Apartment managers concerned about isolating Covid cases

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Aucklanders might be unwittingly sharing apartment buildings with isolating Covid-19 cases, and building managers and body corporates want better communication from health authorities to keep their tenants safe.

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File photo. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

There’s currently more than 2000 people with Covid-19 currently isolating at home – with over half of them still waiting to find out if they will be moved to quarantine.

Workers on the frontline are worried some are in homes that aren’t suitable for self isolation, and that concern is shared by Deputy Chair of the Auckland City Centre Residents’ group, Adam Parkinson.

He said apartment buildings haven’t been listed as locations of interest in recent weeks, and some building managers weren’t being alerted by authorities when Covid cases are isolating in their apartments.

That was despite the Ministry of Health saying it had notified a number of apartment buildings “by way of building managers and/or body corporates, throughout Covid-19 outbreaks”.

The Auckland City Centre Residents’ group has met with its local MPs and community board, seeking more communication and guidance from authorities to help manage the risk.

“Obviously we don’t want to go around identifying residents and saying that person’s sick and sort of hanging a sign around their neck….but we desperately and urgently need some some other solutions and strategies to to counter this vacuum of information,” he said.

When a resident tested positive for Covid-19 a in a central Auckland apartment managed by Phil Porteous in September, he said he was left with more questions than answers.

His company One Place manages 36 complexes, townhouses and apartment buildings across the city ranging from 12 to up to 250 units.

The Ministry of Health alerted him to the case and provided a letter to give to all the other residents, but he said it never told him which apartment was affected, if the person had been moved to MIQ, or when they had recovered.

“During that time we start getting calls from residents asking us why we’re not a location of interest, is the property safe to be showing people in viewings, for people that are looking to move in to the property, and do we have to isolate?”

“It was a pretty difficult situation where you don’t have any answers for a group of residents or cohort that are a little bit elevated in terms of their anxiety and wondering if it’s going to spread throughout the building.”

Aerosol chemist Joel Rindelaub said Covid cases in apartments and high density housing pose a higher risk of transmission.

He said incidents in MIQ hotels had shown the virus was able to spread through ventillation systems,even if the infected person stayed confined to their room.

‘Anytime you’re bringing a lot of people close together in one area, you want to make sure you have the cleanest air possible,” he said.

“If I were staying in an apartment building I would want to know if there were Covid cases near me, that’s for sure.”

Phil Porteous said it would be good for the Ministry of Health to pre-emptively carry out a risk assessment for multi level apartment buildings, to establish if would be safe for people to isolate there.

In the meantime he said it was important that every multi living complex had a plan for Covid management.

“The way things are trending, if you don’t have Covid in your apartment then you soon will.”

The Ministry of Health said whether a person living in an apartment complex was moved to MIQ to complete their isolation was assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“A Medical Officer of Health undertakes a public health risk assessment that considers needs, disability supports, social and welfare needs, safety and compliance.”

“People in apartments can isolate safely without risk to other residents. Their community health team checks their health daily and ensures they have essential supplies so they do not need leave their property.”

“If a public health unit determines that it is possible to get in touch with those who may have come into contact with the Covid-19 case at a site, then it is not necessary to list it as a Location of Interest on the Ministry of Health website.”

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