Shock and sadness.
That has been the reaction from West Coast residents to news that the first person to die from coronavirus in New Zealand did so in Grey Base Hospital, Greymouth.
“Obviously this is a big shock to our small community today, and our region of Westland and Buller,” Grey District Mayor Tania Gibson said.
“Our thoughts are with the family, but they need privacy and they need respect. But definitely I know our community will be grieving with them, and really all their thoughts will be with them.”
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The woman in her 70s died on Sunday morning. She had initially been diagnosed with influenza that was complicated by an underlying health condition, but tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday morning*. The 21 staff who treated her are self-isolating.
The woman was one of three cases of Covid-19 confirmed on the West Coast so far. Ministry of Health director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Sunday there was now 514 confirmed and probable cases nationwide.
After having so few cases, Gibson said: “For us to have the first case like this in New Zealand is a shock to our community. They’re very saddened.”
Gibson said news of the death drove home the message that people needed to stick to their bubble and stay home to break the chain of transmission. She had heard of people not abiding by the rules, but said that needed to stop.
“Now it is very real in our community,” she said. “We’re still reiterating the message that we are in the best place in the world to ride this out, and it is unfortunate but we do need to remain strong and calm.”
West Coast District Health Board (WCDHB) chief executive David Meates said health board staff expressed their deepest sympathies to the family.
“Staff followed protocols and procedures and did everything they could to help this patient, and to protect themselves,” he said.
The woman had been admitted to hospital on Wednesday. Staff who first assessed her were in full personal protective equipment (PPE), Meates said, however because she did not initially meet the case definition for Covid-19 they removed their eye protection.
By Thursday night, Meates said the woman met the case definition and staff started wearing eye protection again while waiting for test results which came through on Saturday morning. The 21 staff who came into contact with her had been placed in self-isolation.
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Family members who visited the woman in hospital would also be monitored in self-isolation for the next 14 days. During a press conference on Sunday, Bloomfield said the case had a link to overseas travel but health authorities were not yet certain how the woman came to be infected.
Meates said the WCDHB had enough staff to cover the number self-isolating at present, however the health board was working with the Canterbury DHB and the Ministry of Health to fill some key roles.
Grey Base Hospital had five ventilators, and an isolation unit had been set up to care for Covid-19 patients. Meates said the woman was not placed on a ventilator, a machine which helps people breathe. He did not say if she was placed in the isolation unit.
While everyone is susceptible to Covid-19, older people and people with underlying health conditions have a greater chance of developing serious illness.
*this article has been updated. Ministry of Health director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield had said the woman tested positive on Friday. Her test results were confirmed on Saturday.