Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Samoan church cluster – pastors, elders among positive cases, community rallying

Several pastors and elders are among those to have contracted Covid as part of the church cluster now dominating the community outbreak.

Members of the South Auckland and wider Pasifika and Samoan communities are rallying to support people who were at the August 15 service that was attended by a person or persons who latest tested positive for Covid.

The service was held at the Assembly of God Church of Samoa, on Andrew Baxter Drive in Māngere, between 9am and 3pm and had representatives from up to 25 churches from around the region and outside of Auckland.

Church spokesman Jerome Mika told the Herald more than 500 people who were at the service had been tested for Covid, and another huge effort to test everyone again today was underway.

Of the 58 confirmed positive cases linked to the service, many are said to be the elderly.

Some of the pastors, as well as their immediate families, were among positive cases, Mika said.

“It hasn’t discriminated. A lot of our elders are affected.”

Mika could not say whether any children were among the positive cases.

Because everyone who was at the service is deemed to be a close contact – and therefore have to self-isolate for two weeks – dozens of food and grocery parcels had been organised by South Auckland-based Pacific healthcare provider South Seas Healthcare.

Charitable trust and Pacific social change agency The Cause Collective is also supporting families involved.

Church families staying strong during uncertain time

Mika said they had distributed about 40 food parcels to families yesterday.

“They’re staying strong and they were very grateful, of course,” he said.

“The uncertainty is overwhelming, so we’re trying to bring just a bit of calmness to the situation.”

Mika said they were still trying to track how the virus found its way to them that Sunday, but said at least one person who attended the service works at a McDonald’s restaurant, in West Auckland, that has since been named as a location of interest.

Mika, who is a member of a different church branch and was not at the service, said church leaders were trying to get a message across that they had been and are co-operating with Ministry of Health officials.

Blame game unfair and unhelpful

He acknowledged there had been a lot of backlash from some members of the public who had started to play the blame game, he said.

“The ministers have worked really hard to get everyone tested and everyone has been tested. That was the first step for us – was to get everybody tested.

“It’s been overwhelming and it’s galvanising the church. But they’re not and should not be used as a scapegoat.”

Pasifika peoples have the highest Covid testing rate in New Zealand, to date. This latest outbreak is again seeing a huge turnout from the Pasifika community at testing stations around Auckland.

Health authorities, Pasifika health experts and politicians continue to push the message to get vaccinated.

People who attended the church service are now liaising closely with the Pasifika healthcare providers as their staff members could speak Samoan – something Mika said was hugely important in getting messages across from both sides.

“A lot of our elders, if you have someone asking them if they’re a close contact or casual contact, that’s hard to understand and it’s hard to try to answer those questions [in English].

“Then to be told that’s being unresponsive is unfair because we have been co-operating.”

Church leaders and members of the affected congregations are now working to get people vaccinated against Covid. One of the main church leaders is due to get his first jab today.

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