16 Nov 2020

Family who caught Covid-19 in August outbreak speak of fear as five members tested positive

12:00 pm on 16 November 2020

A family with five people who caught Covid-19 has described their shock and fear as they dropped everything to rush into quarantine.

Portrait of asian woman drive thru coronavirus covid-19 test by medical staff with PPE suit by nose swab. New normal healthcare drive thru service and medical concept.

Five members of the same family caught Covid-19 during the August outbreak in Auckland. Photo: 123rf.com

All eight members of the tight-knit family - two grandparents, their daughter and five children - went to the Jet Park quarantine facility after four of the children and their 74-year-old grandfather caught the novel coronavirus at the height of the August outbreak.

The man's wife said the family was in shock when the first two children, aged 14 and 17, contracted it.

"Once my grandchildren tested positive I was very frightened. I was scared ... it would get worse," she said.

They had been a close contact of someone with Covid-19 and had initially tested negative.

But the woman's daughter said the family stayed vigilant and went to their GP a few days later when the teens developed flu-like symptoms.

"From then I guess you could say chaos hit us. This was the first time and we were so in shock and didn't know what to make of it," she said.

They had to try to take in all the advice suddenly coming their way from the Ministry of Health and act quickly to go to the Jet Park quarantine facility.

Few people from Auckland's August cluster have spoken publicly and the family wants to stay anonymous.

How the virus spread within the family

The teens caught the virus about 10 days into the level 3 lockdown. Their grandmother went with them to the Jet Park to care for them.

Shortly after, her husband became sick and arrived at the Jet Park too, but had to quarantine in a different room because he had caught the virus later.

"We were very worried because ... we knew that the disease was more severe in those over 70," his daughter said.

And he did get very sick and had to be rushed to hospital twice. His wife, who was not infected, was not able to go with him.

"To be honest, I was very, very sad - and a little bit angry too. All we could do was just pray and wait," she said.

An Auckland isolation hotel

All eight members of the tight-knit family - two grandparents, their daughter and five children - went to the Jet Park quarantine facility to be isolated. Photo: Alexia Russell

He is now doing well, but still recovering.

The couple's daughter and the remaining three children were last to arrive at the Jet Park facility but the family was split across three rooms.

That was one of the hardest things, the woman said.

"We are a big family and we do everything collectively... There was a time where we hadn't been together as a whole family within a month. It took us a whole month to finally get back together under one roof, to share a meal together, to spend quality time," she said.

Despite that, they were glad they were in their situation together and were sometimes able to go outside at the same time, even if it was at a distance, she said.

Impact on Pacific families

Ofeira Taule'ale'ausumai is a Whānau Ora support worker for The Fono, a health and social services provider with a Pasifika focus.

Support worker Ofeira Taule'ale'ausumai

A member of the support team from The Fono drops off a package to one of the dozens of families they were supporting Photo: Supplied

There were many Pacific people in the August cluster and Taule'ale'ausumai provided support to 40 families, including this one.

Many were in deep shock at catching the virus and having to suddenly uproot their lives with very little time.

"For some of them it happened within a matter of hours, within a day - okay, pack your stuff, you're going. And it was just so overwhelming, it was so much for them to think about," Taule'ale'ausumai said.

"We were ringing them and they would be saying 'I'm getting in the car, I'm on my way to Jet Park'."

People were worried about who would care for their elderly parents, or their pets, or who would look after the house or pay the bills.

Taule'ale'ausumai and her team helped with all of that, supporting those in quarantine and those let behind.

The family with five positive Covid-19 cases said they were well supported by The Fono's team, and the DHB, nurses and staff at the Jet Park quarantine facility.

They said though the children missed going to school, they coped well.

The family hoped people would stay vigilant against the virus which remained a threat.