Increased COVID testing for sewage treatment plants

Wingecarribee Shire

Wingecarribee Shire Council is working with NSW Health to increase COVID testing schedules at Council’s Sewage Treatment Plants in a bid to keep the Shire COVID-safe.

Council’s General Manager Lisa Miscamble said the increased surveillance was a precautionary measure.

“With neighbouring local government areas in lockdown this is a proactive measure we’re taking to help protect our community,” she said.

Across the Shire Council manages and operates six separate Sewage Treatment Plants (STP’s). Three larger plants service the Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale areas while three smaller STP’s manage the villages of Bundanoon, Berrima and Robertson.

Two samples are currently provided each week to NSW Health from Council’s larger STP’s with additional samples provided as requested.

Sewage samples are taken by Council staff and provided to NSW Health for laboratory analysis. The testing is performed by specialised laboratories which look for viral fragments of SARS-CoV-2. These fragments can be shed from an infected person when washing their hands and bodies in sinks or showers.

Ms Miscamble said the additional testing could help provide an early warning of an increase in infections.

“As seen with the fragments detected in our Moss Vale sewage system last week, testing can help track infections in the community,” she said. “Because our sewage treatment plants are not interconnected, the tests also help to narrow down the area of the infected persons.”

The tests cannot identify individuals nor detect the household the virus fragments originated from.

NSW Health regularly tests for fragments of the virus at more than 60 STP’s across NSW with data provided to support the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased surveillance at the sewage treatment plants follows additional proactive COVID-safe measures introduced by Council to help limit staff movement and protect residents. Council has already introduced weekly COVID testing of essential Council employees and contractors who live outside the area, organised flexible work arrangements and limited face-to-face contact in public areas.

“The health and safety of our employees, their families and our residents remain our primary focus,” Ms Miscamble stressed. “By continuing to work together with our Government partners we’re helping to restrict the virus and protect our community.”

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