MID North Coast Local Health District is urging residents and visitors to the region to get tested for COVID-19 at the first sign of symptoms, following the detection of virus fragments in sewage samples taken from the Coffs Harbour and Bonny Hills sewage treatment plants.
Newcastle and NSW Hunter Valley residents have also been urged to come forward for testing after "very high viral load" was detected in the region's sewage.
There are currently no COVID positive cases on the Mid North Coast.
The Coffs Harbour sewage treatment plant serves about 57,400 people from the urban areas of Coffs Harbour, while Bonny Hills serves around 7,010 residents of Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills in the Port Macquarie-Hastings local government area.
There have been no sewage detections in samples taken at the district's three other testing sites - Port Macquarie, Dunbogan and South West Rocks.
We strongly encourage residents and visitors in the area to remain vigilant and get tested at the first sign of illness.MNCLHD chief executive Stewart Dowrick
"Testing sewage can help provide early warning of undetected infections in an area. In this instance, where there are no known cases of COVID-19 this is of particular concern," Mr Dowrick said.
"Detection of virus fragments in sewage can also be due to shedding of the virus by someone who may have previously had the illness and may no longer be infectious. It can also be the result of a person with COVID-19 who may have visited the community and has since left the area.
"As well as being present in stools, viral fragments can enter the sewer when washed off hands and bodies through sinks and showers.
"Usual sewage treatment processes inactivate, or kill, the COVID-19 virus.
"We strongly encourage residents and visitors in the area to remain vigilant and get tested at the first sign of illness."
NSW's COVID numbers hit a record on Wednesday, August 4 with 233 more cases and two deaths - a man in his 20s and a woman in her 80s.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian and chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said health authorities were "very concerned".
The Mid North Coast has been COVID-free for 465 days.
Last month, a COVID-positive person from Sydney visited several sites in Coffs Harbour forcing the shutdown of the Hoey Moey pub and a construction site with all close contacts sent into isolation for 14 days.
A mass testing clinic was quickly established at the Coffs Harbour International Sports Stadium and sewage surveillance was ramped up.
Two men who later travelled home to Sydney with the infected person subsequently caught the virus.
The Mid North Coast Local Health District has experienced increased COVID-19 testing since the Bondi cluster began in mid-June.
The Port Macquarie COVID-19 testing clinic moved from Lake Road to a drive-through clinic at Port Macquarie Regional Stadium as testing numbers increased due to the Sydney outbreak.
A full list of clinic locations and opening hours are listed on the NSW government website at COVID-19 testing clinics.
What is COVID sewage testing?
The NSW Sewage Surveillance Program tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 virus at 60 sewage treatment plant locations across NSW.
Sewage testing has been an extra level of surveillance in the Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour regions since October 2020.
Testing sewage can help track infections in the community and provide early warning of an increase in infections. These tests provide data to support NSW Health's response to COVID-19.
An infected person can shed virus in their faeces even if they do not have any symptoms, and shedding can continue for several weeks after they are no longer infectious.
NSW Health says there are several different situations that could be occurring when fragments of the COVID 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; someone has recovered and is no longer infectious; or a person with COVID might have visited the community and has since left the area.
COVID-19 testing capacity increased
Additional resources have been allocated to testing clinics in the Mid North Coast Local Health District, to increase capacity in response to the sewage detection.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include a runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, tiredness, loss of taste or smell, nausea, diarrhoea or muscle aches.
Anyone feeling unwell should immediately get tested and self-isolate until they receive a negative result, so that any potential cases in the community are identified as quickly as possible.
There are COVID-19 testing clinics located across the Mid North Coast Local Health District located at Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Macksville, Nambucca Heads, Port Macquarie, South West Rocks, Wauchope and Woolgoolga.
Meanwhile, new figures show 17.5 per cent of people aged 15 and over on the Mid-North Coast are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The figure stands at 45.5 per cent of Mid-North Coast residents aged 15 and over when it comes to those who have received "at least" one vaccine dose.
MNCLHD is encouraging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves against COVID-19.
There are more than 100 NSW vaccination clinics and outreach locations across the state.
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