleagues as well.