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Milwaukee Now Able To Test For Novel Coronavirus

Kena Betancur
Getty Images
A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation on Feb. 28 in Nutley, New Jersey. At least 53 countries have reported cases of infection.

The Milwaukee Health Department is now able to test for the novel coronavirus, officially called COVID-19. The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at UW-Madison is the only other location in the state cleared for the testing. 

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A few weeks ago, federal health officials sent test kits to state and local health labs, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weren't doing all the testing of potential COVID-19 cases. But during verification testing, Wisconsin Hygiene Lab Dr. Alan Bateman says most of the labs discovered a problem. The problem was related to the kits looking at three different segments of the virus genome, or genetic material. 

"If all three markers are positive, the test is positive. If all three markers are negative, the test is negative. A mix of the results for the marker is inconclusive. What we found was inconclusive for many of the samples that should have been negative," Bateman said.

Credit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a new laboratory test kit (shown here) for use in testing patient specimens for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19.

Bateman says the CDC, and Food and Drug Administration concluded a genetic marker that was leading to inconclusive results was not needed for the test. The CDC also sent new batches of test kits.

State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers says the ability to test locally comes at a key time.

"As we prepare to transition from containment of the disease, which is what we've been doing so far, to identifying and controlling the spread within the community, it's especially important to have this lab capacity in Wisconsin — for fast access to high-quality testing," she says.

State officials say they have the capacity to do hundreds of tests. But Wisconsin will follow newly revised federal requirements and only test people who meet at least one of three criteria:

  1. The patient has a fever and symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.
  2. The patient has those symptoms to the point of requiring hospitalization and a history of travel from countries affected by the novel coronavirus. Those countries are China, Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea.
  3. People hospitalized with the symptoms whose tests don't show problems with other viruses or bacteria.

Wisconsin officials say there are no new COVID-19 cases in the state. Test results are pending with two people, and health officials say the Dane County woman who last month tested positive has been released from isolation and is doing well.

Support for Innovation reporting is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman.

Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.


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