'She did everything right': Papatoetoe principal hopeful as Covid mystery linger

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Feb 2021, 6:52PM
Papatoetoe High School's pop-up Covid-19 testing station on Monday, when long queues formed on the first day of the latest lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell
Papatoetoe High School's pop-up Covid-19 testing station on Monday, when long queues formed on the first day of the latest lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell

'She did everything right': Papatoetoe principal hopeful as Covid mystery linger

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Feb 2021, 6:52PM

Queues at Papatoetoe High School's coronavirus testing station have dwindled after some people reported waiting up to four hours to get tested.

Introducing himself with an elbow-bump, principal Vaughan Couillault said pop-up testing stations elsewhere in South Auckland and Botany Downs eased the burden.

Queues by early afternoon were about 20 carloads deep, compared to 400 when demand for tests peaked yesterday.

Couillault told the Herald the school community rallied to the challenge, and members of the public had been patient.

"They've been inconvenienced but they're grateful. So I'm talking to people outside of their cars, when you're masked up."

"People have been understanding. They've been empathetic."

Couillault said the Papatoetoe High School community was sympathetic to the sick student and the her family.

"The Year 9 girl that goes to our school, she did everything right. It's not her fault."

The Government on Sunday announced the student and her parents had tested positive for Covid-19.

Couillault understood the family were navigating the challenges of moving into the Jet Park quarantine centre.

"They're dealing with being sick. I'll touch base with them when they're better."

Couillault said the weekend's fast-moving situation meant the school and health agencies had to handle logistical challenges and establish complex testing infrastructure from scratch.

He said the Ministry of Health and Auckland Regional Public Health Service quickly set up the testing station.

The principal said a friend messaged him to say: "You've got this, man. The country's depending on you."

Asked what he hoped for, Couillault's response was simple: "No more positive cases."

His wish was granted quickly, when the Government at 1pm announced no new Covid-19 cases.

"Thank you, Principal," a man wearing a facemask said through his wound-down SUV window as he exited the testing centre.

"Have you had any rest?" a woman on a pushbike asked Couillault.

"No," he quipped. "Look, I'm getting some rest, but it's been fairly relentless."

"I would give you a hug but I can't right now," the woman replied.

WAITING GAME

As New Zealand waited to see if the latest Covid-19 cases fizzled out or involved a super-spreader event, the South Auckland suburb at the centre of lockdown hunkered down.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said it was heartening to hear of no new cases.

But she said it was important to take note of the virus incubation period, generally recognised as lasting up to 14 days for most people.

The Ministry of Health on Sunday said tests detected "new and active" infections for the mother and daughter.

At least two family members had the B1.1.7 strain first detected in the UK, and Wiles said it was still unclear exactly how long this strain's incubation period was.

Papatoetoe's closed businesses and quiet streets were a sign of what Wiles called a "circuit-breaker" lockdown.

Circuit-breakers aimed to slow the pandemic while authorities gathered data about new cases and virus nuances.

Raised alert levels meant if the virus did spread, it would most likely spread within household bubbles rather than tearing through the wider community.

Wiles said the virus's volatility created a balancing act for governments, especially when sources of transmission weren't identified.

"I don't think we can rule anything out yet. It's really just about trying to limit the interactions between people."

In late January, all close contacts of a Northland community case avoided infection.

A Covid modeller suggested reasons for the virus's failure to proliferate, but Wiles said experts could still only guess why that case did not have more serious consequences.

Wiles said the severity of symptoms, incubation periods, and duration of illness could vary from person to person.

"There's clearly quite a spectrum which this disease presents. It's fascinating and horrifying at the same time."