10 Sep 2020

Fighting mistrust vital to stamp out Covid in Auckland - experts

2:21 pm on 10 September 2020

Community pushback against Covid-19 misinformation, and leaders promoting safety precautions are crucial to fight the virus in Auckland, experts and community leaders say.

Doctor using stethoscope in examining a small boy

Photo: 123rf

Good contact tracing is vital, and relies on those who test positive for the virus giving thorough details of their contacts and movements to authorities, public health professor Michael Baker has told Morning Report, after gaps were found in contact tracing data from people who tested positive.

Six new cases of Covid-19 in the community announced yesterday are linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship sub-cluster. But Health Minister Chris Hipkins says some of those linked to the outbreak hadn't fully disclosed contacts or movements, are sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic, and are distrustful of authorities trying to contain the virus.

Nearly 500 people associated with the church and all their close contacts have now been asked to get retested.

"We don't have any other digital backups that can help us. So having trust with the community is vital," professor Baker said.

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"We're about 10 days since we lowered the alert level in Auckland. People are getting back to work and their normal lives. This is the really difficult period, we've seen the numbers come down ... one scenario is that we just carry on with this low level transmission potentially for many weeks and we don't stamp it out".

On Monday Cabinet will decide if the situation in Auckland is under enough control to loosen restrictions in the region.

Professor Michael Baker

Professor Michael Baker. Photo: Supplied

Baker said alert level 2.5 needed to be tougher on the virus to have any chance to fight it back.

Mass mask-wearing indoors, and a focus on transmission between young people should be the focus, he said. Half of the people who have tested positive in Auckland in the latest cluster are younger than 20, and stopping transmission between students is a big link to block.

St Dominic's Catholic College in Auckland.

St Dominic's in Henderson, Auckland. Photo: Google

School community 'anxious'

A St Dominic's Catholic College student who wasn't identified as a close contact of any earlier cases and wasn't isolated before they tested positive for Covid-19 has been linked to the Mt Roskill cluster.

Principal of the Auckland girls' school Anna Swann said staff were passing on information to families from the Ministry of Health.

"Obviously they're going to hear lots of mixed messages because of social media, gossip, all that sort of thing - so we're sticking to the messages we get from the Ministry of Health directly.

"Who exactly is considered a close contact, who exactly is considered a casual contact, what they need to do, who needs to be tested. And the community's just accepting it, because it is what it is."

The school was closed for three days after the student tested positive, and is being cleaned. "A few" students from the school, who have been identified as close contacts of her have been placed into isolation.

"It's not an easy time ... there's a lot of uncertainty," Swann said.

The Ministry of Health has asked for all children at the school to be tested; Many families have already done that, and Swann doesn't believe there will be a problem getting everyone tested.

She said it was hard to understand those who spread blame and hate about the virus, and is concerned about students being exposed to it.

"When people are putting blame on people who are sick, I just clearly don't understand it, it's just not on ... we're talking about health issues here, it's nothing to lay blame for."

  • 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

Pasifika leaders an important cog in combating misinformation

Auckland Pasifika community leaders are actively taking steps to try to combat blame, stigma and misinformation surrounding Covid-19 and testing.

The danger to lives has been reinforced by the death of prominent doctor Joe Williams, Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorenson told Morning Report.

"These things come home in very stark reality when it is someone that you know, and we are deeply saddened with the passing of Dr Williams ... it brings it home ... that we need to take all the measures to keep our families safe, we need to continue to encourage people to test."

"We need to be absolutely consistent in our approach collectively. Misinformation isn't rife through all churches - it's particularly prevalent in particular churches - so the way we're facing that is to have our community leaders, our health leaders - doctors and nurses, and our church leaders all working together within churches.

"That includes strategies such as having testing at churches... having Pacific health workers testing and providing information who understand the context in which we live, and who are also bilingual and able to interpret the information for people, and leading by example - leaders in our community stepping up and being tested are continually reaching out to our families and communities saying this is the right thing to do."

Chief executive of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson.

Chief executive of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson. Photo: Supplied.

Church leaders should reassure their congregations "there's plenty of support available" for those who test positive, she said.

"More than 90 percent of our community are actively engaged in church congregations of one sort or another. So the way forward is a strong partnership with our church leaders, and to work together with them, because their reach and their support of their congregations is really important."

The spread of the virus among Pasifika families and communities had caused fear, she said.

"In the first outbreak we had relatively low numbers, and in this latest resurgence we've had high numbers of our communities affected, we're anxious as a group.

"A lot of that anxiety stems from not being very clear from what happens when you're tested and you're found to be positive, what support is provided if you have to go into self-isolation or into quarantine, and what that actually means for your workplace if you're working, or your employer."

Rumours and online abuse against those who get tested or test positive have added to the distress, she says.

"At the beginning of this resurgence, with the unfortunate identification... of the first family that were tested positive, there was a lot of backlash on social media, which was very unhelpful.

"Really, we've been talking to our community saying that getting tested is actually saving your family, saving your community and can be lifesaving for people. It's really about saying it's ok to get tested, it's the right thing to do - and you might need to be tested more than once.

"One of the challenges we face is making sure that people understand that just because you've been tested once does not mean that you are forever okay, you might need to be tested multiple times."

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