DHS Announces Expanded Community Testing As Outbreak Mounts

7-Day Average For Daily New Cases Hits All-Time High At 4,128

a man in a blue gown and face covering uses a phone as he approaches a vehicle in line for the test
Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s weekly average of new COVID-19 cases has hit an all-time high, based on the latest data published by the state Department of Health Services.

DHS reported 4,870 new cases of the disease Thursday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 4,128 daily cases. A week ago, the average was 3,396 daily cases.

There were 51 new deaths from COVID-19 reported Thursday; 8,304 people tested negative.

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On Thursday, officials announced the expansion of Wisconsin’s community testing infrastructure. Beginning this month, 71 new community testing sites have opened across the state and will be available through Dec. 10, when the National Guard concludes its testing mission. That’s in addition to three enduring sites in Milwaukee, Dane and Winnebago counties, bringing the statewide total to 74 sites.

According to officials, 56 Wisconsin counties will now have consistent access to community testing. National Guard troops will collect 300-400 samples per day at these sites, with one civilian manager also at each location.

Gov. Tony Evers has dedicated $500 million in CARES Act funding to support testing in Wisconsin, but that funding is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

With the growing number of cases in Wisconsin, demand for testing has increased dramatically in recent weeks. Already some new community testing sites have closed early after running out of supplies on hand.

More than 27 percent of people who got tested for COVID-19 over the past week were positive for the disease, according to DHS. That rate has been on the rise for weeks.

The positivity rate is often read by public health officials as a measure of overall testing levels. A high rate could indicate that testing in the state is limited, and skewed toward those already flagged as potentially having COVID-19. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread. Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to COVID-19’s spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

On Sept. 30, DHS also introduced an alternative positivity rate, one that measures the percentage of tests that are positive, instead of the percentage of people who get a positive result. The new metric takes into account people who have been tested multiple times. The seven-day average for that number is at 14.2 percent.

According to DHS, there were 1,439 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday. A total of 11,003 people have been hospitalized because of the disease, or 5.1 percent of all positive cases.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 214,996, according to DHS. A total of 1,948 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 activity varies heavily from county to county. According to the latest data DHS released Wednesday afternoon, 70 counties in Wisconsin had a “very high” level of COVID-19 activity, an increase of two counties since last week and just two counties shy of every county in the state experiencing the highest level of disease activity.

The remaining two — Douglas and Vernon counties — had a “high” level of activity.

Wisconsin overall had a “very high” level of activity, according to DHS.

COVID-19 activity designations are based on the number of new cases per a county’s population over a 14-day period, as well as whether there’s an upward or downward trend in new cases.

As of Wednesday, the state’s Fox Valley region continued to have the most new cases per capita over the previous two weeks. The state’s northwest region saw cases rise most rapidly.

Wisconsin’s daily testing capacity — based on the availability of test supplies and adequate staffing — has grown from 120 available lab tests in early March to 42,474 as of Thursday. The number of actual people with new test results reported Thursday was 13,174.

A total of 2,018,461 people have been tested over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 1,803,465 have tested negative.

Editor’s note: This story originally indicated that $260 million of CARES Act funding has gone to support testing in Wisconsin. After updated information was provided by the office of Gov. Tony Evers, the amount was corrected to $500 million.