15 Sep 2020

Some Auckland rest homes allowing visitors, with restrictions

5:28 pm on 15 September 2020

Some Auckland rest homes have begun allowing visitors again - despite no change in the alert level.

Photo of young carer helping the elderly woman

Photo: 123RF

When the first wave of Covid-19 cases crept into care homes in New Zealand, it led to 16 deaths.

It's why care homes took no chances when community transmission of the coronavirus was once again discovered in Auckland last month - initially implementing level 4 restrictions across facilities nationwide.

But since the supercity dropped to alert level 2.5, there's been a mixed approach to visitors at Auckland care homes - with the Aged Care Association saying it is up to individual facilities to assess if they can manage the risk.

Today one of the country's largest care providers Ryman Healthcare began allowing visitors to its 11 Auckland rest homes - despite no change in alert level.

Spokesperson David King said it had been a balancing act.

"We have a clinical team that assess the risk and it was their view that we should be conservative and we were, but as time goes on we think it's okay to open up," he said.

"The desire for visits is obviously very strong."

Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital, where the second person to die from the Covid-19 coronavirus was living.

Sixteen people who were in aged care facilities died from Covid-19 during the first outbreak in New Zealand Photo: Google Maps

King said children aged under 12 were not allowed, because it was harder to control social distancing with children - and there were other restrictions in place too.

"Two people can visit at a time for 30 minutes, they need to wear face masks, fill in a health declaration form, get their temperature checked and practice social distancing, so we are taking every precaution we can."

In Auckland, Metlifecare has allowed visitors in a managed way since the alert level change, while Bupa and Summerset rest homes are still closed to visitors apart for compassionate and palliative care reasons.

Both allow visits to their retirement villages.

Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, Michael Baker, said Auckland rest homes did need to take a more precautious approach compared to the rest of the country.

"Certainly in Auckland at the moment there is still the possibility we have community transmission and new cases occurring so we need to be particularly careful the virus is not introduced to vulnerable people in aged care."

In Australia, nearly 600 people have died in aged care facilities, and there are active outbreaks in 83 rest homes.

Melbourne University epidemiologist Tony Blakely said allowing visitors was a calculated risk.

"What we've learnt in Victoria is how aged care facilities are structured is very important, the quality of infection control if there is an outbreak, you want to make sure workers are working in one home, those systems are critical."

Dr Blakely said with only a couple of new cases a day in New Zealand - the risk of any one person taking the virus into a rest home was small.

He believed the precautions rest homes here were taking, such as social distancing, mask wearing and temperature checks, were sufficient.

"We have to keep living, we have to learn how to live with the virus even if you're in a country that's trying to eliminate it like New Zealand, people still need contact with their loved ones," Dr Blakely said.

"It sounds perfectly reasonable strategy what they've put in place, it is important that they have a strategy to isolate someone if they do become infected."

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