COVID-19 general FAQs and resources for vets

Last updated: 15 April 2020

This page contains general resources and frequently asked questions relating to COVID-19. It will be updated as the situation progresses. Check out our COVID-19 page for veterinarians for more information.


The spread of COVID-19 and the publicity around it may be a cause of serious concern for some. If you would like professional support with this (or any other issue), free and confidential counselling is available to all veterinarians through Vitae.

Important: Your personal safety, and that of your colleagues and staff, comes first and we don’t expect you to put yourself at serious risk. Nothing on this page should be taken to suggest that.

Veterinary information and resources
Information on managing a workplace
How do I manage COVID-19 risks with my work team while operating during alert level 4?
Is my workplace considered a bubble and if it is how does that effect the physical distancing expectations?

What if a client isn't complying with lockdown?
We can't source PPE, what can we do?
How can I use telemedicine in this situation?
General advice for managing client contact at alert levels 3 and 4
What if one of our clients is self-isolating and their animal is unwell?
Do I have to work during the lockdown?
Do veterinary clinics provide essential services?
What about my CPD?
What if our practice has to close or reduce services?
General guidance on acting in situations where you may need to act outside the Code of Professional Conduct and our other standards


Veterinary information and resources

  • The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) website has information on COVID-19 and its potential impacts on animal health.
  • The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has issued advice on COVID-19, managing the risk in a clinical setting and the potential impact on companion animals.
  • The WHO has prepared an infographic that veterinarians and practices may wish to use on their websites and social media to deal with fears about the virus and their pets.
  • The US CDC has provided useful FAQ guidance regarding contact with pets and other animals.

Workplace information

  • Employers and businesses have a duty to keep staff safe at work. The Worksafe website has information on workplace preparedness for COVID-19 and Employment New Zealand’s website has some general workplace guidance on managing employment issues related to COVID-19.
  • The Ministry of Health has prepared guidance on infectious disease prevention in the workplace.

How do I manage COVID-19 risks with my work team while operating during alert level 4?

The primary point is to have a documented plan that outlines how you intend to manage the risks associated with continuing to operate. You must be able to justify your plan with reference to appropriate information and allowing for different working environments.

The plan should be discussed with members of the work team.

MPI’s advice for primary sector producers and processors is as follows:

  • The best way to manage COVID in the workplace is for people who are sick or feeling unwell to stay home.
  • Physical distancing (preferably 2m but minimum of 1m) should be used to minimise the risk of transmission through coughs and sneezes.
  • Staff should practice good hygiene (hand washing and covering coughs/sneezes) – vets will be exemplary.
  • Contact with clients should be minimised.
  • Businesses may want to consider using plastic barriers as physical separation if other means are not effective.
  • Face masks will offer some protection both for covering accidental sneezes and also protecting the wearer from droplet splatter if in close contact with an infected person (healthcare workers for example).

Face masks are only effective for people who have been trained in their proper use.  We want to make sure that masks are available for our healthcare workers who are most at risk from contracting COVID from patients but if the veterinarians have their own supply and feel this extra precaution is useful, they should be enabled to wear them. We understand the Ministry of Health will be updating its guidance on face masks shortly.
 
Worksafe’s guidance may also be a useful resource.


Is my workplace considered a bubble and if it is how does that effect the physical distancing expectations?

The degree of connection between members of a team is likely to vary from workplace to workplace so prescriptive guidance would not be possible.

Any COVID-19 management plan would need to follow the steps above and as well address the risks and implications of teammates working in proximities of less than 1m for extended periods and the impact of that on the individual’s personal bubbles.

In the event of a positive case occurring in a workplace, the MoH contact tracing team would investigate and advise accordingly. The available information from the MoH on this suggests individuals in a shared workplace under and working in close proximity would be classified as close contacts. The MoH advice covers what action should be taken by close contacts.


What if a client isn't complying with lockdown?

If you have concerns that clients or members of the public are not complying with the government restrictions and expectations under level 4 lock down, can raise the issue directly with them and explain your concerns. Alternatively, you can report them to the police through the Covid breach notification website (https://www.police.govt.nz/105support ).


We can’t source PPE, what can we do?

We’re aware that many veterinary clinics are finding it hard to source appropriate PPE at the moment. The issue has been raised with the authorities and suppliers and we will continue to do what we can to source PPE for the profession.

In the meantime, rationing and appropriate re-use may help. Also,this article by Dr Scott Weese on surgical mask shortages has some useful thinking and ideas.


How can I use telemedicine in this situation? 

Veterinary Telemedicine (VTM) can be used and is a useful tool to help limit the risk of spread of COVID-19. It should be used at alert levels 3 and 4 to triage all cases.

We expect veterinarians to use their professional judgment to decide whether using VTM is appropriate in particular circumstances.

The Code of Professional Conduct allows for authorising (prescribing) restricted veterinary medicines by VTM where the veterinarian:

  • Has seen the animal(s) recently enough to have enough personal knowledge of their condition and health status so they can propose a particular course of treatment.
  • Is satisfied that a physical examination would not add critical information about the management of the case.

At levels 3 and 4, veterinarians can also use VTM to authorise medicines where they can reasonably judge it safe to do so even if they haven’t seen the animal recently. Ideally, this should be done using patient histories and/or recent visits to the premises.

The onus here will be on the veterinarian gathering a sufficient history and description of symptoms, carefully exploring possible differentials, establishing a suitable treatment plan with the clients consent and ensuring close follow up to promptly modify their approach as the condition responds or progresses. It will be vital that the veterinarian to record their findings to enable appropriate continuity of care.

While this departs from the clear standard set in the Code, we consider that it is justified in this extreme situation to protect veterinarians, their staff, and the wider public. Risk assessment and professional judgment by the veterinarian in each case is still vital.


General advice for managing client contact at alert levels 3 and 4


There are some general principles that should be adopted across the veterinary sector:

All unnecessary client contact must be stopped. You should:
•    Clarify client’s medical status with regard to Covid-19
•    Obtain histories over the phone
•    Use technology to triage and consult wherever possible
•    Consider remote authorising in line with VCNZ guidance
•    Obtain payment over the phone
•    Ensure contact-free collection of medication is in place, with a specific, secure collection time and place organised in advance
•    Courier medication if appropriate following Courier guidance and, where applicable, following VCNZ controlled drugs guidance

All staff that can work from home should work from home. This includes:
•    Administrative staff
•    Vets and nurses carrying out triage and remote consultations from home, referring to skeleton staff at a physical premises only if absolutely necessary

Follow all hand hygiene and biosecurity measures and thoroughly clean all equipment after each use

Follow strict social distancing measures between clients at all times and be prepared to refuse to continue if animal owners do not follow the official advice.

Continue to deliver emergency treatment, including euthanasia, of wildlife in accordance with your normal practice, as long as it can be done safety under social distancing rules.
Consider how you can best manage risks to avoid injuries to staff. A high risk for the general population now is the need to attend a healthcare facility, that no doubt is busy responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and expose themselves to infection.


What if one of our clients is self-isolating and their animal is unwell?

You should only see the animal in person in an emergency or where treatment is urgent to prevent a future emergency. You will therefore need to decide whether the animal needs to be seen now, or whether treatment can be delayed. If, after triaging the animal, you still feel it is necessary to see them, consider whether it could be brought to you (or you go to it) without putting your own, or someone else’s, health at unnecessary risk.

For example, ask whether another person can bring the animal to the practice, or another appropriate location, on the owner’s behalf.

The current guidance from the World Health Organisation is that there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, if you do decide to see the animal in person, normal biosecurity measures, as well as additional government guidance on hand washing, should be observed.

Consider the extent to which you can assist remotely – this may include giving advice via remote means as to how to manage the animal’s condition at home. It may also include remote authorising of restricted veterinary medicines where there is no other option that would be a suitable alternative, and where you are satisfied the risk is outweighed by the benefit. In this scenario, document your rationale for your decision making to ensure you can justify your actions if asked to do so.

You should ensure that there is a plan in place for the animal to be physically checked as soon as possible especially in the case of adverse reactions. However, please remember that in order to comply with current government guidance, face-to-face services should be kept to an absolute minimum and only occur when necessary.

There may be instances where, in order to ensure your own safety, an animal needs to be taken away from its owners to undergo treatment, or euthanasia, for welfare reasons. This is likely to be particularly upsetting as most owners will want to be with their animal when they are put to sleep. As such, you may wish to consider whether you can direct them to an appropriate source of support, for example a bereavement or counselling service.


Do I have to work during the lockdown?

The decision as to whether to remain operational during Alert levels 3 and 4 lies with you. The classification of Veterinarians as Essential workers does not mean that you have to work. If, however, you choose to remain open for business you should close down all non-essential services.

As a practice owner, you may decide to stay open to protect animal welfare or food production (for example) and, as an employee, your employer may ask you to keep working. If you are worried about your personal safety or that of someone in your home, you should speak to your employer about this. They must take reasonable steps to keep you safe.

If your practice is closing, you need to think about emergency services for your clients and must actively try to make arrangements with other local practices or veterinarians to meet requirements for emergency care under the professional code of conduct.


Do veterinary clinics provide essential services?

Veterinary services are an essential service and can continue to operate at levels 3 and 4 as long as they operate in a way that limits or eliminates the risk of spreading COVID-19.

If a veterinary business is going to continue to operate, you must read this information from MPI and take action. If there are 5 or less workers on site at any one time and there is a plan to keep people at least 2 metres apart, registration is not necessary. If these criteria are not met, the business must register with MPI. There is a form available at the above link.

There is more information available on the MPI web page and questions about registering can be directed to MPI at 0800 00 83 33 or info@mpi.govt.nz.

Our advice is that veterinarians should consider what aspects of their work are essential and what can be postponed to help minimise risk and spread of the disease.

Internationally, there is widespread agreement that veterinary services are essential for public health, food production and dealing with emergencies. We believe that the same applies in New Zealand.

Veterinarians will need to think carefully about what aspects of their work are essential. Examples of essential work could be:

  • Production animal services needed to ensure that food production continues and is safe and humane.
  • Veterinary verification at food processing facilities.
  • Companion animal services that cannot be postponed or cancelled without risking serious pain or suffering to the animal.
  • Veterinary emergency services.

Services like health checks and routine vaccinations are unlikely to be essential at least in the immediate future.

Even with non-essential services shut down, we see nothing stopping veterinarians offering telemedicine (digital consultations and advice).


What about my CPD?

We will not be strictly enforcing CPD points requirements during this period. We appreciate that the pandemic has caused cancellation of many conferences and workshops. There is no need to worry about cancellations of CPD events that you were planning to attend affecting your ability to get the minimum points needed. It is still a good idea to keep learning, where possible, even if only to take your mind off COVID-19 for a bit. Webinars, online discussions and video-conferences are all good, physically distant, ways to keep learning and get input from your peers.


What if our practice has to close or reduce services?

It is possible that some practices may need to close or reduce services, for example, if a staff member tests positive for the virus and needs to self-isolate.

If this happens, the practice should:

  • Notify their clients as soon as possible. Give them as much information as possible about how long this will be in effect for and, if possible, direct them to other places they can find help. That could be a neighbouring practice (ideally talk to them first) or our online register of practices.
  • Make sure the phones are diverted and the answerphone is updated.
  • Consider putting a notice on the practice’s website.
  • If the practice operates its own emergency and afterhours service, try to find alternative cover for this. If an emergency and/or afterhours centre is used, double-check that this is still able to operate.

If a veterinarian in this situation is contacted by a client about an animal that the veterinarian decides needs urgent veterinary attention, they should decide whether they can safely examine and treat the animal (for example having the animal dropped at the practice and admitting it for inpatient care). If that isn’t possible, consider using VTM or referring to another veterinarian.

Where services have to be reduced, the focus should be on triage and prioritising urgent cases. VTM may be particularly helpful.


General guidance on acting in situations where you may need to act outside the Code of Professional Conduct and our other standards

Think about:

  1. Is this an emergency (is there a need for immediate or early veterinary treatment to save life or relieve unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress)?
  2. Can the animal be referred to someone better able to deal with the situation?
  3. Discussing the situation with the client and getting their views and informed consent.
  4. What are the risks and are there ways to reduce them (e.g. regular and frequent follow up)?
  5. Could your actions be justified to your peers?

We highly recommend making a detailed record of your decision making in these circumstances.

Looking after yourself and your staff will probably mean departing from best practice. We recognise this and will take the broader situation into account if any concerns are raised with us.


Definitions:

Teletriage: Patient triage by phone or use of technology prior to diagnosis or treatment

Veterinary Telemedicine (VTM): veterinary telemedicine is the use of technology such as phone, email, or video conferencing to provide veterinary care including diagnosis and treatment without being physically present with the animal or owner.