6 May 2020

Marist student tests positive for Covid-19 nearly seven weeks after outbreak

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 6 May 2020

Nearly seven weeks after confirming its first case of Covid-19, and weeks into a nationwide lockdown, another student from Auckland's Marist college has tested positive.

It brings New Zealand's second biggest cluster to 95, with 16 school staff among those infected. The source of the outbreak still has not been identified.

This week Marist's 750 students and 90 staff have all been offered free coronavirus tests as a precaution and to reassure the community, their families or bubble can also get tested. The Ministry of Health said 250 people have taken up the offer so far.

At Wednesday's press conference Dr Ashley Bloomfield said only one of those tests has come back positive - a student who was called by Healthline in the first week of April as part of contact tracing. She was not unwell at the time so was not given a Covid-19 test.

Dr Bloomfield said the student has returned what is known as a weak positive test and is likely to be well through the illness, and is unlikely to be contagious.

"The opportunity to get tested is open both to students and staff. But the voucher actually entitles everybody in the Marist community, who thinks they're part of the community to get tested, Marist College Principal Raechelle Taulu told Checkpoint.

Each morning Taulu gets an update of the Marist community numbers who have been tested. She said as of Wednesday morning it was 250. "I have actually received an email to say that number is a lot larger from this afternoon."

Taulu was retested on Monday, and was told it was a negative result on Wednesday. She has not been told of any other positive test results apart from the one announced in Wednesday's media briefing. 

"My focus is on ensuring the wellbeing of the students and making sure that when we are ready to open, that the learning environment they walk into is safe.

"I am taking the advice of the experts, the doctors we're working with to make sure that we have the right information. And we will not open the school until we have that information."

She said Marist management are expecting to be given an indication on when the school can reopen by the end of the week, once more test results come through. 

She does not think the school's leadership are in a position legally to allow only tested students to return to school. 

"That is something that would come from the District Health Board or the Ministry of Health, or the Ministry of Education working with the Ministry of Health. I think we have to trust that they are the experts and they know the answers.

"We've had a few [students] that were quite ill, and some that have had very mild symptoms. What I do know is what people can't see, is how much support all of our families have had.

"From phone calls, to families providing meals for each other,  to school providing meals, and just really constant communication between the school and those that are sick, to ensure that they're okay and their families are okay."

Regarding the question of how another Marist student contracted Covid-19 several weeks since lockdown began, Taulu told Checkpoint she is 100 percent convinced the community has been following restriction rules. 

"I know the person last week that was added and confirmed as a case and absolutely they'd stuck to the rules of their bubble."

There were some breaches early on, with students mixing with other students, but Taulu said that was minimal. 

"I think that was like all of New Zealand. Everyone was just adjusting to the new normal, and I think once people actually understood the criteria around level 4, everything settled down and people did what they were meant to do."

She does not know how many from the community have been hospitalised due to Covid-19. 

"That's information that sits with the District Health Board... I do know that there were some that went to hospital."

Taulu herself caught Covid-19, and she does not know how she contracted the virus. 

"That's the reality. We did have a teacher right at the beginning confirmed as our positive case, however, we're not sure how it entered the school.

"It could have been contact in the staffroom, I guess like it could have been contact in the classroom or it could have been contact in the supermarket. We actually just don't know... We don't have any other information."

The school has been "forensically" cleaned, she said, at a cost of $36,000. 

The pressure of the cost does not matter, Taulu said. "It's about ensuring that we're returning to a really safe school environment. We've had a cluster and it's not just about the physical school environment, it's about our wellbeing."