23 Apr 2020

Family of critically ill woman in Invercargill unsure how they got Covid-19

1:12 pm on 23 April 2020

Update: The 62-year-old woman mentioned in this story has died, the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed this afternoon.

An Invercargill woman fighting for her life - and five of her family members - still don't know how they got Covid -19.

Dunedin Hospital

The woman is in Dunedin Hospital. Photo: ODT

The family is believed to be among the rare cases of community transmission.

And the woman's daughter worries the seriousness of her condition is being downplayed publicly.

The 62-year-old woman is in intensive care on a ventilator in Dunedin Hospital after the virus completely took over her lungs.

Her daughter, Nicole, said her father and four other family members - including a toddler and a baby - then became sick.

"Mum was isolated in the family home for a week after first getting flu-like symptoms. Food was left at her door, no one could hug her. When she was taken to the hospital, no one could hug her goodbye," she said.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

She was initially in Southland Hospital but was airlifted to Dunedin on 4 April after her condition deteriorated.

"When mum was in Southland Hospital, the nurses ensured her phone was charged so that we could communicate with her and I will be eternally grateful for that," she said.

"But obviously since she was sedated and intubated [two weeks ago], we haven't been able to communicate with her and our only contact is through the medical staff caring for her."

The description of her condition in the government media conference this week has upset the family.

On Tuesday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said none of the patients in hospital were critical, yesterday he said they were stable.

Nicole was initially elated when she heard the briefing on Tuesday and thought her mother's condition must have changed since they had spoken to doctors that morning.

"I rang my dad to see if he had received a further update from the hospital, he hadn't. I rang the hospital and they confirmed she was still critical. This was a little heartbreaking," she said.

It made her question the accuracy of the information in the press conferences.

She worried people would not understand how serious the situation was.

The Ministry of Health said the medical terminology it used for "stable" meant there had been no change in a patient's condition.

The fact the person was in intensive care denoted the seriousness of their condition, it said in a statement.

An intensive care doctor spoken to by RNZ said someone could sometimes be described as both critical and stable, and acknowledged the terminology could be confusing. If someone was critically ill but their condition had not deteriorated for 24 hours they would be described as stable critical.

Nicole said the rest of the family had come through their Covid-19, with one still mildly symptomatic.

"There was an extremely stressful week, on top of worrying about mum, when everyone was trying to plan for worst case scenario of everyone being hospitalised," she said.

"But as it happened between the three adults and a toddler and baby, they had a range of symptoms from being almost entirely asymptomatic, to headaches and ongoing fatigue, lost of taste and smell ... and no one else needed hospital care."

Just 4 percent of Covid-19 cases are classed by the Ministry of Health as being transmitted in the community, in other words, with no known source.

The Southland area has had some of the highest rates of Covid-19 and two of the largest clusters.

Nicole said she was grateful for the extensive care her mother had received in both Southland and Dunedin hospitals.

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