Friday, 16 Apr 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: Far less testing done during latest Covid outbreak

Far fewer Covid-19 tests have been done during the current Valentine’s Day outbreak compared to last August’s virus scare, but experts say it likely isn’t a bad thing.

That’s because health teams had appeared to use more targeted testing this time around and because there had so far been fewer unknowns with the current outbreak, University of Auckland professor Shaun Hendy said.

Data from the Ministry of Health showed the most tests ever performed in a single day in New Zealand was 25,007, which took place on August 16 at the height of the last outbreak.

Out of the 10 days with the most tests since the pandemic began, eight were linked to August’s cluster, which ultimately led to 159 people in the community contracting the virus and two people dying.

Just two out of the top 10 days for testing took place during the latest cluster in which 15 people had so far contracted the virus in the community and Auckland had twice been thrust into lockdown.

Hendy said health teams had started with more information about the latest cluster and that appeared to show in testing numbers.

“Here there has been clear locations of interest and we have been chasing down fairly clear leads,” he said.

“Back in August, it was clear there was a cluster out there and we had to really quickly find the edges of it, and we needed to do that in a way where we got beyond the contact tracing.”

With the latest outbreak being drawn out by some Aucklanders failing to follow the rules, some pundits had speculated Covid-19 lockdown fatigue in the community could also be leading to fewer people doing their part by going and getting tested.

But Hendy said there had still been a “phenomenal” amount of testing done recently and that people shouldn’t read too much into the raw testing numbers alone.

More than 70,000 community Covid-19 tests have been carried out in the metro Auckland area since the Valentine’s Day outbreak, which infected 15 people in two weeks.

That’s more than 4 per cent of the city’s population getting a swab since February 14.

Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre lead and Counties Manukau Health chief executive Margie Apa said those who had a test when they needed one were playing their part in keeping the community safe.

“[They are] helping build confidence that if there are any cases in the community, they will be quickly detected,” she said.

Hendy said summer sunshine could also have played a part in the lower testing numbers.

“During the summer period, there is less respiratory illness,” he said.

“That actually makes it easier because you need fewer tests to spot the people with Covid when there are fewer background illnesses.”

Leading microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles also cautioned against looking at the August and February testing numbers and drawing strong comparisons without examining the many other factors at play.

However, she did say there had been a “slight difference in strategy” with a greater focus during the latest cluster on encouraging targeted groups to get tested.

“What we really need is people who have any symptoms to get tested along with those who have been instructed to get tested because they have been exposed,” she said.

There had also been more phased testing.

“That is in terms of asking people who’ve been exposed to wait until after a certain day to go get tested – unless they develop symptoms earlier,” Wiles said.

An example of this was the recent Case M, a 21-year-old man, who visited City Fitness on Friday, February 26, between 3.25pm and 4.30pm.

Anyone at the gym at the same time has been deemed a casual plus contact.

However, they were advised to wait one week until March 3 to get their first Covid test, while remaining in isolation at home in the meantime.

Auckland’s testing locations, meanwhile, were set to remain open all week, Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre’s Apa said.

“We have ensured the geographic spread of testing locations has met the needs of the community, so it’s easy to find a testing centre,” she said.

“Given recent positive cases, it is more important than ever that we have a low threshold for testing.

“If you have symptoms that could indicate Covid, please don’t delay in having a test. The same applies if you have attended any of the locations of interest, on the specified dates and times connected to the recent positive cases in South Auckland.”

She encouraged anyone with the following symptoms to get a test:

• New or worsening cough

• Fever

• Sore throat

• Temporary loss of smell

• Difficulty breathing

• Runny nose

• Muscle ache

• Fatigue

Community centres: Where to get tested in Auckland

Northcote Community Testing Centre March 1-5, 8.30am–4.30pm

Balmoral Community Testing Centre March 1-5, 8.30am–4.30pm

Whānau House, Waipareira Trust Henderson March 1-5, 8am–4pm

Health New LynnMarch 1-5, 8.30am–4.30pm

Lloyd Elsmore Park March 1-5, 8am–4.30pm

The Whānau Ora Community Clinic Wiri March 1-5, 8.30am–4.30pm

Ōtara Community Testing Centre March 1-5, 8.30am–4pm

Airport Oaks Community Testing Centre March 1-4, 8am–4pm

Kohuora Park Pop-Up Testing Centre Papatoetoe March 2, 9am-4pm

Takanini Community Testing Centre March 1-5, 8am-6pm

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