The NSW team stopping COVID-19 in its tracks
The ranks of the state's crack disease detectives have been ramped up ahead of testing in the latest COVID-19 hot spots, in a clear sign NSW's virus crisis is far from over.
In a race against time, the army of contact tracers has been making up to 1300 calls a day to save lives by hunting down everyone who has had contact with a person diagnosed with coronavirus, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
It comes as Premier Gladys Berejiklian begged people in hotspot areas of Penrith, the inner west, Liverpool, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra, Blacktown, the Cumberland area, Westmead and Ryde to get tested - even if they had only mild symptoms - as she set an ambitious target of 4500 tests every day.
"It is really important for us to manage the spread, control the spread by clamping down on these people who are getting community-to-community transmission," she said.
The Premier also urged anyone in "high risk" COVID-19 categories to get tested if they became unwell.
"That's a really strong message (that) we want to reiterate every day this week," Ms Berejiklian said.
"Last week, we peaked … at around 4500 tests in a day, and we want to get back up to that number."
Another major shipment of test kits is on the way to Australia and is expected to allow wider testing for the virus.
In recent weeks Australia has received more than 150,000 kits, but it is understood an ongoing arrangement to import a significantly higher number of tests has now been established.
Director of Contact Tracing Carolyn Murray, yesterday said there was no time to lose.
"It's a very now thing," the former nurse said.
Another 30 professionals were trained up on Tuesday after people in the previously mentioned hot spots - as well as in Manning and Lake Macquarie - were urged to get tests for fear of fresh outbreaks.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said they had identified cases of COVID-19 across those suburbs where there were no clear links to clusters.
When it comes to containing the deadly virus and reducing transmission, NSW Health's dedicated contact tracing team of 150 is second only in importance to the state's frontline medical staff.
They interview everyone who has tested positive, and turn back the clock to track down all their contacts from the 24 hours before they first showed symptoms.
The sleuthing includes contacting family, friends, colleagues, coffee shops and even anyone they may have sat within two rows of on a plane.
The current bans on people gather in groups have made it easier.
Ms Murray said most of the calls were made to people who had no idea they could be in danger.
"They are surprised more than anything, but they are looking for as much information as we can give them to keep themselves safe and most are concerned about others," Ms Murray, assistant director in the Centre for Population Health, said.
They are advised to self-isolate, and both those who have tested positive and their possible contacts are telephoned every three days - sometimes daily - to be checked on.
The team of 150 also helps the elderly and isolated with grocery shopping and pharmacy deliveries.
The majority of people have contracted COVID-19 overseas and there have been 738 identified as linked to a confirmed case or known cluster - but 367 cases remain a mystery.
"It's not an emergency department," Ms Murray said.
"We have to methodically go through the work. It is our role to support these people and we need to be calm and caring.
"I'm really proud of my team. They are the most compassionate and kind people you will ever meet."
From one corner in a St Leonards building when the team was established in early March, they have spread across a whole floor, swollen by defence force personnel.
It is part of the Pandemic Response Plan, but on a scale never seen before said Ms Murray, who also led the contact tracing during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
Ms Berejiklian yesterday said that while just 16 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, she greeted the number "with a degree of caution," because of low testing rates, with only 1305 people tested on that day.
In addition to the extra testing kits, the federal government is also expecting a significant volume of masks to arrive in Australia over the next few weeks, which will support the escalation in testing.
Originally published as The NSW team stopping COVID-19 in its tracks