Coronavirus: Health worker in isolation after COVID patient 'lied' about exposure history

A south Auckland medical staffer fears he might have COVID-19 after spending hours with a patient who failed to mention their housemates had tested positive for the disease.

He's pleading for the public to cooperate with health personnel, who are already stretched and can't afford to lose people to self-isolation as the city's outbreak worsens

Craig (not his real name) told Newshub a woman came into the clinic where he works on Wednesday complaining of abdominal pain. The clinic is strictly divided into two areas - a red zone for patients with COVID symptoms, and green for those without. 

When asked basic questions designed to evaluate whether she was a COVID risk, Craig says the woman "lied" - but they didn't know that at the time. She also refused to be swabbed. 

With no other reasons to suspect a COVID infection, she was admitted to the clinic's green zone, where she stayed for several hours before being put on a St John ambulance to Middlemore Hospital after midnight.

"As soon as she was in the hospital… as the ambulance [staff] were doing a handover to the hospital, she just blurted out of nowhere that she was actually living with people who had COVID symptoms, who had tested positive and were taken to MIQ," Craig told Newshub.

Abdominal pain has only recently been reported as a potential COVID symptom, and is still considered quite rare. 

The woman finally agreed to a rapid test, Craig said, which came back positive. Craig has now gone into self-isolation, awaiting the results of his own test. The two St John paramedics who transported the patient have also been stood down.  

"St John was quite pissed - they were saying we didn't tell them that the person was actually in contact with COVID-positive patients, but we didn't know," he said. 

Luckily the patient was wearing a mask. But it's not the first time people have come into his clinic and lied about their potential exposure to the virus, Craig said. 

"This issue - the patients are lying - has happened to me twice already."

What made him particularly angry was that staff stayed an-hour-and-a-half past their usual closing time to look after her, before she could be transported to hospital. 

"We cannot control what they tell us. We cannot refuse care, even if they lie to us, even if they refuse a swab which is for our safety. We cannot force them if they just don't want to... that puts everybody at risk." 

The Counties Manukau District Health Board declined to comment, as did St John, both citing patient privacy. A St John spokesperson pointed Newshub to an August press release, in which the charity's deputy chief executive Dan Ohs urged the public to "be upfront" about their situation.

"St John understands some people may fear that they will not get an ambulance response in these circumstances, but St John wants to reassure the public that ambulance crews continue to respond to all emergencies, at all alert levels."

Newshub has contacted the Ministry of Health for more information.