There have been two positive Covid-19 wastewater results in as many days this week in Te Awamutu, and it’s not yet clear why.
An epidemiologist says while it could be a recovered case still shedding the virus, locals need to take the positive detection seriously considering the 37 community cases in Waikato and the region’s proximity to Auckland.
Wastewater samples taken from Te Awamutu on Tuesday and Wednesday both tested positive for the Covid-19 virus, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Friday.
“Public health officials have yet to identify anyone who returned to the area from managed isolation and quarantine and could be shedding the virus in the area,” the ministry said.
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The Ministry of Health is urging anyone with symptoms of the virus to get tested.
“For this reason, anyone in the Te Awamutu area who has symptoms of Covid-19, or have family or household members who are symptomatic, or anyone who travels in and out of the area regularly for work, are urged to get tested as soon as possible.”
The ministry also asked anyone who has been at a location of interest at the relevant time and is now in Te Awamutu to get tested.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said wastewater testing is an early warning system, and you have to take any result seriously and explore it further.
Baker said it is a “pretty well-worn path” now as to what happens next – more wastewater testing to see if the positive results are repeated, while encouraging people to come forward and get tested.
“The main problem, as we all know, is people who have recovered continue to shed viral fragments, maybe for weeks or months.”
Health authorities also have limited knowledge about where people may be living who have been infected in the past, he said.
“Obviously there’s a few thousand people in New Zealand who have recovered.”
However, given the recent community cases in Waikato and the region’s proximity to Auckland, people should take these wastewater results seriously, Baker said.
He said “we know the borders are not perfect” and so people in Northland and Waikato are going to have to be cautious for the foreseeable future.
“Cases are going to rise to quite high levels in Auckland, and it’s hard not to imagine them spilling out across the country over time.”
Waipā District Mayor Jim Mylchreest said the second positive wastewater result in Te Awamutu is a wake-up call.
“I am blown away by how sensitive the testing can be, but it has proven to be very accurate, so we need to pay attention to it,” he said.
“Which means there is another good reason, if we need another, to get out and get vaccinated.”
Mylchreest hopes that people participate in Super Saturday and also continue to abide by the alert level 3 rules.
“It’s no good ignoring the situation, there is no way our health system could cope with it.
“Otherwise we will be in level 3 forever, hopefully we are able to go down to level 2 next week.”
A pop-up testing station was set up at the Te Awamutu Events Centre, across from the Te Awamutu Library, in Selwyn Lane on Thursday, after the first wastewater detection was announced.
Brent Gilpin, a senior scientist at ESR, where wastewater samples are sent for testing, said a second detection of the virus in a wastewater sample would strongly indicate someone in the catchment area is shedding the virus.
“If they haven’t yet been picked up in clinical testing, then we would definitely encourage anyone with symptoms or who has had contact with those outside the area to follow the health advice and get tested,” he said.
“In the meantime, to provide the best chance of limiting the spread, it’s best if everyone in the town treats everyone else as potentially infected and takes the appropriate precautions like wearing masks, keeping distance, et cetera.”
Te Awamutu is currently in alert level 3 along with the majority of the Waikato region.
Covid-19 was also detected in a wastewater sample from Raglan on Tuesday. This follows earlier detections from samples taken last week.
Raglan has had 18 confirmed Covid-19 cases, according to Waikato DHB figures released on Thursday afternoon. None were listed for Te Awamutu.
On Friday, more Waikato locations of interest were listed on the ministry’s website, including Super Value Raglan on Bow Street, and the public toilets on Cliff Street in Raglan.