Covid 19 coronavirus: Northlanders denied tests after conflicting Healthline advice

Conflicting advice from Healthline and other health organisations has left many people frustrated after being refused a Covid-19 test.

Many Northlanders were turned away from the Ruakākā racecourse testing station yesterday, told by public health nurses that they did not qualify for a test. However, such restrictions didn’t appear to be in place at Whangārei’s two testing stations.

It comes after a record-breaking day of testing in Northland on Monday, with 1776 tests done in the region – almost 1 per cent of Northland’s population.

Further good news was announced through Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday with a total of 15 close contacts of New Zealand’s first community Covid-19 case in months – a 56-year-old Northland woman – returning negative tests. One more close contact is awaiting a result.

The test results provided little comfort for the raft of people sent away from the Ruakākā testing station yesterday, hours before Hipkins told the nation to call Healthline if they weren’t sure whether they needed a test.

The Ministry of Health, which operates Healthline, did not respond before edition time.

According to the Northland District Health Board, only people who were at the roughly 30 premises visited by the latest Covid case at the indicated times needed to be tested. If someone was not at the premises at that time and had no symptoms, they did not need a test.

Ruakākā’s Maylene Erihe, with her two daughters Lily May Green, 7, and Macylea Green, 6, was turned away from the racecourse testing site, despite being in the same shops about 45 minutes after the Covid positive woman and being told by Healthline to go to a testing station.

Erihe, who had waited two hours yesterday morning after waiting four hours for a test on Monday, said nurses at the testing station told her she would have been tested if she had been at those premises within half an hour of the Covid positive case. The whānau was asymptomatic.

Erihe, a social worker who worked in schools, said she would now be forced to take a third day off to try to get tested through her GP tomorrow.

“It’s frustrating, there are always so many mistakes anyway, I just don’t trust the judgment on them saying 30 minutes,” she said.

One Tree Point resident Elsie Taiapa waited at the Ruakākā site for three hours after being told by Healthline to got to a testing station. She had been in the Ruakākā supermarket about an hour after the Covid case.

However, the asymptomatic Taiapa was told she did not qualify for a test. Following that, Taiapa was unsure if she could return to work given her employer had requested she be tested.

Sandi and Steve Morris, who had been in the same shops at the same time as the Covid case, called Healthline on Monday and were given a priority number and encouraged to visit Whangārei’s White Cross medical clinic for urgent testing.

However, the Morris family was abruptly turned away from White Cross and told that Healthline’s advice had been wrong.

“Apparently Healthline had been sending people [to White Cross] all day to get this priority testing and they’re saying, ‘No we don’t do it at all unless you’ve got symptoms’,” Sandi said.

The Morris whānau, whose daughter Jaylene was considered highly vulnerable to the virus, then went to Whangārei’s Pohe Island testing centre late Monday, only to be turned away again. When they arrived at the Ruakākā site at about 5pm, they were told it was closing soon and to come back on Tuesday.

“It’s just so disorganised,” she said.

A public health nurse at Ruakākā said yesterday’s prioritisation measures were not implemented on Monday because they didn’t have enough staff. When pressed further on what the exact specifications were on who could and couldn’t get tested, she declined to comment.

The Northland DHB did not respond to this question prior to edition time.

From many people spoken to by the Northern Advocate, it appeared people needed proof, such as bank statements or Covid tracer app data, that showed they were at the Covid-linked stores within 30 minutes of the Covid case to get a test.

Many people said their employers had requested they be tested before returning to work, but were left unsure what to do when turned away at Ruakākā.

No such restrictions seemed to be in place at Whangārei’s testing stations at Pohe Island and Winger Cres. Multiple people reported being at Covid-linked locations hours or days after the Covid case but were still tested.

Thankfully, the 10-hour waits reported on Monday were not repeated in Whangārei with many people reporting short waits, an increase in toilet facilities, more efficient traffic management and better communication from staff.

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