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City of Milwaukee COVID testing and vaccination clinics are open Thursday, as many people prepare for holiday gatherings

People wait in their vehicles Wednesday, at the city of Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley health clinic.
Chuck Quirmbach
People wait in their vehicles Wednesday at the City of Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley health clinic.

Three City of Milwaukee community health clinics are open for part of Thursday for people seeking free COVID-19 testing, vaccination or a booster shot before the Christmas holiday.

Those sites are in the Menomonee Valley on St. Paul Avenue, the Northwest Health Clinic and the Southside Health Clinic.

If the past few days are any indication, the sites may be busy.

The Milwaukee Health Department reports about 600 people drove through the city's Menomonee Valley site Wednesday. There were lines of cars extending onto the street.

Health officials say most drivers were there for a COVID test. A local man who gave his name as Tim said family time is ahead, "just getting ready to spend time with family for Christmas. So, I wanted to be safe."

Another person, who gave her name as Miriam, offered an urgent reason.

"I found out an hour ago that a gathering I was at where everybody had shots, my brother had a worker who did not get a shot, and tested positive for COVID, and now [my brother] did. And, I need to get tested because my life partner is in a skilled nursing facility and I'm scared to death," Miriam said.

Cars enter the drive-through Menomonee Valley clinic, which used to be an auto emissions testing center.
Chuck Quirmbach

The COVID-19 test offered at the city clinics is the typically more reliable PCR test, but getting results may take a day or two, and the Health Department's Nick Tomaro said Wednesday it may not reflect any infection this coming weekend.

"You should always remember that this virus can change from day to day. So, if you test negative today, it does not mean you're negative on December 24, especially if you have any symptoms," Tomaro warned.

Tomaro said the city Health Department sites are closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to let workers rest and observe the holiday. He recommends trying to acquire another type of test called an antigen test that provides results in 15 to 30 minutes but is less sensitive to the presence of the coronavirus.

Tomaro said he knows the antigen tests typically sell for $20-25 dollars in stores, and that some locations are sold out of them. He pointed to a speech President Joe Biden made Tuesday afternoon.

"President Biden acknowledged those concerns. Obviously, we're happy to hear that at the federal level, they'll be providing those tests free of charge and that supply chain is being ramped up," Tomaro said.

But the half-billion at-home COVID test kits that the federal government will buy and supply won't be available until next month.

For any gatherings this weekend, even for the fully vaccinated, Tomaro urges people to choose wisely, wear a mask and distance as much as possible.

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