COVID-19: Anger as Auckland rest home keeps elderly in rooms for five days as precaution

The daughter of an Auckland rest home resident is outraged after elderly were instructed to stay in their rooms for five days as a precaution while staff waited for their COVID-19 test results. 

Newshub has obtained an update sent on Saturday to residents and family members of Summerset Auckland and Katikati retirement villages, which instructs "all residents" to "remain inside their home or suite" until staff COVID-19 test results come back. 

"With thousands of tests being processed by labs each day, it is taking up to five days for people to be notified the outcome of their test. As a consequence, contact tracing is lagging several days behind the onset of symptoms," the update said.    

"To protect our vulnerable residents, we will be implementing additional measures to minimise the risk of the virus circulating in our villages undetected. From today, we ask that all residents in our Auckland and Katikati villages remain inside their home or suite.

"Residents in our care centres will be asked to remain in their room and meals will be served in their room. We have not made this decision lightly, as we are acutely aware of the importance of social interaction to a person's wellbeing."

The daughter of a resident at the rest home, who has asked to remain anonymous, told Newshub she thought it was "disgusting" that elderly had to stay in their rooms for five days - but she didn't blame the rest home. 

"It's the incompetence of the Government," she said. "Surely the staff should be getting results back as a priority so the elderly aren't left in rooms."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said it is "commendable" that aged residential care facilities are acting with caution to protect their elderly, but said there is no need to keep them in their rooms unless there is a suspected COVID-19 case. 

"There should be no need for residents to be confined to their rooms unless COVID-19 is suspected within the facility," the spokesperson told Newshub. "If staff are symptomatic, they should be tested and remain off work until they are well and have a negative test." 

Summerset retirement village at Heritage Park in Auckland.
Summerset retirement village at Heritage Park in Auckland. Photo credit: Google Maps

The spokesperson said if staff are being tested as part of routine testing and do not have symptoms, they do not need to self-isolate while awaiting test results.

"They can go about their daily work and do not need to undertake any additional precautions to what they would normally at the appropriate alert level."

Data shows elderly are vulnerable to COVID-19. Of the 22 New Zealanders who have died from the coronavirus, all of them were over the age of 60. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that all rest homes had been put under full lockdown after COVID-19 re-emerged in the community. 

Summerset's general manager of operations, Eleanor Young, said the rest home wanted to take extra precautions to protect their elderly. 

"We respect the ministry's advice but in this instance have chosen to take the extra precaution of requesting our care residents in key areas (Auckland and Katikati) to stay in their rooms until Wednesday," she told Newshub. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has apologised for the time it's taking to get COVID-19 test results back.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has apologised for the time it's taking to get COVID-19 test results back. Photo credit: Getty

"We do not have COVID-19 in our retirement villages, but given people can be infected and asymptomatic, we are erring on the side of caution to protect our most vulnerable residents."

Young said five days is an estimate from the facility's clinical team of how long it could take for close COVID-19 contacts to be contacted, to have tests taken, and then for results to be provided. 

"Our staff are doing everything they can to keep our care residents connected - including offering Zoom video calls with family or friends, delivering meals to their rooms, and ensuring they have someone to talk to," she said. 

"Staff will be keeping a careful eye out for anyone exhibiting signs of distress over the next few days."

The New Zealand Aged Care Association told Newshub it is okay for residents to be isolated in their rooms for a period to protect their safety and that of other residents.

"While they are isolated in their rooms they are not alone, nurses and caregivers will be checking in regularly and also ensuring they have access to technology to communicate with friends and family," a spokesperson said. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield apologised on Monday for the time it's taking to get test results back amid high demand following the community outbreak in Auckland. 

He said it's a "pity" that some people have to wait five days. 

"I apologise for the wait in getting results back for some people but rest assured, if the result is positive they would hear very, very quickly."

The Ministry of Health has seen record levels of testing since the latest Auckland outbreak, with labs processing 26,014 tests on Sunday, and almost 100,000 tests over a six-day period.