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COVID-19 sewage tracing leads to pre-emptive community testing in NSW

Tracing COVID-19 through sewage is beginning to have a real-world impact, with pre-emptive community testing underway after traces of the virus were found at a treatment plant at ski destination Perisher in New South Wales (NSW).

Following the successful tracing of COVID-19 in wastewater streams, NSW Health started a research program to test sewage for traces of COVID-19 at a number of metropolitan and regional locations across the state, in order to support the public health response to the pandemic. 

“Initial samples collected at the Perisher sewage treatment plant on Wednesday, 22 July 2020 returned a positive result for the presence of COVID-19,” according to NSW Health. 

“While no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Perisher or Thredbo to date, it’s important that anyone who was in this area get tested if they have even the mildest of symptoms.

NSW Health stated that further sampling and analysis was required to assess the significance of this initial positive result.

“The positive sewage result can be due to shedding of the virus by someone who may have previously had the illness, with the virus ‘shedding’ through their system for up to four weeks later,” a statement from NSW Health said. 

Testing clinics are now in operation at Perisher Valley, Thredbo Village and Jindabyne, while residents and visitors in these areas have been asked to get tested if they have symptoms. 

Perisher and Thredbo ski fields opened the 2020 season with new rules in place, including pre-purchased tickets to significantly limit crowds, mandatory face coverings and social distancing requirements, limited food and beverage services and a strict ban on tobogganing and snow play.