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SDHB Daily Media Update - Thursday 16 April 2020

No new cases in Southern

The Ministry of Health has announced no new COVID-19 cases in the Southern district today, meaning the region’s total remains 213. Confirmed and probable cases are combined for this and future totals, to match Ministry case reporting.

For a breakdown by Territorial Authority please visit the Southern Health website https://www.southernhealth.nz/sdhbCOVID19/cases-updates

130 people in our district are now classified as recovered.

Southern testing update

We have received a number of media inquiries around testing.

Southern DHB has been testing widely for several weeks, and has among the highest rates of testing in New Zealand.

From 13 March to 15 April in Southern we have:

· Performed 5326 tests

· Tested 5018 individuals (some individuals have both a swab and a sputum taken at the same time, and some patients have been tested on multiple occasions).

At the same time, we also have the highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita in New Zealand. About one third of these have been related to two significant clusters in our community. The other main source of cases was overseas travel. Now, most of our cases are from the infection spreading from individuals to close contacts, increasingly those with whom they are sharing their bubbles.

While these cases are easily identified through our contact tracing and case management processes, we want to check that there has not been more widespread community transmission that has not yet reached our attention.

Our first step is to reinforce the direction of the Director General to practise a very low threshold for testing of symptomatic patients. We widened our case definition in our local area earlier than the nationwide position as we responded to the possibility of community transmission following the World Hereford Conference.

Our PHO WellSouth is also working with general practices to encourage additional testing, and support referrals to Community Based Assessment Centres where appropriate.

General Practices and CBACs are doing about 50/50 in terms of testing, which highlights the contribution that General Practices are making. Designated practices have also been established in areas where a CBAC isn’t feasible, and they ensure that everyone has access to assessment and testing, as they take both enrolled and unenrolled patients.

A call centre has also been established to coordinate assessment and referrals for testing across the district, so we can target resources to test as many patients as possible by giving them options that suit their individual circumstances.

We are also undertaking random testing of asymptomatic individuals in community locations, and today have been testing at a supermarket in Queenstown. This is an important additional step to gain further information about the possible presence of COVID-19 in the community, and may help understand the potential impact of relaxing the restrictions we are currently experiencing as a community as we seek to stamp out the disease.

Collectively, these efforts will help us understand how effective Alert level 4 has been in restricting the transmission of the disease, and how we can support the next steps that are needed in our district, and as part of our national response to addressing COVID-19.

*Comments attributable to Dr Susan Jack, Medical Officer of Health, Southern

Queenstown pop up testing

We have received media inquiries about pop up testing that was conducted today in Queenstown.

The testing was not promoted or announced to the media in advance because the aim was to get a broadly representative sample of people living in Queenstown including some essential workers, and alerting people ahead of time may have impacted on this.

The message from the Director General has been to increase testing across the community, and this random testing is one of a range of activities we are undertaking. Its purpose is to help establish if COVID-19 is present, but undetected, within the community.

This will help us understand the potential impact of relaxing restrictions.

The focus is on people without any symptoms. Anyone who has symptoms and thinks they should be tested for COVID-19 should contact their GP or Healthline.

For statistical reasons it is important this community testing is random, so we are not encouraging people to come down (and would appreciate the media refraining from doing the same).

We expect this will just run today.

It is being coordinated and staffed by WellSouth PHO, who have also been coordinating the Community Based Assessment Centres, and these are being run with the same safety precautions as those centres.

*Comments attributable to Dr Susan Jack, Medical Officer of Health, Southern

Meals on Wheels

We have received a media inquiry about whether COVID-19 has led to an increase in demand for Meals on Wheels.

Southern DHB has not experienced an increase in demand for Meals on Wheels since during the COVID-19 response.

Since going into lockdown on 19 March, we have received 34 referrals to Meals on Wheels for the Southland, Queenstown and Dunedin services. This is fewer than we would normally process over this time period.

BACKGROUND

Meals on Wheels is the name of a service, overseen by New Zealand’s DHBs, which must meet service specifications set by the Ministry of Health.

However, it is not the only service to provide meals delivered to the door for people in the community. Meals on wheels has come to mean something much wider than a service provided by the DHB. There is a vibrant private provider market, which delivers meals to people’s homes for a wide variety of reasons, not just health issues.

People have a choice. If they are eligible for DHB funded Meals on Wheels, they don’t have to use the service in their area. They can choose to use a private meal service provider, and we are aware many people do make this choice.

People who may not be eligible for DHB funded Meals on Wheels may also choose to source meals from a private provider. It is a private arrangement that is not under the jurisdiction of the Southern DHB.

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels providers are required to meet the Ministry of Health’s Specifications for Meals on Wheels.

It is largely a service designed to assist people who have personal health needs. This service is not free, as clients are required to make a co-payment towards it.

Clients wishing to access Meals on Wheels are assessed on several criteria including:

· Ability to shop for groceries

· Age

· Transport - independent/dependent

· Distance from support networks

· Ability to mobilise

· Cognitive state

· General life factors – e.g. social activities, level of family support other services e.g. District Nursing, personal care, extent of disability.

The pandemic has however led to one change around the Meals on Wheels Service, regarding our volunteer drivers. In Southern, and likely around the country, many of the volunteer delivery drivers for Meals on Wheels are older people, including the over 70s. The COVID-19 advice for the over 70s to stay at home has meant some changes. We have been incredibly fortunate to a large number of younger volunteers coming forward to continue this important and valued service.

We are extremely grateful to these volunteers and the organisations that co-ordinate them to support Meals on Wheels in Southern and keep it providing this essential service to people.

We would also like to acknowledge the significant contribution of the welfare response from Otago Civil Defence Emergency Management and Emergency Management Southland, which are linked to the local councils’ responses, and the work they are doing on meeting social needs in their communities.

* Comments attributable to Glenn Symon, General Manager Community Services SDHB.

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