Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield push back on COVID-19 KFC worker Case L's miscommunication claims

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield are pushing back against a COVID-19 case's claim that she did not receive clear instructions to self-isolate. 

The COVID-positive KFC worker, known as case L, told Newshub's Michael Morrah she was upset Ardern said she should have been isolating instead of going to work, as the advice she received was that she did not need to. 

But Ardern and Dr Bloomfield dispute her claims, saying several emails were sent from Papatoetoe High School where the outbreak occurred, and 15 text messages and phone calls were made to the family. 

"I cannot answer whether or not those were received, but certainly you can see attempts were made and messages were put out around needing every high school student to be tested - that was why the school was closed," Ardern said on Tuesday. 

"I think our messaging has been really clear and was clear through alert level 3 and alert level 2," Dr Bloomfield said. "The vast majority of Papatoetoe High School community - a large community - understood that message and the vast majority of students were tested because they understood that message." 

The latest COVID-19 outbreak

The latest outbreak has so far infected four families connected to Papatoetoe High School and the KFC worker is one of them - but she's not connected to the most recent cases. 

Auckland was thrust back into alert level 3 on Sunday after only five days at alert level 2 following revelations a 21-year-old, Case M, had defied self-isolation rules and visited several populated places, including a gym, while he was symptomatic. 

The case puzzled contact tracers, because while the 21-year-old had a sibling at Papatoetoe High School, the student had returned three negative tests. It turns out their mum, Case N, broke the rules by meeting up with the mum of another infected family during alert level 3. 

The KFC worker is part of another family and connected to the outbreak via her sister, Case I, a Papatoetoe High School student, who was considered a 'casual plus' contact. She was the first in her family to test positive on February 23. 

Case L told Newshub her sister Case I received a text message on February 14 - the day of the Valentine's Day outbreak - saying casual contacts needed to self-isolate but their families did not need to. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Case L said she saw the message and about a week later went to work at KFC on February 22. The following day her sister Case I tested positive on February 23. Case L tested positive on February 26. 

Records show the Ministry of Health's advice at the time for 'casual plus' contacts: "While you are staying at home, members of your household can come and go from the house as normal."

On the day the KFC worker tested positive, which was last Friday, Ardern told reporters she "should have" been self-isolating at home instead of going to work.  

Case L disputes that, saying she just followed the messaging that she received. She told Newshub she's been bullied online because of the Prime Minister's language.

Ardern pushed back on the claims in an interview with The Hui's Mihingarangi Forbes on Monday night, insisting that the messaging was clear.  

"We had about 1100 students that we wanted to be tested. They were all requested to be tested and told they couldn't return to school until they were. And that was information that went to that household," she said. 

"There was also a request included in there that for other household members to be tested and of course keep an eye out on any symptoms."

Ardern said on Tuesday the messaging was "very, very, very clear," and that if Case L had gotten a test earlier, "then ultimately we wouldn't be in a debate over whether or not family members should be isolating". 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

"I don't want to get into a situation where we're going tit for tat on what was or wasn't done. This family are in a tough situation. I appreciate that - no one wants them to be in this situation. That is why I will go back and see what more could have been done."

Dr Bloomfield said on Tuesday all members of the Papatoetoe High School community received at least three letters with instructions, and there had been multiple attempts to communicate with the infected family. 

It's in contrast to Unite Union National Secretary John Crocker, who told Newshub they had no problem contacting the KFC worker and got her on the phone within three minutes. 

Dr Bloomfield said it's possible the messaging wasn't passed on to the family from the Papatoetoe High School student in the household. 

"For those of you who are parents, you may be used to finding notes at the bottom of bags even from a young age, and so whilst the information may have been going out via text message to students, it may not have been shared with parents."

Ardern said she's happy to go back and see what the Government could have done to improve communication, but "I just ask everyone to try and do their bit too".