More than 850 people have so far visited an iwi-run Covid-19 station in Kaikohe with just over 300 swabbed for the virus.

The drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre is open seven days a week and is operated by health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi on behalf of Te Rūnanga-a-iwi o Ngāpuhi.

Testing is done in a marquee next to the rūnanga's headquarters on Mangakahia Rd.

From April 3 until closing time on Wednesday 854 people visited the centre, 302 of whom were swabbed to check for the virus.

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Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi nurse Rhonda Zielinski welcomes a patient at Kaikohe's drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi nurse Rhonda Zielinski welcomes a patient at Kaikohe's drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre. Photo / Peter de Graaf

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Nurse Rhonda Zielinski said Kaikohe had clocked up the highest number of tests in Northland after Whangārei.

Tests were initially carried out by the district health board at its Rankin St base but it wasn't well attended so the rūnanga's interim boss, Te Rōpu Poa, put her hand up and pulled together a team.

''We've had a really good response. People like the fact they can turn up here and know us from other walks of life because we live here. It makes a difference when you have your own looking after your own,'' Zielinski said.

Te Hau Ora o Ngapuhi nurse Rhonda Zielinski at Kaikohe's drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Te Hau Ora o Ngapuhi nurse Rhonda Zielinski at Kaikohe's drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Ngāpuhi's assessment centre had also been the catalyst for other iwi around Northland to set up their own testing stations.

The busiest days at Kaikohe came after a staff member at the town's New World supermarket was found to have Covid-19. That news was reported on the evening of Saturday, April 4; on Sunday 153 people turned up, of whom 30 were swabbed. The numbers were similar on the Monday and Tuesday.

''We had three really busy days because that caused a lot of worry for whānau. A good proportion had shopped at New World but weren't sick so we reassured them and sent them away with information,'' Zielinski said.

Generally only people with symptoms were tested though the Health Ministry's criteria changed regularly.

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''But at the end of the day we make a clinical decision on site. If someone has driven up from Awarua to be tested, even if they've got no symptoms, I'm still going to swab them.''

People who arrive at the centre are stopped at the entrance where a nurse decides if they need to come in or can be sent away with advice and reassurance.

If they need to be tested they answer a series of questions at the next stop then drive to the marquee, the only point where they get out of their vehicle.

They are ushered in by a nurse clad in full protective gear who takes a nasal swab. The whole process is over in minutes.

Zielinksi said a marquee, with its circulating air, was safer for staff than an enclosed room.

Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi had also run pop-up clinics at Tautoro, outside New World and on Hongi St, and did home visits for elderly patients afraid to leave their bubbles.

Staff were working closely with the health board which had set a cabin next door to deliver flu shots.

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By taking over virus testing in Kaikohe, the iwi had freed up health board staff to carry out contact tracing and other Covid-19 related work, she said.

The health board does not release the numbers of positive Covid-19 tests by location but the Advocate understands at least four people in Kaikohe have been found to have the virus.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website