Advice for veterinary businesses: Preparing for the possibility of COVID-19 exposure in the business
5 November 2021
Business continuity planning should be considered in case your business or service needs to close or operate with skeleton staff. Below are measure clinics and other businesses may turn their minds to in anticipation of an exposure event taking place in the workplace and it possibly becoming a location of interest.
- All businesses should take appropriate preventative measures ,including following the government guidelines for preventing transmission, and considering other mitigating measures such as vaccinations for staff members at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- Operating in staff “bubbles” can work as an effective way to mitigate risk. Bubbles, while far from perfect, are a good safeguard as they reduce the chance of all staff being out of action due to infection or being required to isolate.
- Liaise with other (neighbouring) clinics. Joint contingency planning (such as working out capacity to refer and/or transfer patients that can’t be sent home) with other similar practices around the region in advance would be useful
- Consider whether some work should be done to prepare clients (particularly those whose animals will be in-patients). For example, consent procedures and forms could be updated to provide for options in the event of COVID-19 related closure. The process will be simpler for clients and the clinic if some advance thought has been given to the options available (e.g. referral elsewhere, care at home or, in some cases, euthanasia).
Locations of interest
If a COVID-19 case is linked to a business or service, they are expected to fully and rapidly comply with requests for information and take actions to assist with contact tracing and management (for example, cleaning, temporarily closing or other measures). Ministry of Health can be found guidance here .
As soon as possible, notify clients of the advice you have received from a public health official. Use your business communication channels, such as social media, website and customer email database, to let clients know that they should check the locations of interest page website for information about what to do and, if instructed, call Healthline for further advice about testing.
The usual first steps following notification of being present at a location of interest at the relevant times is to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result AND until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
If you are required to isolate, you must do so until you have spoken to Healthline. They will advise you and your household members on what you need to do.
Business steps in the event of a temporary closure
If a business becomes a location of interest, it should follow advice from public health officials. In some cases, temporary closure may be necessary or appropriate (for example, to allow for cleaning or because too many staff were exposed).
If a business needs to close urgently, it should consider the following.
Current hospitalised patients
- Contact owners of hospitalised patients to get them to collect their animals where this is an option. Ensure appropriate education about the relative risks (i.e. the risk of COVID transmission via an animal is low, see:
Clinics could consider some form of disinfection protocol, primarily as a means of reassuring owners.
- Ongoing care for patients could be provided by remote telemedicine, where appropriate, and supplemented by a neighbouring clinic if needed.
- Transferring patients to another clinic should be considered where necessary. All veterinary clinics are sufficiently competent at infection prevention and control that the risks to their staff and clients of accepting an animal from an affected clinic should be negligible.
- In extreme cases, where owners refuse to uplift their animals, transfer to a shelter could be an option.
- In a worst-case scenario, euthanasia of some cases may be a decision that needs to be made (for example, an acute case where there are no vets available to provide care and the patient is suffering). If this is a possibility, discussing this now and preparing the team and some paperwork (consent forms etc) may be useful.
As soon as possible, notify clients that your business is closing temporarily and that you are no longer able to provide veterinary care for them.
Where you have a contingency plan for referring patients that need care, advise them of their options. Providing clients with a list of alternative clinics may be helpful.
Where a plan has not been able to be implemented you may provide remote advice as far as is reasonably possible (refer to our guidance on Remote Veterinary Care ). Clients will need to find veterinary care at another practice if necessary.
Referral and Emergency-afterhours clinics
Referral and Emergency-Afterhours clinics should consider, as part of their preparation, liaising with local/feeder clinics. If an emergency-afterhours clinic has to close, there will be an obligation on the local clinics to provide afterhours. To deal with this, local clinics may agree to:
- Provide for afterhours emergency care collectively, through a rotation/roster.
- Allow the emergency-afterhours clinic to remain open by assisting with staffing. In this situation, familiarising a back-up team with internal systems in advance may be useful.
VCNZ will be pragmatic if any clinic is forced to shut down in these circumstances and we will be asking that the clinic does what it can to ensure patients are cared for and clients informed.