Hawke’s Bay’s health leaders look back on Covid-19 response

If you thought preparing your family or flat for lockdown last year was bad, imagine preparing a family of 178,600, or 5 million.

That was the reality of the mammoth task facing two of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s senior staff.

Medical officer of health Dr Nick Jones remembers working until midnight most nights.

From concerns about keeping frontline health workers safe, to having enough ventilators and intensive care beds, to establishing “hot areas” for patients infected with Covid-19, it was a stressful time.

“I was also hugely concerned about what lay ahead and the impact on our community, particularly elderly and our Māori and Pasifika communities.

“There were so many question marks.”

This included what the economic effects might look like and whether the internet would be able to cope with the increased network traffic.

Although it was something he’d trained for, it was something he hoped never to do.

Jones said the situation evolved daily and caused legal headaches, which included lacking the legal grounds to turn away the Ruby Princess as it headed to Napier on March 15.

Passengers on the ship showing flu-like symptoms were tested for Covid-19 but the results came back negative.

Hawke’s Bay’s first case was confirmed on March 20.

Jones said he still didn’t know who on board contributed to the community outbreak after the ship docked.

One year on, he is proud of how the DHB and team responded.

“I think we are all still feeling a bit tired. It’s been a pretty relentless pace.”

Jones said they were in a much better place on March 26. 2021, than he thought they would be a year ago – he never imagined the country would be starting to roll out its vaccine programme.

“Looking at where we’re at now, I’m hugely optimistic.

“I think one of the benefits is there is a much better understanding of what epidemiology and public health is and what it can do.”

He cited the ability for the health care sector to “stagger up and down” its staffing levels as well as collaborative programmes like Tihei Mauri Ora, as positives to come from the pandemic.

He hoped to see more innovation with things like the Covid-19 Tracer App, which improved contact tracing abilities.

Keriana Brooking learned she had been offered the Hawke’s Bay DHB chief executive position about four weeks into the lockdown and the days that followed.

“It was always in the plan to come to Hawke’s Bay.

“In the middle of that there was Covid-19.”

As the deputy director and right-hand woman to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield, Brooking was working 12-to-15-hour days in the lead-up to the lockdown announcement.

“At that stage we still weren’t sure what Covid-19 would look like.

“There would always be something in the Covid-19 response.”

Her days consisted of working, eating, washing and sleeping. Then repeat.

Brooking said she worked 127 days in a row.

She said there was a “very small window” between Covid-19 escalating, or being quashed the way it was in NZ.

“For me it was a really great experience to be working in the ministry, but I was equally pleased to be moving to Hawke’s Bay.”

Arriving to take on the new position in August, Brooking found she still couldn’t escape Covid-19 – the country dropped back to alert level 2 the day after she started.

She said a year on the world was still learning to “live with Covid-19 and its cousins”.

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