COVID testing clinics throughout the Hunter were "slammed" on Monday as thousands of residents raced to get tested following the closure of three local venues for deep cleaning.
More than 2500 Hunter residents presented for testing at public and private COVID clinics following reports the Lambton Park Hotel, Wallsend Diggers and Hotel Jesmond had been closed for deep cleaning. The closures came after a Sydney construction worker in his 20s visited the sites while infectious.
Hunter New England Health public health physician Dr David Durrheim said anyone who attended Wallsend Diggers on July 29 and 30 between 9pm and 11pm, Hotel Jesmond on July 29 from 7pm to 9pm, and the Lambton Park Hotel on July 30 from 8pm to 9pm is now required to isolate for 14 days - regardless of symptoms.
"Because pubs and clubs are high risk venues for transmission, we are following the NSW Health approach that anybody that was there at those times has to now be isolated for 14 days from those dates - strict home isolation - and they have to be tested for COVID-19," Dr Durrheim said. "A negative result doesn't mean they can leave isolation. If they develop any symptoms, they need to be tested again."
Patrons who attended the venues after these times are at "lower risk", and do not need to isolate.
But Hunter New England Health urged those patrons to be on the look out for symptoms and get tested immediately if even mild ones develop.
"These venues have now been thoroughly cleaned and so there is no ongoing risk."
A confirmed coronavirus case also attended Toronto Court House last week, prompting health officials to call for anyone who attended the Toronto Court House between 7am and 2pm on July 27 to be alert for symptoms and seek testing for COVID-19 if they develop.
A surge in demand for Warners Bay's new drive-through testing clinic left police grappling with a major traffic snarl on Hillsborough Road on Monday morning.
Nick Burns, the district manager of the 4Cyte Pathology clinic, said they had done "hundreds" of swabs at both the Warners Bay and Wallsend sites on Monday.
"We opened at Warners Bay last week and did very high numbers, but you wouldn't have known we were here - the traffic was flowing nice and easy," he said. "But the news about Wallsend Diggers and the other venues has certainly spiked the testing."
Mr Burns said there had been a "morning rush" of people wanting to get tested early.
"The clinic operates throughout the day, so we would encourage people to come a little bit later rather than having everyone come at 8am," he said.
Hundreds of people also presented for testing at John Hunter Hospital's COVID testing clinic as long queues formed outside. Phone lines for bookings at other clinics were inundated with calls.
Dr Paul Craven, the medical controller for the Hunter's COVID-19 response, said they had opened another lane at the University of Newcastle drive-through testing clinic to cope with the higher demand.
"It has been a phenomenally busy day - one of our busiest days, definitely," Dr Craven said.
"We had all hands on deck.
"And behind all that is our amazing pathologists running these tests. They'll have a late night, and early morning tomorrow. Running thousands of tests."
Dr Craven estimated close to 2000 people would have been tested for the virus at the Hunter's public clinics on Monday alone.
"I know the private pathology labs have done hundreds of swabs between them too," he said. "We tend to find as soon as there is an announcement, people immediately want to have that swab straight away. What we say is that we want you to self-isolate straight away, because you can't spread it then, and then try to book an appointment."
Both Dr Craven and Dr Durrheim thanked the Hunter community for coming forward for testing, and for their patience during periods of high demand.
"Almost every day there is a mystery case - an unknown source case - and that makes me really concerned that there may be low level community transmission in some parts of Sydney," Dr Durrheim said.
"We don't want that in the Hunter New England area, so that's why we'd be urging people to really think very carefully about where they travel - either from Sydney regionally, or from our area down to Sydney.
"What we are seeing is that people have become complacent, we are seeing people not keeping the 1.5 metres and in reality, we won't know if the person standing close to us isn't from Sydney and isn't infectious. We really need to get back to doing that properly.
"The other thing is that if a venue feels crowded - vote with your feet and don't attend."
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