Wisconsin National Guard Coronavirus Testing Sites Close Early As Demand Skyrockets

Kenosha County Health Officer: 'Demand Is Far Exceeding What We Initially Thought'

Wisconsin National Guard members administer COVID-19 tests in a parking lot
Wisconsin National Guard members administer COVID-19 tests in a parking lot Monday May 11, 2020, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

As Wisconsin recorded another record number of new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, according to the Department of Health Services, the state’s mounting coronavirus outbreak has led to a spike in demand for testing.

Preliminary data from DHS shows Wisconsin saw its highest-ever number of tests conducted on Oct. 15.

Right now, any Wisconsinite experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should be able to get a test, DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said. The state can currently process more than 42,000 tests per day, not counting rapid tests, and officials are working to expand that number, Palm said.

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But recently, National Guard testing sites in Rock and Kenosha counties closed early after running out of supplies.

Jen Freiheit, public health officer for Kenosha County, said there’s no statewide shortage of testing supplies like there was back in August. But demand for tests at the National Guard testing sites far exceeded expectations.

It’s likely linked to the state’s ballooning case count, she said.

There are two National Guard testing sites offering weekly testing in Kenosha County.

In the past, volunteers had never collected more than 150 specimens per day at the county’s west side testing location, Freiheit said. This time around, officials ordered supplies for 300 tests per day.

“And we blew through that,” she said.

On Monday, the National Guard doubled the number of drive-thru testing lanes at the county’s east side testing site from two to four, she said.

“The demand is far exceeding what we initially thought we’d get at those sites,” Freiheit said.

In Rock County, the National Guard is conducting testing at Blackhawk Technical College on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The site closed four hours early on Thursday after the collection team used all 900 tests allotted for the week.

According to a news release from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, local officials have contacted the state about acquiring more tests per day for use at the site, and testing is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

A representative from the National Guard said they don’t stock testing supplies. Rather, local and state health officials are responsible for providing the supplies and the sites, while the guard troops provides the labor.

The Wisconsin National Guard is scheduled to stop conducting community testing on Dec. 10. Freiheit said she’s concerned about how that could ultimately affect access to tests.

“But right now, there’s plenty of testing sites and plenty of supplies,” she said.

In addition to free community testing from the National Guard, coronavirus tests are offered by many health care providers.

Wisconsin recorded more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, according to DHS. The state’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, said testing is an important tool for containing the current outbreak, but won’t stop it alone.

Testing helps identify individuals who must be quarantined, but it can’t force them to isolate, he said. Freiheit voiced a similar concern.

In Kenosha County, many people are going back to work before getting their test results, which typically take 48 to 72 hours, she said.

“We just want to continuously remind people that if they’ve been in close contact to a positive (person), or they have any symptoms whatsoever, even if mild, even if it’s just headaches that don’t seem to go away or a runny nose that seems persistent, we want to make sure that people are not going to work, even with those mild symptoms,” Freiheit said.

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