Covid-19: Three months of high cases

Well South CEO Andrew Swanson-Dobbs. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Well South CEO Andrew Swanson-Dobbs. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Southern health officials are expecting they have two to three months of managing high numbers of Covid-19 cases ahead.

That bleak assessment, delivered at a meeting of the Southern District Health Board’s heath community and public health advisory committee yesterday, came as the region reported another 529 cases.

"We have done a lot in the past couple of weeks but if you look at the modelling, we have another 10 or 12 more weeks before we come out the other end of this," WellSouth primary health organisation chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs said.

Otago and Southland came close to officially reaching the 5000-plus case milestone yesterday.

There are 4820 reported active cases in the region, but health officials believe that since the introduction of self-testing and reporting case numbers are considerably under-reported.

Nationally, a further 19,566 cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday, for a total of almost 100,000 active community cases.

Most of the southern cases are in Dunedin (3273) and Queenstown (837), but Gore, Southland and Waitaki all reported notable rises in cases too.

Mr Swanson-Dobbs said WellSouth was in constant contact with GPs and surveyed every clinic twice a week to establish they had the capacity to handle the number of cases that they were seeing.

"At the moment they are all OK. My fear is when one practice goes down because all the staff have Covid," he said.

"We are a very rural environment and if one practice in one rural community goes down it is going to be a real challenge for us so we are doing planning for how we can respond if that occurs".

WellSouth was dealing with about 3500 people through the Covid Care in the Community system, almost all of them managing their own care.

"Almost everyone will be able to do that but for those who can’t, we need to be able to provide a solution to them which is easy and accessible.

"We will prioritise anyone who is Maori, Pacific, high-deprivation, over a certain age.

"They are the ones who will be receiving a clinical assessment to make sure that they are OK, but everyone else can ask us if they need help."

WellSouth chairman Dr Doug Hill said GP practices and medical centres - which are expected to handle the care of Covid-19 patients isolating at home — were holding up well, although a lot of their time was being taken up providing advice to the "worried well".

Student Health was bearing the brunt of the outbreak, followed by the Queenstown Medical Centre, Dr Hill said.

The move to more widespread use of rapid antigen tests (Rats) had taken considerable strain off general practices and also aided patients’ peace of mind, Dr Hill said.

"I suspect, and this is purely anecdotal, that our case numbers are probably quite a lot higher than we are reporting."

Committee chairman Tuari Potiki said staff had been notified by the University of Otago on Sunday that just less than 1000 active cases were known in its colleges.

"The university had a plan for people who were isolating in colleges, because a number of college staff have also gone down, of course," he said.

"There has been a volunteer project under way to deliver kai and supplies to those students ... It’s all hands on deck at the moment."

Only one person was reported as being in hospital in the southern region with Covid-19 yesterday.