Saturday, December 4

‘It could get totally out of control’: Covid-19 modeling paints a worrying picture for South Auckland

According to the model made by the Counties Manukau District Board of Health (DHB), if border restrictions are relaxed for arrivals from countries with high Covid-19 numbers, South Auckland will see between 1,000 and 1,400 cases per week, even if vaccination rates reach 90 percent.

A health worker at the Middlemore Hospital emergency department says the number of staff being removed daily from the rosters is a serious concern as it is already under great pressure due to staff shortages.

According to a DHB spokesperson, Middlemore Hospital has 18 intensive care unit (ICU) beds, seven high dependency unit (HDU) beds, and a special respiratory room for Covid-19 patients.
Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

According to the model prepared for the DHB, if strong border controls and public health measures were maintained and the vaccination rate reached 90 percent, the Manukau counties region would see only 40 cases and one hospitalization per week. This number increases to 200 cases per week if vaccination rates reach just 80 percent.

The scene turns bleaker for the residents of the South Aucklanders if border and public health restrictions are lifted.

The DHB model shows that there will be at least 1,000 cases and 30 hospitalizations per week with a 90 percent vaccination rate, or 1,400 cases and 45 hospitalizations if vaccination rates reach just 80 percent.

With rates remaining well below 80 percent in much of South Auckland, Auckland University Associate Professor of Public Health Dr Collin Tukuitonga said the model was too conservative.

“I think the vaccination rates are too ambitious and I think we probably have more than 1000 cases per week,” Tukuitonga said.

“And as a result, it will have a greater impact on the Maori and Pacific populations. This could get totally out of hand, in terms of what we have experienced in New Zealand so far.”

The pressure on Middlemore Hospital was already immense given that “Maori and the Pacific are the hardest hit by inequalities in our society,” Tukuitonga said.

“If the government loosens public health measures, there will be more cases, and that is the risk that people should be aware of.

“The problem for Middlemore is that they are already at full capacity, even without Covid, as they do not have enough capacity to serve the size of the population that exists within Manukau counties.”

At the unveiling of a mobile vaccination bus in September, Counties Manukau Health CEO Margie Apa said the hospital had already been working hard to increase its capacity for Covid-19 patients.

“We have done a lot of preparatory work to increase our ICU [intensive care unit] and units of high dependency, “he said.

“But what it does do is eliminate the stock of beds to be able to take care of the rest of our non-Covid patients.”

According to a DHB spokesperson, the hospital has 18 beds of intensive care units (ICU), seven beds of high dependency units (HDU) and a special respiratory room for patients with Covid-19.

It is also planning ways to increase “hospital capacity to care for all patients safely.”

“Middlemore Hospital has been the epicenter of the Covid-19 Delta outbreak with more than 1000 cases since the pandemic began in the Manukau counties region.

The team’s experience is now being applied to how future patient care and services will be delivered. “

A medical specialist familiar with Middlemore Hospital and its intensive care unit said that given what the hospital’s model and capacity shows, the implications for South Aucklanders with pre-existing conditions were “very serious.”

“When a person is admitted to intensive care with Covid, they can spend up to 16 hours a day on their stomach and spend between four and six weeks there. If they receive only one-tenth of ICU hospitalizations each week, they are still going to feel quite a bit. overwhelmed pretty quickly. “

An increase in deaths related to Covid-19 was “a reasonable assumption, and there will also be many people simply suffering as they cannot get the relief they were hoping for from other interventions that had been planned but it will be delayed,” he said.

Opening the vaccination rollout to all Maori and Pacific people early on, and having it run by South Auckland providers, was the only way around the current scenario, he said.

“The people of South Auckland have endured the worst of it for so long, and you have to think they have been disappointed. They should have been listening to people on the ground, but they never seem to learn.”

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service endorsed by RNZ, the News Publishers Association, and NZ On Air.

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