COVID-19 specimen collection & requests for respiratory virus PCR

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

COVID-19 specimen collection & Requests for respiratory virus PCR

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global emergency, presenting challenges to healthcare systems that are unprecedented in scope and degree. In such times of crisis, there is a need for accurate information that is trusted, readily accessible and regularly updated. Such information is available from many sources, but the amount of information and the rate at which recommendations change can be overwhelming. Southern.IML Pathology plans to compile laboratory updates that will present the most important developments and recommendations as they occur.

Requests for non-COVID-19 respiratory virus PCR

The scale of COVID-19 testing required to confront the evolving pandemic far exceeds available testing capacity and this disparity has made a process of triage necessary. As an unavoidable consequence of the national effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, laboratories will be unable to perform all tests requested.

  • All respiratory viarl swabs are undergoing COVID-19 tests.  Where a COVID-19 test is requrested, this will be processed without other testing.  Where a respiratory viral swab is requested, it will be processed for influenza A, influenza B and RSV as well as COVID-19.  The full respiratory viaral panel is currently unavailable due to prioritisation during the pandemic.

Please feel free to discuss this decision with one of our Clinical Microbiologist (02) 4224 7474.

Criteria for testing

The criteria for COVID-19 testing are listed on the NSW Health website and are subject to change as the global situation changes.
Please click here to link to the NSW Health website.

What to request

  • COVID PCR on throat + nasal swab

              – Single swab for both sites preferred

  • Advise patients to self-isolate until their result is available

             – Provide self-isolation factsheet

Specimen collection

When an individual meets the criteria for testing, and specimen collection needs to be arranged, the following options exist.

Note: All patients must have a pathology request for COVID-19 testing which specifies the criteria for testing and which is signed by the referring doctor.

1) Doctor collection

Doctor collections can be performed when a patient presents with mild illness (no severe coughing or shortness of breath).
Full personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, gown, mask and eye protection must be worn. COVID-19 swab collection instructions are available here or in the downloadable brochure below.
If severe illness (severe coughing and shortness of breath), please send the patient to the nearest public hospital Emergency Department.

2) Dedicated COVID-19 Southern.IML Pathology collection centres

  • A number of Southern.IML Pathology collection centres have been designated as COVID-19 testing facilities.
  • All patients must contact our COVID-19 Booking Centre on Hotline on 4224 7474, between Monday to Friday 9am–5pm for an appointment.
  • Only low-risk COVID-19 patients should be referred to a Southern.IML Pathology designated COVID-19 collection centre.

3) Self-collection

Validation studies conducted support the accuracy of self-collected throat and nasal specimens. This is a convenient way to test and helps limit the spread of the virus to collection staff, doctors and other patients, while preserving PPE. 

Useful websites



COVID-19 Updates

COVID-19  Testing Update 23 March2020 Download Information
COVID-19 Testing Update 14 April 2020 Download Information