ALERT: Sewer sleuths find virus in tourist hotspot
UPDATE 1.40pm: Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the sewage surveillance program was just one part of a wider response to COVID-19 and that a positive sample was no concern for the community.
Viral fragments of COVID-19 have been detected in a sample from the Cannonvale-Airlie Beach sewage treatment plant.
The sample was taken as part of a joint Queensland Health, University of Queensland and CSIRO pilot research program to test sewage for traces of COVID-19.
Sampling has been taking place at several locations across Queensland since mid-July, including Mackay and the Whitsundays.
Dr Young said she had asked Queensland's Hospital and Health Services to be ready to respond to any scenario and to set up pop-up testing clinics as needed.
"This research is helping us to inform our response and supports the need for ongoing vigilance and testing," she said.
"I'm not concerned about the finding of these viral fragments and it should be of no concern to the community, but just to put everyone's minds at ease, we have stood up a pop-up testing clinic at the Airlie Beach Lagoon carpark till Sunday from 10am to 4pm. If anyone has COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, they should go and get tested.
"A positive sewage result meant that someone who has been infected was shedding the virus. Infected people can shed viral fragments and that shedding can happen for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious. The viral fragments themselves are not infectious.
"Drinking water is treated before it reaches your tap and is safe to drink and shower. There is no risk in watering your garden or swimming.
"It's also important to remember that the usual wastewater treatment processes are specifically designed to get rid of microorganisms, including viruses, by removing or killing them, before any water is returned to the environment.
"Just like anywhere else in Queensland, it remains the case that it's really important that anyone with symptoms gets tested.
"So, anyone feeling unwell with even the mildest of COVID-19 symptoms should go and get tested as soon as possible, and self-isolate until they get their result.
"Stay at home, don't have visitors, and don't go to work, or anywhere else, until you get your test results and know you are clear of COVID-19."
Further wastewater testing will be undertaken as the research program continues, and more information on the program itself will be released when appropriate.
The surveillance program includes south-east Queensland and a limited number of other sites, based on major population centres and tourism hubs.
The program began in mid-July and will run for 13 weeks. Current locations are listed below, but may change:
• Gold Coast
• Sunshine Coast
• Hervey Bay
• Cannonvale-Airlie Beach
UPDATE 11.30AM: Whitsunday residents have been assured drinking water remains safe for consumption after revelations COVID-19 was detected in sewage samples.
A COVID fragment was detected in sewage in the Airlie Beach, Cannon Valley, Cannonvale, Cape Conway, Jubilee Pocket, Mandalay, Mount Rooper and Shute Harbour water treatment plant.
"Importantly the virus fragment was detected in sewage and has nothing to do with the quality of our drinking water," a statement from Whitsunday Regional Council read.
"Our water is safe to drink, to shower in and to use in cooking.
"We understand detections like this can make people nervous about drinking water and beach swimming.
"Drinking water is treated before being delivered to your tap and remains safe to drink.
"The virus is killed by usual sewage treatment processes before it is discharged to the environment.
"The wastewater treatment process is designed to inactivate (kill) or remove even the toughest microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa."
Testing of the sewage samples was done in the past two weeks.
The Mackay Hospital and Health Service moved swiftly to activate a pop-up testing clinic at the Airlie Beach lagoon carpark from 10am - 4pm until Sunday.
A second testing site has been set up at Port of Airlie on Cove Rd.
People can drive in and walk in to be tested between 9am and 4pm seven days a week.
"It's important to step up testing to keep our community COVID free," the council statement read.
"If we don't test, we won't know.
"To avoid an outbreak and the restrictions which follow everyone is urged to play their part to keep the Whitsundays safe and open for business."
INITIAL: AUTHORITIES are setting up a fever clinic in Airlie Beach today after coronavirus was detected in a sewage sample in the Whitsundays.
It is unknown whether the positive detection comes from someone who was infectious and symptomatic and did not get tested, or someone infectious but yet to develop symptoms.
It is understood it could also have come from a recovered COVID case shedding the dead virus.
Detections can provide an indication there are people in a particular wastewater catchment who have a current infection with COVID-19, or who have been infected in the recent past.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said there was a renewed call to action for people in the Whitsundays to get tested to protect the community and the tourism sector in the region.
He said the government had been working with the University of Queensland on a surveillance program.
"Some results from that program have recently suggested there may have been a case of COVID-19 in the Airlie Beach area," he said.
"And with the utmost of caution the Mackay Hospital and Health Service is standing up a fever clinic in Airlie Beach today.
"We'd like to emphasise this is not considered a high-risk.
"We are taking this action with the utmost of caution and as part of our regular program of popping up fever clinics in tourist locations.
"We simply want to see an increase in the level of testing in that area so we can assure ourselves there isn't cases of community transmission there that we don't know about so we can keep our tourism industry there safe and open."
Mr Miles reported two news cases of COVID-19 in Queensland overnight, believed to be linked to the detention centre cluster.
He said the man and woman were aged between 30 and 39 years, with one of them working in an aged care facility.
Queensland Health partnered with researchers from UQ and CSIRO for the pilot wastewater surveillance program for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 patients may shed viral fragments in their faeces, and from used tissues.
Viral fragments can also enter the wastewater network when washed off hands and bodies via basins, sinks and showers.
Samples of wastewater have been taken from wastewater treatment plants across Queensland and analysed for fragments of the virus.
The results from this pilot program were expected to add to the information obtained through clinical testing and enhance the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In delivering this program, Queensland joins other Australian states that are monitoring their wastewater for COVID.