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Community COVID-19 testing criteria updated

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The success in containing COVID-19 cases in New Zealand means the testing strategy for the illness has changed.

The Ministry of Health last week revised the case definition and released a testing strategy to provide further guidance on who should have a swab for COVID-19.
MidCentral DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Robert Weir said with no current evidence of community spread, the case defintion and testing criteria focused on people coming in to the country but also provided a ‘safety net’ to monitor for transmission beyond the border.
The priority group for testing are people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and who meet any of the ‘higher index of suspicion’ criteria, Dr Weir said.
The higher index of suspicion criteria is, if, in the 14 days prior to onset of illness someone has:
  • had contact with a confirmed or probable case
  • had international travel
  • had direct contact with a person who has travelled overseas (eg Customs and Immigration staff, staff at quarantine/isolation facilities)
  • worked on an international aircraft or shipping vessel
  • cleaned at an international airport or maritime port in areas/conveniences visited by international arrivals, or
  • any other criteria requested by the local Medical Officer of Health.
Dr Weir has not requested any additonal higher index of suspicion criteria for testing at this stage.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include new or worsening cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, sneezing, loss of sense of smell or taste, Dr Weir said.
Dr Paul Cooper, General Practitioner at THINK Hauora, said testing for COVID-19 would now be done in General Practices, and as such the Palmerston North designated testing centre was now closed.
“General Practice teams encourage all people with respiratory symptoms  to call ahead for a phone assessment and their health professional will advise whether or not a COVID-19 test is recommended .”
“Within the MidCentral district, most people who visit their GP team with respiratory symptoms, which are also consistent with COVID-19 symptoms, may be offered a test. This provides a safety net to ensure there is no community transmission,” Dr Cooper said.
“Hand hygiene, staying home if feeling unwell and social distancing remain the most important things people can do to stay safe and help prevent possible outbreaks in the future.”
Dr Weir said that in the event there was an increased need for testing, there were options availabile to scale up to meet the level of need.
“While the last case of COVID-19 in the MidCentral district was reported in early May, it is also important to continue to trace your movements in the community, manually or by using the National COVID-19 Tracer App.”
For anyone who is interested in contributing to our local understanding of illness rates signing up to the “Flutracking service” is suggested. Details can be found at

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