A sample of Clarence Valley sewage water is collected to be tested for COVID-19. Photo: Clarence Valley Council
A sample of Clarence Valley sewage water is collected to be tested for COVID-19. Photo: Clarence Valley Council

COVID—19 tests taken from Clarence sewage

THE Clarence Valley is now being tested for traces of COVID-19 in its sewage as part of a NSW Health initiative to give early warnings of the disease in an area

Clarence Valley Council head of water cycle Greg Mashiah said the first samples were sent today to a specialised lab in Sydney.

The tests occurred at the Yamba sewage works, and the two in Grafton and North Grafton. Mr Mashiah said it had come following requests from council over the past month.

“We wanted the coastal areas to be included, and NSW Health has agreed to take the sample from Yamba as being representative of our coastal area,” he said.

The samples are taken from the raw sewage on the intake to the planted, and follow a precise series of instructions to ensure their preservation.

“They are packed in ice, and delivered by courier to a specialised lab in Sydney within 24 hours,” Mr Mashiah said.

“The tests are done in the morning as that’s when the highest flow usually occurs.”

NSW Health has requested weekly testing from the Clarence sites, and Mr Mashiah said it could extend beyond that period at the request of NSW Health.

Mr Mashiah said he was unsure of how long results would take from the first sample, but said it was good timing to start the tests.

“With the Queensland … and now Victorian borders about to open, there is likely to be tourists from there in the area,” he said.

“I think it’s important that we are sampling the coastal areas as well as Grafton … and we’re pleased they agreed to that.”

The NSW Sewage Surveillance Research Program tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus at more than 60 sewage treatment plants across NSW to provide data to support NSW Health’s COVID-19 response.

NSW Health said that testing sewage can help provide early warning of an increase in infections in an area, and potentially give an estimate of undetected infections in the community. These tests provide data to support NSW Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to NSW Health, there are several different situations that could be occurring when fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are found in the sewage. It could mean there has been one or more people who are infectious with COVID-19 in the catchment area. It could also mean that there has been one or more people in the catchment area who have recently recovered and are no longer infectious.

People who are recently recovered from COVID-19 can sometimes continue to shed virus fragments into the sewerage system for several weeks even after they are no longer infectious. It could also mean that a person with COVID-19 might have visited the community and has since left the area.

On the North Coast, five sites have previously been tested weekly since August 1, with sites at Byron Bay, Ocean Shores, Ballina, Kingscliff and Hastings Point. Only the Byron Bay sewage returned a positive test on August 1.

Testing in Coffs Harbour began on October 3, with results all clear for the four tests since.



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