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Opinion: We need to sort out mixed messages on Covid-19 testing

Jessica Roden says her experience shows the need to tighten up our testing regime in case we get another outbreak.

Source: istock.com

For a Government encouraging everyone to “say yes to the test” they really couldn’t be making it any more difficult.

I’ve had two Covid-19 tests this year. One was a breeze and the other has been a nightmare.

In April I came down with a cold and called Healthline. After explaining my symptoms they gave me the number of a community-based testing station. I called them and within 15 minutes was being tested.

Since then obviously a lot has changed. We haven’t had community transmission in around 100 days but that doesn’t mean the risk is over.

On Monday I called Healthline as I had a cold and after months of sitting through press conferences about the importance of testing, I felt like it was the responsible thing to do.

I had an extensive conversation with a lady on the phone, explaining my symptoms. Eventually she tells me that I need to call my GP who will assess if I need a test. Odd, calling Healthline didn’t seem like a great use of my time after all.

I immediately leave a message with the GP. The nurse calls me back who I again relay my symptoms to. She tells me the GP needs to call me back. The GP does on Monday afternoon to tell me someone will call on Tuesday with details of how to get a test.

Eventually on Wednesday morning (a full day late) I get a call giving me a time of later that afternoon for a test. Not ideal to this point but it soon gets more confusing.

When I got there I was informed by the nurses that I needed to self-isolate after being tested. I challenged them on this as I knew a few weeks back that rule changed in an effort to encourage more people to get tested. Plus, when I called Healthline they told me the opposite.

They were adamant, pointing to the piece of paper they were giving to everyone that gets tested. It does indeed say you “must self-isolate”. But that’s the opposite of what the Ministry of Health website says and what Dr Ashley Bloomfield has told the public.

Upon further inspection it appears they’ve given myself, and everyone else being tested, the wrong information, including the wrong piece of paper. Some people do need to self isolate but only those who are high risk. People who work at the border, are a close contact of someone who has tested positive etc.

It’s just another example of Government ministers and Dr Bloomfield saying one thing, and what’s happening on the ground being the opposite.

And while this for me is an annoying anecdote that ended well (I’ve tested negative both times), here’s why it matters: we need people to get tested.

At least 4000 people a day in the community (that’s excluding those in isolation hotels) need to be tested so that we can be sure New Zealand is Covid-free.

But for about a month now we’ve been well below that number, although this week it has been reached a few times after a significant push from health officials and multiple pop-up centres. That’s encouraging but realistically we will need this high level of testing to be the norm, not the exception for a long time.

New Zealand might not right now be in the middle of an outbreak but we need to be prepared. We need to test like we could be there tomorrow, because that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

People questioning whether they need to be tested for Covid-19 shouldn’t have to jump through any hoops. For me it took five phone calls, three days and a decent amount of perseverance to get a test.

And we also can’t risk contrary and incorrect information being given on the frontline. It undermines trust, it confuses the public and it becomes a deterrent for people to get tested.

The bottom line is that it shouldn’t be difficult to do the right thing during a global pandemic.

* Jessica Roden is the 1 NEWS political producer.