Almost 30 per cent of people tested went back for more than one swab over the course of the pandemic.
Just over 70 per cent of people tested had experienced the unusual sensation of a nasopharyngeal swab just once (1,927,226 people).
One in five people (21 per cent) have been tested twice (577,871 people), 5.9 per cent three times (161,863 people) and 1.8 per cent four times (48,779 people).
Another 16,827 people had been swabbed five times and another 16,878 had more than five tests, accounting for 0.6 per cent of all tests each.
People living in the Northern Sydney Local Health District accounted for the highest proportion of tests – 15.5 per cent (623,354 swabs) – unsurprising given the northern beaches outbreak and the record-breaking testing days as the community heeded the call to test in the lead up to Christmas.
Northern Sydney LHD also encompasses the early outbreaks in Macquarie Park and Ryde in March when Sydney was just beginning to understand how devastating and disruptive this virus could be, though testing at the time was restricted to those recently returned from overseas hotspots.
Next came South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, with 12.6 per cent of all tests (504,620 swabs), the site of several early outbreaks, including the Bondi Beach backpackers cluster.
Western Sydney Local Health District was not far behind on 12 per cent (479,436 swabs), followed by South Western Sydney’s 11.8 per cent (471,427 people) – the home of the super-spreader event at the Crossroads Hotel that marked the beginning of NSW’s second wave.
The nostrils most swabbed belonged to people in their 30s, who accounted for 18 per cent of tests, followed by twenty-somethings (15.2 per cent) after much cajoling by politicians and health officials to do their bit for the public good, even though the disease posed a comparatively lesser risk to them than their elderly relatives.
Forty-somethings accounted for 14.4 per cent of tests, children under 10 years 13.1 per cent, fifty-somethings 11.4 per cent and 10-19 year-olds 11.1 per cent.
That left 60-69 year-olds with 8.7 per cent of tests, 70-79 year-olds 5.2 per cent, 80-89 2.2 per cent and 90 and older 0.7 per cent.
August was boom time for testing, with 18 per cent of all tested performed that month alone. Next was July with 15.5 per cent. The timing corresponds with the emergence of NSW’s second wave and Melbourne’s lockdown providing ample incentive to avoid a major outbreak in Sydney.
Just when all was quiet and it seemed as though NSW would sail into the new year with cases only in hotel quarantine to report, the Avalon cluster emerged, turbo-charging testing efforts. As a result, December 1 to 25 accounted for 12.81 per cent of all tests carried in NSW so far this year.
There are 355 testing clinics open across NSW, with frontline healthcare and pathology staff working long hours to collect and process testing samples.
The rush on testing in the days leading up to Christmas saw records smashed day after day, peaking at almost 70,000 tests on Christmas Eve with people hoping to get their negative results in time to spend the holiday with their loved ones.
But on Boxing Day, the number of tests dropped below 24,000, causing consternation within NSW Health’s COVID headquarters.
On Sunday, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant stressed the importance of high testing rates to find those undetected chains of transmission within the community.
NSW Health has launched a public health messaging blitz in an effort to boost the number of people getting swabbed.
“I can’t stress how important it is [for] anyone with the most minimal of symptoms across the state,” Dr Chant said. “We are at a critical stage in our response and unless we have those high testing rates, it does not give us adequate assurance that we are not missing undetected lines of transmission.
“We may never find the exact source [of the Avalon cluster] and the links but what’s most important is we are not missing unrecognised chains of transmission.”
The 4 million tests include swabs of travellers in hotel quarantine. These tests are designated to the local health district in which the travellers live. Interstate travellers are classified as unassigned and account for 6.2 per cent of tests.
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Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.