Kiwi coronavirus patient had 'significant interaction' with public, medical staff weren't alerted by centre - employee

A New Zealander with coronavirus had "significant interaction with the public" at an Auckland medical centre, whose staff weren't told about a positive test result, an employee has alleged.

An individual who works at the Westgate Medical Centre has expressed their frustration to Newshub about the lack of communication with staff after a woman attended the clinic and was later diagnosed with the potentially deadly illness. 

The employee - who Newshub has agreed not to name - says the woman arrived at the Auckland urgent care clinic on Monday evening. They claim it wasn't an ideal situation as the woman "didn't identify themselves as being a potential risk", even though the clinic had signage warning people not to enter if they had been overseas recently. 

They said the clinic had a very good process for isolating people when they identify themselves as at risk.

Westgate Medical Centre is part of the Tāmaki Health primary healthcare network. Its chief executive, Steffan Crausaz, confirmed to Newshub the woman attended the centre as a walk-in patient and was seen in a "short period of time". A swab was taken that later proved to be positive for COVID-19.

"We follow public health protocols for managing the care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.  We have signs on the door asking people not to enter if they have been overseas within the last two weeks; they should phone ahead of any visit," Crausaz said.

"Once the patient identified herself as having returned from overseas and was showing COVID-19 symptoms, all clinic staff followed Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) protocols."

The employee says while the woman was at the clinic she had "significant interaction with the public". They estimate there were around 30 people in the large medical centre at the time. 

"It is a big open clinic, it is an urgent care, so there is an area that has significant traffic of people walking around, potentially a few nurses. Three or four nurses, three or four receptionists. Twenty, thirty people in the waiting area and the clinic itself," Newshub was told.

Crausaz told Newshub that it is assisting ARPHS in tracing and contacting anyone in the waiting room 15 minutes before the patient arrived to an hour after.

"We want to assure our patients that the clinic is safe to attend."

The employee praised the actions of the physician who attended the woman, including for texting people outside of his examination room to bring them protection gear and a swab kit.

Crausaz confirmed the doctor is on leave until March 16, but that "no other staff were in close contact with the patient so they remain at work."

But while the worker says guidelines were followed, other staff who work at the clinic weren't contacted when it was found the woman had coronavirus. The Ministry of Health says that was on Tuesday night at 6pm. 

They said they only found out about the case when they recognised it on the news.

"Everything was followed totally appropriately according to what are the guidelines, but the fact that I'm going to work today again and I don't think anyone was really told the situation," the individual says.

"I am a firm believer that people are overreacting and we need to handle this in a situation that is not a state of panic and people running off to the stores, stockpiling, but I also think people need to be aware that this isn't probably just a simple, isolated, protected case."

The employee believes community transmission is now inevitable. 

"This, in my opinion, is probably going to be the beginning of the spread of the virus throughout Auckland and ultimately, the rest of the country.

"Unfortunately, it is a virus that is going to come here and it is going to spread and New Zealand is a place that has a lot of international travel.

"The public needs to be aware that this is something that is going to happen here."

When confirming the case on Wednesday, the Ministry said the individual had been to two medical centres. She had been to northern Italy and returned to New Zealand last Tuesday.

She also took two domestic flights on Monday, 2 March - NZ5103 Auckland to Palmerston North and NZ8114 Palmerston North to Auckland. The woman is now at home in self-isolation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the health system as "world-class" and said it's "designed" for these types of events. Ardern said it's up to doctors to decide if someone needs to be tested. 

However, many doctors say they’re not ready and are already at capacity.

The Medical Association says the government needs to "prioritise GPs and health workers". 

It says many clinics do not have personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and proper masks which are needed for testing. 

The College of GPs is also concerned, warning that if volumes of patients continue to go up separate clinics will need to be set up just to deal with COVID19.  

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