Situation update

As the situation in Victoria unfolds and also any outbreaks which may occur in NSW, it is important to increase testing to ensure any new cases or outbreaks are identified and managed rapidly.

Except in special circumstances, people who have recovered from COVID-19 should not be tested prior to release from isolation. See also Release from isolation.

There is no requirement for testing before returning to work. Requests for such swabs should be declined.

Increasing testing for COVID-19 in NSW for those with symptoms

Symptoms​ of COVID-19 include fever (≥37.5), cough, sore throat, shortness of breath (difficulty breathing), runny nose, loss of smell and loss of taste.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, diarrhoea, nausea/vomiting and loss of appetite. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.

Unexplained chest pain and conjunctivitis have also been reported as symptoms of COVID-19.

If these symptoms present in the absence of any clinical focus of infection or alternate explanation of illness, they may indicate infection with COVID-19

NSW Health recommends that anyone with respiratory symptoms, loss of sense of smell or taste, or unexplained fever should be tested for COVID-19.

This is especially important for:

  • anyone who lives or works in a high risk setting, including healthcare facilities, aged care and other residential facilities, schools, prisons, and other closed settings
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people who are close contacts of a confirmed case
  • people who have returned from Victoria or exempted overseas travellers in the last 14 days
  • anyone admitted to hospital.

Please make sure any health care, aged care or disability support workers or residents are noted on the laboratory request form so their test can be prioritised​.

Routine tests for acute pneumonia/pneumonitis should also be performed where indicated according to local protocols.

Special circumstances

Immunocompromised people who were confirmed or probable cases, must have two PCR negative respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart at least 7 days after symptom onset, in addition to meeting the release from isolation criteria.

Asymptomatic people do not usually require testing, except in special circumstances, e.g. active case finding in outbreak settings or returned travellers from overseas or Victoria. For further advice please see the COVID-19 control guideline for public health units or call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.

Testing for COVID-19

Testing for COVID-19 in primary and tertiary care settings requires the collection of nasal and throat swabs. See details of testing technique.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health care worker (HCW) using contact and droplet precautions: gown, surgical mask, protective eyewear, gloves; and hand hygiene products.
  • Add airborne precautions during aerosol-generating procedures.
  • Single swab for deep nasal and oropharyngeal collection (may be dacron or rayon, although flocked preferred) and transport medium (e.g. Universal Transport Medium (UTM), Viral Transport Medium (VTM), Liquid Amies). Dry swabs are not recommended.
  • Note the tube contains liquid so splashes, spills and leaks in transit must be prevented.

There is no requirement to call the Public Health Unit before referring a patient for a test but they can provide additional advice or assistance if needed (1300 066 055).

For hospital clinical staff managing patients with severe symptoms (e.g. dyspnoea or severe cough)

Advice to give to patients sent home

  • Advise patients to self-isolate while they wait for their COVID-19 test result – this may take between 24 and 72 hours.
  • Provide the self-isolation fact sheet.
  • Patients who are already insolating at home must continue to self-isolate for 14 days since last travel or exposure even if the test is negative. This includes patients who:
    • are exempted overseas travellers
    • were a close contact of a confirmed case.
  • Please see also the release from isolation advice.
  • If swab was collected at a NSW Health COVID-19 clinic or emergency department, encourage the patient to register to receive their results by SMS.

COVID-19 case alerts

See the latest case locations and areas of increased testing at Latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW​

Contact the Public Health Unit (1300 066 055)

If you are notified of a positive COVID-19 test result, need advice, or have concerns about the ability of a patient to self-isolate, e.g. if they live in a residential facility, contact the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.​​​​​​​

Page Updated: Monday 19 October 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW