Covid-19 wrap: How the health system will cope, 71 new cases, details on isolation at home

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2021-10-14 10:49:51

The hospital system is preparing to handle more Covid-19 cases, the health minister announced today, as the number of new cases hit 71.

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Among today’s Covid-19 developments: Details were revealed about how the health system will cope with more coronavirus, new cases hit 71 and Dr Caroline McElnay says that number will go up, Deputy PM Grant Robertson issues a warning over gatherings at home in level 3 and some communities make vaccine progress.
Photo: RNZ / Stuff / AFP

Details of how the health system can manage increased cases following the current vaccine drive came as director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said she was expecting the number of cases to continue to grow.

New cases

McElnay said the 71 new community cases today were “sobering, but not unexpected”.

Of today’s new community cases, 28 are yet to be linked. Of yesterday’s 55 cases, 21 cases remain unlinked.

While there were no cases in Waikato or Northland today, while the two community cases reported in Waikato yesterday remain unlinked.

There are 33 people in hospital, including five in intensive care.

Hospital preparedness

During a briefing today, Minster of Health Andrew Little, chief medical officer Dr Andrew Connolly and GP Dr Jeff Lowe revealed the plan for how the health system could manage cases in the future.

The capacity of ICU and HDU beds nationwide could be surged to 550 beds, he said.

“If we had to provide additional surge capacity to convert beds for ICU-level care then as a result of the work that started at the end of last year the DHBs tell us they can surge that up to 550 beds – that would be at the cost of other treatment and other patient care.”

Nurses have been given pre-emptive training which enables them to work competently in an ICU environment under supervision of fully trained ICU nurses, Little said.

This surge-style ICU preparedness followed a similar model used by the UK National Health Service and British ICU counterparts had provided advice to ICU leaders around New Zealand, he said.

One issue of concern was the logistical challenge of an outbreak taking place in an area served by a smaller hospital.

In this situation, there may be a need to relocate some staff and patients, and planning for that scenario was underway, Little said.

The Ministry of Health expects a worst case scenario of up to 5300 cases of Covid 19 per week in the Auckland and Northern region, assuming a 90 percent vaccination rate can be achieved.

The modelling is part of planning for how hospital and ICU systems would cope.

New cases coming from gatherings in homes

At today’s 1pm briefing, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said “very few” of the cases were coming from transmission in the workplace.

“Where they are coming from is still within households, some in our health settings, and a large number in gatherings inside peoples’ homes. We did see this happening in alert level 4 as well, and sadly it has continued into alert level 3.

“These gatherings inside peoples’ homes are not allowed in alert level 3 as much s they were not allowed in alert level 4.

“My message today is clear: We need people in Auckland to stick to the alert level 3 rules.”

He said the outbreak was not in a small geographical area, it was affecting people in all parts of the city.

“Which makes it everyone’s job in Auckland to help prevent its spread.”

Robertson said New Zealand’s alert level 3 was among the toughest measures in the world and it had worked to contain outbreaks before – but Delta was a tricky and challenging opponent.

“It has never been more important to follow the basic rules we’ve applied since the start of last year when Covid first arrived in New Zealand.

“Treat those around you as if they may have Covid. Limit contact with others and maintain physical distance. Wear a mask whenever you go out of the house. Use the contact tracer app wherever you go. Wash your hands regularly and get vaccinated. It is the best tool we have to protect ourselves from the virus and eventually move down our alert levels.”

Move towards home isolation

People with Covid-19 will soon be asked to quarantine at home, rather than being ushered to a managed isolation facility.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said home quarantine would be introduced sooner rather than later.

“We’ve done that before in our first lockdown last year, we did isolate positive cases within their own homes by and large,” Hipkins said.

“So we’ve done this before and we will see that again and I think we will see that again fairly soon.”

The home quarantine system requires plenty of work, mainly around food deliveries for people, home health checks, and daily health check ups over video of phone call.

Hipkins said it was a necessary step to prevent MIQ spaces being limited even further for people coming to New Zealand from overseas.

“I think we will, like I said, fairly soon [you will] see us having to move to more of a home isolation model for those positive cases, rather than converting more and more of our MIQ facilities to cope with domestic cases.

“The last peak that we saw a couple of weeks back, I think we went to the peak of what we could do in terms of MIQ, and I don’t envisage that we will go above and beyond that.”

Northland communities’ big vaccination efforts

Two Northland communities that were at the bottom of the Covid-19 vaccination stats have had a massive surge in just a week.

This time last week, only 45 percent of people in Otangarei and Waima Forest had had one dose of the vaccine, putting them in the bottom five areas nationally.

But now Otangarei has shot up to 70 percent and Waima Forest is at 66 percent.

Epidemiologist Rod Jackson said it was clear from overseas evidence, that having the virus move closer was a real motivator for people.

“There’s nothing like people being genuinely scared for their own health and the health of the parents and their children to get them to go out and do the only sensible thing, which is vaccination,” he said.

You can search vaccination rates by suburb here.

Women arrested in Blenheim after leaving Auckland

Two women who travelled from Auckland to the South Island have been arrested in Blenheim and charged with failing to comply with a health order.

The pair, aged 48 and 49, were due to appear in Blenheim District Court today.

Both have been tested for Covid-19 and the results are awaited.

Police and the Ministry of Health are investigating how they were able to leave Auckland.

Police staff who interacted with the women were wearing full PPE.

Six officers were initially stood down as a precautionary measure but have since been advised by public health officials that they are not required to isolate.

The key to battling vaccine hesitancy

Science teaching expert Michelle Dickinson says many vaccine-hesitant people she has spoken to decide to get a Covid-19 jab once their questions have been answered.

Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, has been running virtual Q and A sessions about the vaccine for teachers and school staff.

She told Morning Report those reluctant to be vaccinated needed to be presented with information about how the vaccines were made in a way that connected with them.

People often had particular concerns about the safety measures that had been undertaken during vaccine development, and wanted to better understand the process.

More than 600 educators attended Dickinson’s first session yesterday and many of the questions submitted were from vaccine-hesitant people who she said “just wanted somebody to sit and talk to them about what [the vaccine] is, so they could make up their own mind”.

Find out more here.

More people working from home while sick

More people are working from home while sick, rather than taking sick leave.

Southern Cross and Business New Zealand’s fifth Workplace Wellness Report shows the average amount of leave taken by employees was about 4.2 days last year.

Southern Cross Health Insurance chief executive Nick Astwick told Nine to Noon that was the lowest average in the last 10 years.

Close to 90 percent of businesses had made it clear staff should stay home when they were sick, but 62 percent reported sick staff working from home, Astwick said.

Never has work and home life been so intertwined, which brought with it risk, he said.

“We see lot of businesses reporting a lot more stress in their employees from a combination of some isolation at home, but also some increased risk levels – Covid-related, work level-related – and so this is culminating in a bit of a challenge for the health and well-being of some of the workforce.”

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