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UW System To Deploy 250K Rapid COVID-19 Tests Through Federal Partnership

UW Campuses First Sites In Nation To Deploy Abbott BinaxNOW To Local Residents

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A man in a face mask, face shield, gown, and gloves handles a COVID-19 test at an outdoor testing facility under a tent
A COVID-19 test technician handles a test Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, at a pedestrian-friendly testing location at UW-Madison. Angela Major/WPR

University of Wisconsin System campuses will serve as the country’s first sites for community-wide coronavirus testing using a new test designed for “surge testing.”

The project, announced Wednesday, is happening through a UW System partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS will be providing 250,000 Abbot BinaxNOW tests, which can detect proteins in the coronavirus within 15 minutes, to UW campuses.

On Aug. 27, President Donald Trump’s administration awarded a $760 million contract to Abbott for production of 150 million BinaxNOW test kits.

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According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration factsheet, the test has emergency authorization to be used in detecting COVID-19 within seven days of a person showing symptoms. The tests are similar to those being used throughout the UW System for surveillance of dorm residents.

UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson told reporters Wednesday that some campuses would start the expanded testing programs this week, with most others beginning on Monday. He said the goal is to use up the 250,000 tests over a five-week period.

A press release from the UW System said campuses are working to set up community testing sites with medical support from eTrueNorth, a company specializing in expanding medical services provided by pharmacies.

The Abbot BinaxNOW tests will be free and accessible to both students and the general public, according to the UW System. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services will supply 30,000 PCR tests, which are used to diagnose positive cases of COVID-19, as part of the project.

“Our universities are perfectly positioned to help Wisconsin combat the spread of COVID-19,” said UW-System Interim-President Tommy Thompson. “This is the Wisconsin Idea in action, and a recognition of our existing work to keep our students, faculty, and staff as safe as possible during the pandemic.”

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been surging in October around the state. On Wednesday, Wisconsin set a new record of 5,935 new cases in a single day according to the Department of Health Services. 54 deaths were also reported.

The seven-day average for positive coronavirus tests is now 4,839 and 31 percent of all those tested for COVID-19 over the past week have been positive.

As of Tuesday, DHS reported 1,714 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized. The agency also reported that 87 percent of all the state’s hospital beds are in use.

The UW System press release included a statement from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, who said testing is a “critical component in our battle against COVID-19.”

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