Last Saturday morning, Nelson Marlborough Health’s (NMH) clinical director of public health, Dr Stephen Bridgman confirmed that nine of the 48 reported cases of Covid-19 in the Nelson Marlborough region have been based in Golden Bay. Most of these nine cases have now recovered and have been discharged from the public health service.
The number, representing around 20 per cent of all cases in the NMH region, came as a surprise to many, even though Covid-19 has known to be present in Golden Bay for over two weeks (GBW, 3/4). According to Dr Bridgman, all Golden Bay cases were either people who had been overseas or close contacts of people who had returned from overseas.
Providing location data at this level of detail is very unusual; The Ministry of Health (MoH) advises District Health Boards (DHBs) only to release information at Territorial Authority level. By breaking it down for Golden Bay, NMH is one of perhaps only two DHBs to provide community-specific figures.
Dr Bridgman, who personally made this decision in direct response to community demand, stressed that all Golden Bay’s cases cooperated with the strict isolation rules, to ensure they didn’t put others at risk, and he thanked them for their community-mindedness.
The key reason for caution with Covid-19 data is to protect patient privacy, explained a spokeswoman for NMH. “The Ministry of Health report age range, gender and travel details. If we were to confirm a case in Golden Bay alongside that, two and two can be quickly put together, most often, wrongly, and sometimes correctly.”
She provided reassurance that the DHB’s system for dealing with Covid-19 cases is robust. “Contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, and level 4 rules are proven, effective methods to prevent spread and are the main reason that people don’t need to worry about, or know, where a case has been, their movements, or their locations.”
The spokeswoman explained that, in exceptional circumstances, health professionals may appeal to the public for assistance. “If there is any chance of casual contact that contact-tracing can’t help with, such as the Auckland Tool concert [28 February], then a public health alert is issued and media coverage of this is very useful in raising awareness among participants.”
General manager Golden Bay Community Health Linzi Birmingham explained that all positive Covid-19 cases are managed by Public Health which, until recently, was advising primary care and GP practices of negative results, but not informing them about any positive cases. “This notification has now been revised to ensure general practices are advised and can support these patients with their overall care. Public Health has recently released the number of positive cases to GBCH and the community, which provides much more confidence in how the community is tracking.”
As part of the nationwide effort to monitor infection and control the spread of Covid-19, Golden Bay’s Community-Based Assessment Centre is hosting drive-through test clinics for those who meet certain criteria. Linzi said the centre, established with support and guidance from NMH and Nelson Bays Primary Health, is fully operational. “The clinics have been running daily, initially for two hours, and now between 10.30am-12pm. Currently we are rostering one doctor and one nurse within the clinic.”
Linzi said threshold for testing had been relaxed recently. “The testing criteria have evolved from the original parameters and further advice regarding these criteria are available on the Ministry of Health Website.”
But she still advises people to call ahead. “The process at GBCH for any patient who believes they need to be tested is to please phone the centre first, they then will be asked several questions by the GP or nurse practitioner, and if eligible for testing they will be given an appointment to attend the drive-through testing centre at GBCH.”
Linzi observed that those driving up to the clinics are complying with the rules. “The community have been great in following the guidance when arriving for a test as this is completed while the individual remains in their car.”
Test results from across the NMDHB’s area show that the last positive Covid-19 test case reported to a NMH medical officer of health had their swab taken on 3 April. Dr Bridgman believes this is a good sign. “There have been hundreds of local negative tests since the last positive case, which suggests there is no current local transmission of Covid-19.”
But he urges everyone to remain vigilant, especially as the country prepares to move to Alert Level 3. “There is, however, no room for complacency. It is very important all local people follow the Government Alert Level Guidelines to ensure the best chance of our region staying Covid-19 free and out of lockdown.”
With little evidence of community transmission, returning travellers currently present the highest risk, according to Dr Bridgman. “The main risk of Covid-19 transmission to people in the Nelson Marlborough region relates to people who have returned from other areas of NZ where cases of Covid-19 continue to rise.”
Article: Jo Richards
Photo: Anita Peters