Covid-19: New Plymouth mayor at odds with public health unit on modelling


The mayor of New Plymouth has found himself at odds with the Taranaki Public Health Unit over modelling of the potential impact of a delta outbreak in the province.

Neil Holdom.

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom is worried about the implication for health services if there’s a Covid-19 outbreak in his region. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Neil Holdom is warning of the potential for thousands of infections, hundreds of hospital admissions and more than 50 deaths over a year, meanwhile, the professionals are taking a far more optimistic view.

Using a spreadsheet, Holdom has taken government-modeller professor Shaun Hendy’s figures and applied them to Taranaki’s 2.5 percent share of New Zealand’s population.

Even taking the province being 85 percent fully-vaccinated as a starting point, the figures he posted on Facebook make grim reading.

“Assuming that the vaccine is really effective, potentially 55 people in Taranaki would die over a 12-month period and more concerning I suppose is that the peak [hospital] beds required was 29 beds.”

Holdom said Prof Hendy’s figures indicated more than 11,000 people in Taranaki could become infected over a year or just under 10 percent of the region’s population and hundreds would be hospitalised.

The mayor was worried about the implication for health services.

“For every bed, you’ve got four or five nurses to run that bed over 24 hours and we know from what we’ve seen in Auckland is that as soon as a nurse or any of the medical professionals tests positive, it’s not just them taken out, it’s often other people on their shift and so you lose those staff around the margins.”

Taranaki Medical Officer of Health Jonathan Jarman and the Public Health Unit have taken a more “optimistic” approach with its modelling.

It has looked at what a delta outbreak might look like over 100 days if it arrived in the region today and assumed the vaccination rate climbs to 90 percent over that time.

“And what we found was that the peak number of daily cases that were being detected would be 32 people per day and the peak number of inpatients at any one point of time would be seven and the peak number of people in ICU would be two.”

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The current double-jabbed vaccination rate for the general population in Taranaki is about 67 percent.

Dr Jarman said no modelling was perfect, but that the Public Health Unit took into account Taranaki specific factors and had looked beyond the Auckland outbreak.

“We also looked at Waikato and they have managed to dampen down this sort of increase in cases and in fact there’s never been more than one person at a time in hospital and they have had Covid in their community for more than a month.”

Even when 90 percent of those eligible were fully vaccinated, a quarter of the Taranaki population, including the under 12s, would be susceptible to Covid-19, Dr Jarman said.

Most of those susceptible to it would likely be infected in the next year or two, he said.

Taranaki medical officer of health Jonathan Jarman makes his submission on the number of pokie machines.

Taranaki Medical Officer of Health Jonathan Jarman says focusing on predictions of Covid-19 deaths in the event of an outbreak is unhelpful. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

However, the Public Health Unit modelling was silent on the number of potential deaths.

“We didn’t look at deaths. I personally don’t think focusing on death is particularly helpful. We were looking more on the impact on the health system,” Dr Jarman said.

“I think focusing on death just unnecessarily scares people. I think we’ve really got to focus on what are going to be the impacts on our services and our community.”

Neil Holdom did not think he was scaremongering.

“Do you think the government would’ve spent $50 billion if they weren’t scared?

“This whole Covid response have been about reducing the death toll, reducing the health impacts, but also realising it’s not just Covid that will generate deaths and suffering, it’s those waiting for knee or hip operations or cancer surgery or treatment or even to visit specialists to have diagnostic stuff analysed.

“Our health system was under stress before Covid. It’s under massive stress now and so the health impacts will not only be about people getting sick and dying of Covid.”

Holdom hoped the discussion about the various modelling would provide extra motivation for the unvaccinated to get a jab and help protect health services.

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