Covid 19 Omicron: Residents and staff at Auckland retirement home linked to Omicron case return negative results

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Covid 19 Omicron: Residents and staff at Auckland retirement home linked to Omicron case return negative results

More than 300 residents and staff at an Auckland retirement village where a kitchen hand tested positive for Omicron have all returned negative test results.

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And if a further round of testing comes back clear, the village plans to reopen next week.

Staff at the Summerset By The Park village in Flat Bush, South Auckland, notified family members of the update in an email this morning.

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“All 300-plus tests have come back negative,” a source told the Herald.

“Residents are asked to stay in the village [and] the care centre remains closed to visitors.

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“Staff are being retested before they reopen the village facilities and care centre early next week.”

Members of staff who are, however, considered to be close contacts will remain in isolation and further tests will be done as per the Government requirement.

If all the further tests remain negative, the village will open its common areas and care centre early next week – albeit under the current red settings; meaning only nominated visitors will be allowed to make scheduled visits.

It has been a harrowing few days for the village after it was confirmed that one of its kitchen workers attended a wedding on January 15 in New Lynn, West Auckland, connected to a family who tested positive for Covid-19 Omicron.

Moves were swiftly made to replace all kitchen staff at Summerset as a result.

New Zealanders are waiting to hear from the Government about moves to step up the fight against Omicron.

New mask mandates and an increased use of rapid antigen tests are among the new measures already announced; as well as a test and trace approach that is set to be the focus of phase one of the Omicron response.

Covid 19 Omicron: Residents and staff at Auckland retirement home linked to Omicron case return negative results

People queue at a pharmacy offering Covid-19 vaccinations in Balmoral, Auckland, this week. Photo / Michael Craig

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall is due to give more information about phases two and three today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a number of changes to face mask rules in the current red light setting of the Covid Protection Framework.

The changes affect those visiting food and drink businesses and other close proximity settings, as well as some primary and secondary students and workplaces with vaccine mandates.

The only exception will be when a person is eating and drinking. However, if you get up to go the bathroom, for example, you must put your mask back on.

People will no longer be able to use a scarf, bandanna or a T-shirt pulled up over their face.

The face covering must now be an actual mask fitted and covering a person’s mouth and nose.

The new rules will come into force next Thursday, February 3, at 11.59pm.

The changes will not apply to non-public facing workplaces, swimming pools and gatherings where you have the exclusive use of a particular premises.

“We are, for instance, asking people at restaurants when they enter, when they get up to use the bathroom to use masks,” Ardern said.

Covid 19 Omicron: Residents and staff at Auckland retirement home linked to Omicron case return negative results

People line up to get their Covid vaccination at a pharmacy in Auckland this week. Photo / Michael Craig

All workers who are legally mandated to be vaccinated must also wear a medical-grade mask. For example, a Type 2R or Level 2 mask or above while working in public-facing roles.

That included the widely available blue medical grade that many were already wearing, Ardern said.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker welcomed new mask rules, but added they still didn’t go far enough.

Baker said an equity problem could arise where some families couldn’t afford the highest quality ones.

Call for Govt to provide better quality masks for 'key' people

“This is where the Government has a big role to play, in stating standards and also enabling more access to suitable, quality masks.

“More needs to be done on those things in the time that we still have available.”

Auckland University aerosol chemist Joel Rindelaub says because Omicron is more transmissible, cloth masks will not be as effective as high quality masks.

“If you are exposed to Omicron like in an indoor environment, for instance, it’s probably not going to help you as much as these better varieties,” Rindelaub told Newstalk ZB’s Tim Dower.

He said more people using higher grade surgical or N95 masks will definitely help stop the spread of Covid.

“If used correctly and we have enough uptake, it can make a difference.”

Rindelaub said the Government should have a role to play in providing better quality – and therefore more expensive – masks to “key people”.

“They are going to be a little bit more expensive, so there are going to be population that might not be able to access them.

“So the Government should be giving these to people that are more vulnerable.

“They should be giving these to people like teachers that could be exposed in indoor environments, essential workers…so we have better uptake for key people within New Zealand.”

Rindelaub said he hoped to see better guidelines announced today that could help control the spread of Omicron when it comes to aerosol transmission – such as ventilation guidelines.

“Air change is something that is critical with aerosol transmission – which is why when you’re outside, there doesn’t seem to be a high rate of transmission.

“But when you’re indoors is when things are very high risk.”

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