Month’s worth of COVID sewage monitoring data missing
BYRON Shire Council has queried why data from weeks worth of sewage tests have gone unreported, with no response from NSW Health.
The council has been among many across the state which has been providing NSW Health with samples of wastewater for its Sewage Surveillance Program which tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 virus.
A wastewater sample taken from one of the Byron Shire's wastewater treatment plants in mid-December was inadvertently damaged as the courier responsible for collecting this sample did not turn up to transport it, the council said.
"Council staff put the sample in the freezer and, due to the temperature for storage being too cold, resulted in the sample not being able to be used," acting mayor Michael Lyon said.
"This was an inadvertent error and council apologises."
Cr Lyon said the council had been providing samples as part of the Sewage Surveillance Program since July.
"We have continued to provide weekly samples since the error for the week ending on 22 December," he said.
But no samples from the Byron Shire have been recorded by NSW Health since the week ending November 28.
For the weeks ending December 5, 12, 19 and 26 the Byron Bay and Ocean Shores plants are listed as having been not sampled, or those samples have not been analysed.
The freezing bungle only accounts for one week's worth of data and Cr Lyon said he understands samples were taken and supplied in that time, but it is unclear why no results have appeared on the NSW Health website.
"We have asked why," he said.
Other councils have had a similar gap ‒ North Grafton, South Grafton and Yamba have missed the same four weeks as well as several others.
The Murwillumbah and Banora Point plants in the Tweed Shire have had no results recorded from October 24 to December 19.
Cr Lyon was hopeful if there were any positive results in those samples, they would have been flagged earlier.
"If that have been positive tests then we would know about it," he said.
"That's me having faith in our Department of Health."
He said while it would be ideal to have all the data, the contact tracing protocols already in place will help to get any theoretical outbreak under control.
North Coast Public Health director Paul Corben said the council was given "clarifying guidance" on "the correct handling of specimens to avoid further problems with sample testing".