Covid case attended Manukau Institute of Technology above major transport links

Author
Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 28 Feb 2021, 12:46PM
The MIT student with Covid-19 attended classes in MIT's Manukau campus aboive the Manukau railway station (above). Photo / Supplied
The MIT student with Covid-19 attended classes in MIT's Manukau campus aboive the Manukau railway station (above). Photo / Supplied

Covid case attended Manukau Institute of Technology above major transport links

Author
Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 28 Feb 2021, 12:46PM

The student at the centre of Auckland's latest Covid-19 outbreak studied in a multi-storey campus built on top of the Manukau railway station and next to the city's main bus station.

New details about the case help to explain why Cabinet decided the risks of widespread infection meant the city had to go back into alert level 3 lockdown for at least a week.

Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) chief executive Gus Gilmore said the 21-year-old male student who tested positive on Saturday is enrolled in two papers at MIT's Manukau campus which MIT's website describes as "above the Manukau Train Station and beside the Manukau Bus Terminal, which is now the biggest transport hub in South Auckland".

Other tenants in the building are Auckland Transport, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the law firm of Kayes Fletcher Walker, which holds the contract as the South Auckland Crown prosecutor.

Gilmore said the student's lecturer and the students in the classes were considered "close contacts" and should have been contacted by the Ministry of Health to get tested and to self-isolate for 14 days.

The student attended classes from 1pm to 6.30pm on Monday, February 22, which was the first day of term, and from 12 noon to 7.30pm on Wednesday, February 24 and from 11am to 7pm on Thursday, February 25.

There is no indication he visited any of MIT's gyms. The Ministry of Health says he visited a private gym, City Fitness in Papatoetoe, last Saturday, February 20 and on Friday, February 26.

Gilmore has not yet been advised whether any of MIT's other 14,000 students and 660 staff need to be tested, but he emailed them all on Saturday night advising them campuses are closed and MIT will shift to purely online learning for the next week.

"We are deep-cleaning in those particular classes and in most of the public-facing areas such as lifts, stairwells and handrails and anywhere else we think those students might have gone to get to their classes," he said.

Gilmore said he was notified of the case in a call from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service about 6pm on Saturday.

MIT chief executive Gus Gilmore has activated MIT's emergency response team after a digitial technologies student tested positive for Covid-19. Photo / Supplied

MIT chief executive Gus Gilmore has activated MIT's emergency response team after a digitial technologies student tested positive for Covid-19. Photo / Supplied

He immediately activated MIT's emergency response team, which was already on high alert.

"We have kind of been on high alert ever since the Papatoetoe High School cases, given that they are in our community," he said.

"We have been talking to our staff and students and just saying, be prepared for another lockdown, take your laptop and equipment home so you can immediately start teaching online if you have to."

The Herald has learned 10 Papatoetoe High School students were in a crowd of about 150 students from South Auckland high schools in the main reception area of MIT's new Tech Park trades facility to enrol for trades courses at MIT last Monday, February 22.

A spokesman said the 10 Papatoetoe students attended trades academy classes in three disciplines – automotive, construction and early childhood education.

"This was after MIT had been informed by the principal they had all self-isolated for the previous week while the school was closed and returned negative tests for Covid-19," the spokesman said.

"This information was communicated on Sunday evening [February 21] to all staff working with trades academy learners.

"Three MIT staff oversaw the progress of the students on these days.

"The trades academy scheme allows high school students to learn vocational skills while also completing NCEA to create a stronger pathway to future learning and employment. Students in the scheme come to MIT either one or two days a week.

"Papatoetoe High School will be sharing the retest results with MIT when these become available."

Gilmore said there was no direct relationship between the 10 Papatoetoe trades academy students and the digital technologies student, who is an older sibling of a Papatoetoe High School student.

The trades students attended Tech Park, a separate facility across the road from the main Manukau campus which the digital technologies student attended.

An MIT spokesman said the digital technologies student's younger sibling was not an MIT trades academy student and had not been at MIT in the past 14 days.

Gilmore said he was concerned about the lack of social distancing when the first group of trades academy students enrolled on Monday, and moved the process outside the building from Tuesday morning.

"We put an added level of protection in place immediately after that [the Monday enrolments]," he said.

"We went to processing our trades academy students outside the main atrium. We wanted to make doubly certain that we had plenty of social distancing in place, and it was important to demonstrate to everybody that we were taking this really seriously.

"For the subsequent days, we processed them outside the building. We set up a way to greet them in a larger area."

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said on Friday, before the digital technologies student tested positive, there was no need to test and isolate MIT staff and students because of the incident, even though all Papatoetoe High School staff and students were asked to get tested again and to isolate again after another student there tested positive last Tuesday.

"Advice provided to different groups is based on an assessment of their levels of exposure and potential risk," the ministry said.

"The identification of the new case (Case I) meant that staff and students at Papatoetoe High School, who were contacts of Case A on February 10, may have tested negative but could still be incubating the virus. These staff and students were asked to get tested again and isolate until 14 days after their exposure to Case A.

"Staff and students at MIT are contacts of the Papatoetoe High School students contacts, so are a lower risk group who are only potentially at risk if one of the Papatoetoe High School contacts subsequently tested positive and none have tested positive to date."

Gilmore has not yet been notified of any additional Covid-19 testing centres for MIT students and staff apart from the existing testing centre in the car park outside MIT's Ōtara campus.