Covid update: Director-General of Health says 12 of the new cases are linked to the existing cluster and the other is under investigation

Covid update: Director-General of Health says 12 of the new cases are linked to the existing cluster and the other is under investigation

There are 13 new Covid-19 cases in the community.

12 of the new cases have been linked to previous cases, with one under investigation.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and MInister of Health Chris Hipkins provided the update on Tuesday.

Bloomfield said it was believed the case under investigation would prove to be linked to the cluster.

Separately on Tuesday it was revealed that one earlier identified case was NOT linked to the cluster. That earlier case had been reported on Monday. Immediate contacts of that case, a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel isolation facility in downtown Auckland have been tested and come back negative.

Bloomfield said there were now 90 active cases with 69 in the Auckland cluster, 20 in isolation and now the one that has not been linked to the cluster.

There are now six people in hospital, two in Auckland city and four at Middlemore. None of the people are in ICU.

Bloomfield said it was likely the Auckland cluster would become the biggest in New Zealand since the outbreak of the virus.

Hipkins said testing continued at high levels with 18,421 processed on Monday.

Hipkins, in response to a question, said it would be "premature" to speculate on what would happen with the Auckland Level 3 lockdown and whether it would be extended beyond the current date of August 26.

This was the media statement put out by the Ministry of Health:

There are 13 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 to report in the community today. 

There are no new cases to report in managed isolation. 

Twelve of the 13 new cases are linked to previous cases in the cluster, and one remains under investigation but is believed to be linked to the same cluster.

There are 98 people linked to the cluster who have been moved into the Auckland quarantine facility, that includes 44 people who have tested positive and their household contacts. 

There are six people receiving hospital-level care for COVID-19, two in Auckland City Hospital, and four in Middlemore. 

The 13 new confirmed cases to report today bring our total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,293 which is the number we report to the World Health Organization. 

One previously reported probable case has now been classified as under investigation.

The total number of active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand is now 90, of which 69 are part of the recent community outbreak, and 20 are imported cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Genomic sequencing

Genomic sequencing has provided more information about two cases of COVID-19 that were under investigation.

We have been able to genomically link the household of five positive cases – with one person currently in Auckland hospital – to the existing cluster.

It still remains for us to investigate how the household is epidemiologically linked, but we now know that the virus found in the cluster is closely linked to the one in this household.

This gives us a level of reassurance that these people are part of the same cluster rather than two separate clusters.

In addition to this – partial genome sequencing results indicate that another case is not linked to the community cluster.

This second case is a man who is a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility in Auckland. 

The man carried out maintenance tasks on rooms between bookings, following full infection prevention and controls, including wearing appropriate PPE. 

He tested positive on August 16, and the partial genome sequencing indicates his case is most closely linked to a positive case from the Rydges on July 31, a returnee from the USA. 

Further genome sequencing and matching is being completed on this case today. 

Contact tracing

Since August 11, 1,880 close contacts have been identified and 1,691 of those have been contacted and are self-isolating, and we are in the process of contacting the rest. 

A number of locations can become of interest as we go through our contact tracing process. 

In most instances people who were at the location at the same time as a person who has later tested positive for COVID-19 as considered casual contacts who should monitor their health and contact their GP or Healthline if they become unwell. 

Some casual contacts will be asked to get tested and should self isolate until results come back.

There is no need to avoid or discriminate against these places – we are releasing this information so anyone who may have been present but has not been identified through contact tracing interviews or processes can be aware and know what they need to do. The risk is very low. 

We have been using the COVID Tracer App to contact people in the relevant locations and times when they have scanned in.

Many of the locations yesterday include households, but there are two locations of interest:

  • Pak n Save Supermarket, Apirana Avenue, in Glen Innes, Auckland. The confirmed case visited the supermarket a number of times between 31 July and 8 August, sometimes for up to an hour. 
  • Mt Roskill Primary School. The confirmed case was there in the 24 hour period between 1.40 pm on the 10th and 1.40 pm on the 11th of August.

Anyone who visited these locations during that period should be aware of symptoms and seek a test if they become symptomatic. 
Americold

A final report is expected to be completed imminently from MPI and ESR which have investigated one possible route of transmission for the virus through chilled surfaces on materials arriving from overseas.

The full report will have the detail, but it seems clear that this possibility is being ruled out by the investigation.  We expect to have the details of this announced later this week. 

Face masks

The Ministry is aware that misinformation has been circulating on social media that face masks can restrict the flow of oxygen into your lungs and therefore your bloodstream.

It’s important to make sure everyone knows this is totally false – the pore size of a face mask is typically more than 1,000 times larger than an oxygen molecule.

To demonstrate their safety, Tom Lawton, a doctor in the UK, recently ran for 22 miles – about 35 kilometres – while wearing a three-layered face mask.

Throughout the run he wore a pulse oximeter on his finger to monitor his oxygen levels, which never dropped below 98 percent.

To put that in context, a reading of under 90 percent would be considered low.

So, the message to New Zealanders is to make sure you get your information from a reputable source such as the Ministry’s daily updates – not social media– and that wearing a face mask will not restrict your flow of oxygen, even if you have a respiratory condition.

You can find guidance on the Ministry’s website on how to use a face mask safely.

Exemptions

Under the current Alert Level 3 restrictions there are strict criteria around who can enter and leave Auckland.

To date, the Ministry has received 5000 applications for exemptions, 700 exemptions have been granted, and 160 declined. Exemptions have been granted for example where they need to access medical services, provide care for a vulnerable person, visit a dying relative or move house.

Businesses are also being granted exemptions if there are risks to critical infrastructure or supply chains.

NZ COVID Tracer

NZ COVID Tracer has now recorded just shy of 1.5 million users – 1,499,000 which is 37% of the population aged 15 and over.  

There have been more than 234,000 posters created. There have been more than 7,240,000 poster scans and more than 1,081,000 manual entries.

To clarify for all New Zealanders and businesses, customers and visitors who scan the QR code with the NZ COVID Tracer app don’t also need to sign into the contact register maintained by the business.

Site-specific contact tracing registers are for customers and visitors who are unwilling or unable to use the NZ COVID Tracer app.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

13 Comments

Is there a standard definition of the term 'cluster'? I recall from the first outbreak we had a wedding cluster, a conference cluster etc. where someone with the virus infected others at those events. Now we have a single Auckland cluster but it seems to have been transmitted at multiple different events and times.

A cluster is when an infection can be traced amongst a group of people, back to a certain origin.

Of course ultimately everyone in the world who has got COVID-19 traces back to the original case in China, whomever that was. But basically it's a new cluster when sick patients can't be connected back to existing cases.

I believe that during the first outbreak here we did have a small cluster that was eventually merged into a larger one once a link was found, and that may have happened a couple of times.

You could also have someone who appeared to be linked to cluster A, but upon closer examination, particularly with genomic testing, might instead be able to link them to cluster B.

In the first pandemic clusters were often named after particular events or places, since that is when it was known to initially spread beyond the first infected individual, but clusters aren't specifically linked to events or places.

Thanks, that's helpful.

Because we didn't have the genomic testing during the first outbreak, it also wasn't possible to track the origin of cases as accurately, but we are already much more informed and armed with the science that can help ring fence this outbreak more successfully (hopefully).

The Rydges Hotel case is a real head scratcher though.

This new case at Rydges is problematic. A different strain and apparently similar to a returnee from the US. Are we seeing possible virus survival on surfaces for longer than expected? Also are we seeing a longer incubation period? Maintenance guy apparently went 11 days before symptomatic. Bit of a slip he waited 5 days to get tested but at least he got tested eventually.
Houston we may have problem

Yes that is a concern. Apparently this contractor had zero contact with any returnees but did maintenance on rooms that had previously been occupied by returnees... there's still so much we don't know about this virus...

At least one good thing has come of all this.. a focus on testing MQIF staff regularly and across the board. Can't fight what ya can't see, so now hopefully we have "eyes on"

Another mystery is the origin of what could be termed the Americold cluster. What has become of the person who infected the Americld cluster? By rights (s)he should be leaving a trail of infections around the country, presuming (s)he has remained in the country. As with the Rydges worker there is a critical piece of information that is missing.

Yeah that Americold cluster is a real head scratcher. It's been discounted/dismissed as a vector via frozen/chilled goods so WTF?? This virus doesn't just materialise out of thin air, so the only thing left (assuming it's a border breach) is someone is being a bit economical with the truth about contact at the MQIFs, which is a possibility, given the fines and now probable public flagellation if it turns out to be proven. All the testing at the ports is a red herring chase. If there was transmission there it would have cropped up previously.

I remember when Covid was first detected in NZ at the beginning of the year, and they made a point to show that hospital beds for covid patients would go into a special negative air pressure room and I recall that the ventilation systems were separate. This was to isolate the cases and not risk other people in the hospital. But I wonder if the hotels have that level of ventilation system, and how their ventilation systems work.
I think more investigation needs to go into exactly how NZers are catching it. Is it mainly caused from breathing in droplets that people expel when they talk etc?

The virus has to have a path between people in order to infect a new host, it doesn't just magically appear.

Is it just me geeking out on how cool live genomic sleuthing of a virus is? I know it's a super serious pandemic, with death and economic carnage but let's also take a moment to look at how far science has come. It's pretty amazing that within a week of the outbreak we're able to sequence viral genomes and use them to track the outbreak.

You're right. RNA sequencing of a virus at this sort of speed is indeed pretty amazing. We're lucky we have the capability here in NZ. Totally unsung heros FS

the worrying part is the two days of passing a health check while infectious,
The Auckland maintenance worker who tested positive for Covid-19 had a cough but still went to work in a managed isolation facility for two days before he was tested.
His cough was put down to a pre-existing condition, so he passed his daily health check for two straight days - the day the South Auckland cluster was detected, and the day after, when Auckland was sent back into alert level 3.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12357481