With more COVID-19 testing capacity in Wisconsin, Evers unveils plan to test all nursing homes, add drive-thru sites

Aims to make Wisconsin one of the top states in testing per capita

By Lauren Anderson -May 5, 2020 11:17 am 

Last updated on May 6th, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday unveiled a new set of goals to bolster COVID-19 testing throughout the state, including testing all nursing homes, adding new drive-thru community testing sites and testing everyone associated with employer outbreaks.

While the state has significantly ramped up its testing capacity in recent weeks, Evers said the goal is to ensure people are utilizing that capacity. He said his goal is to make Wisconsin one of the top states in COVID-19 testing per capita.

“We’ve made great progress in expanding our testing capacity these last few weeks, and now we’re taking the next step to ensure our tests performed match our capacity,” he said. “Everyone in the state that needs a test should be tested, and through the Badger Bounce Back Plan, we’re taking a comprehensive approach to make sure that’s the case.”

Evers said the state is now prepared to provide 85,000 COVID-19 tests per week – one of the benchmarks included in his Badger Bounce Back plan to reopen the state. 

Testing is now recommended for anyone who has any COVID-19 symptoms and those who are asymptomatic but have reason to believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“To turn the dial in Wisconsin, we have to test everyone with symptoms,” said Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “From there, we move to contact tracing and getting those exposed to the virus in quarantine. Anyone with symptoms that include cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell please call your provider and get tested.”

Under the plan announced Monday, the state is working with the Wisconsin National Guard and health care providers to conduct testing of all workers and families associated with employer outbreaks. As of April 30, the state was investigating 187 facility-based outbreaks, including 48 in workplaces. The state will also provide free testing to all staff and residents of Wisconsin’s 373 nursing homes.

The plan also calls for adding free drive-thru community testing sites throughout the state. Fifteen additional National Guard units will assist local public health departments in setting up testing sites and responding to outbreaks, bringing the total number of units to 25, Evers said. 

Those sites will provide free tests for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and won’t require a prior physician visit.

Palm said there are “significant portions of the state,” particularly in rural areas, that haven’t been tested enough to gauge the prevalence of the disease there. Palm said Evers’ plan will deploy more testing resources to those areas.

To date, the state has provided over 60,000 tests to hospitals, clinics, local public health, long term care facilities, and other community partners. Fifty-seven of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have requested and are receiving more testing supplies under the new plan.

Evers said the state is “in pretty good shape” with its testing supplies, but will need more swabs and reagent from the federal government as it increases testing.

There are 51 labs in Wisconsin running COVID-19 tests, with a total daily capacity of 11,347, as of Monday.