Dr Mataroria Lyndon: Planning your summer holidays? Plan for home isolation at the same time
Opinion: Dr Mataroria Lyndon, Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Tend
As featured in New Zealand Herald - 22 December 2022
It's been just over a month since we saw the introduction of the community-supported isolation and quarantine service (CIQ) for Covid-19.
This service allows patients to self-isolate at home rather than going into managed isolation (MIQ).
The period you spend in self isolation is dependent on your vaccination status – ranging from at least 10 days for those who are vaccinated to 14 days for those who are unvaccinated - including 72 hours symptom-free.
During this time, you're actively monitored by Healthline or another health provider, who will regularly check-in on you to make sure you are ok.
And while home isolation is the right approach to take pressure off the managed isolation (MIQ) facilities, ensuring it has capacity for those who require it, it's impossible to ignore the recent deaths of three people isolating at home.
Each of these deaths is tragic and will have a devastating impact on the whānau and communities affected.
The Ministry of Health recently completed a review and found that the deaths were "potentially preventable" and that there are "significant opportunities" to rapidly strengthen the capability, safety, equity and patient focus of the home isolation system.
Simply put, the system has failed these three individuals and their whānau.
Urgent action must be taken to ensure the system is fit for purpose. We need CIQ to work effectively to take pressure off our health workforce and hospitals as Covid-19 continues to spread through the country.
And its spread is inevitable. With Tāmaki Makaurau's border now open, the upcoming move to the Orange Traffic Light Framework for all regions except Northland, and the easing of restrictions at the border.
As a result, we will see increasing numbers of Kiwis self-isolating at home over summer.
With these changes and the emergence of the new Omicron variant in Aotearoa's MIQ facilities, it's perfectly natural to feel anxious about what the next couple of months may hold.
No matter what your region, living arrangements or vaccination status, now is the time to prepare for what you and your whānau would do if you caught Covid-19 and were required to self-isolate at home.
That way, if it's ever needed, you have a plan in place and ready to go, which can help take away some pressure in what is likely to be a stressful situation.
During this planning process, consider your living environment, the health of yourself and your loved ones, and what support systems you need to ensure you're safely supported.
While isolating at home may feel more appealing than MIQ due to the familiarity, you do need to take it seriously and monitor your symptoms because you can become seriously ill, very quickly.
If you start to feel any cold or flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, cough, or breathlessness, make sure you talk to a health professional and take steps to self-isolate immediately and get tested. In advance, consider the following.
Make a plan. Do you live with family or flatmates? Are there dependents under your care? Are there tasks you need to delegate while self-isolating?
Think and talk to those you live with (including younger ones) about how you reduce the chances of Covid-19 spreading across your household.
If you get sick, who will need to be informed? Identify people outside of your home who could help if your family is isolating, for example by dropping off food or supplies or for social support.
If you live alone, contact any friends or family members in advance to ask to be your 'support people' for contactless drop offs, if you need a morale boosting chat, or if your symptoms worsen.
What are the specific needs of your whānau or loved ones? Are there people in your household who might need additional care or support for any specific health or mental health needs that need to be considered?
Prepare an emergency contact list. Write down a non-household emergency contact, your CIQ provider's details, your doctor's contact details, and other key information on your medical background or regular medications. Stick it up somewhere easy to access.
Even if you can tick these boxes, home isolation may not be right for you. If you live alone and lack support or live in an overcrowded house, you might find that MIQ is your best option. If you think MIQ is right for you, make sure you tell your CIQ provider.
And importantly, if you are in a position where you need to implement your home-isolation plan, keep communicating with your family, friends, doctor and Healthline.
It's crucial to know when to ask for help and where to go. My main message is to listen to your body – you know it best.
If your physical symptoms deteriorate and you find you're getting increasingly breathless, or if you're not coping at home, get in touch with your emergency contacts immediately. Don't wait and never be afraid to reach out for help.
To help avoid any future tragedies while isolating at home, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Dr Mataroria Lyndon, Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Tend. He completed his Masters of Public Health at Harvard University and his PhD at the University of Auckland.