Southern public health staff handled nearly 1,400 people who were contacts of the Auckland Delta cluster during the current Covid-19 outbreak.
A report to be considered by a Southern District Health Council committee on Monday describes how intensive and extensive the local response was to be after New Zealand went into Alert Level 4 on August 17.
Public Health South immediately began working seven days a week, on both the local and national response, and an emergency operations center was set up, said SDHB Senior Executive and Community Director Rory Dowding .
“The number of isolated contacts in southern DHB was 141, all of whom completed their required period of isolation,” he said.
The Department of Health also ordered the SDHB to create the capacity to handle up to 10 cases or five bubbles in Otago and Southland – beds that thankfully were not needed.
“To achieve this if necessary, accommodation has been secured in Invercargill, Dunedin and Queenstown for a small number of cases in each locality,” Mr Dowding said.
When it became clear that SDHB was not going to treat any cases of Covid-19 in the local community, the Department of Health delegated board of health staff in the national response.
“We needed to track 12 cases per day, 137 new contacts per day, 597 contacts tracked daily and achieve 50% more for each,” Mr. Dowding said.
Eighty staff worked on the contact tracing, 32 were from the public health department, complemented by 39 staff from DHB South and two staff from Queenstown Lakes District Council.
“Due to the recent break from all non-quarantine travel, seven members of the Queenstown Airport health team have also been able to be redeployed to this job.”
Staff in the South were mainly asked to trace contacts, as well as maintain daily contact with those in isolation, to monitor well-being, health and compliance.
Southern was also assigned 33 exposure events to assess, i.e. when a place of interest has been identified and involves determining the classification of contacts at the exposure, providing information at the affected location, to ensure any public notification via the Covid-19 or Bluetooth app is complete, and that the location of interest has been published as required by the risk classification, ”Mr. Dowding said.
“A significant amount of staff training was required, in part because many changes were made as part of a major upgrade of the national contact training system. “
At the height of SDHB’s involvement, staff were handling 808 calls per day, and they still monitor a small number of contacts.
Staff now focused primarily on reviewing the performance of the organization and on areas in need of improvement, Mr. Dowding said.
He said the work had been intense and it had happened after a busy 18 months for public health staff.
“It is a concern that staff are fatigued by the cumulative impact of responses… we need to consider how we can support staff well-being, taking into account the need to have staff ready to respond each week. “