Gov. Tony Evers says he'd like to dramatically increase testing for COVID-19 in Wisconsin. That way health officials can get a better idea of the spread of the disease and when the number of new cases might be declining.
There's a long way to go to reach the state's recently expanded capacity of 11,000 COVID-19 tests per day. The Department of Health Services (DHS) says only about one-fourth of the capacity is being used. But new testing sites are opening.
For example, a drive-thru site began this week in the parking lot of Gateway Technical College in Kenosha. The Kenosha County Division of Health and Kenosha Community Health Center say the new location is only accepting health department or doctor referrals of household members, and other close contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus.
Kenosha County Health Officer Jen Freiheit says the county needs more testing.
"At this time, we have currently tested just over 1% of our population, averaging at 61 tests a day. We have seen a desperate need for more testing in Kenosha County to be able to serve our residents and the clients the health department is investigating in order to try to curb this pandemic,” Freiheit said at a news conference.
Freiheit says the county's goal is to roughly quadruple the number of daily COVID-19 tests with the new mobile site doing 50 per day. As in other counties, Kenosha residents may also be able to get tested through the local hospital system or their health care provider.
Dr. Mary Ouimet, CEO of Kenosha Community Health Center, says it's taken this long to open the mobile site due to a lack of testing supplies and labs to analyze the samples.
"But as that came online and came more available to us, it enabled us to start partnering and open up the plan,” Ouimet said.
Kenosha officials say they will decide in a few weeks whether to open the mobile site to the general public.
The Wisconsin National Guard says a community-based mobile testing site also opened this week in Baraboo and another one will open soon in western Wisconsin.
DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm praises those openings. She says one barrier to having more sites in Wisconsin is having to compete with other states for personal protective equipment at test locations and some components of test kits.
"We will continue to look to secure supplies, so we are able to do the widespread testing that is necessary. But some of these supply chain issues, absent a coordinated federal effort, certainly could be hampered,” Palm said during a State Capitol briefing.
Julie Willems Van Dijk is the deputy secretary of DHS. She says if the supply problem is solved, another way to get more people examined for COVID-19 is possibly revising the criteria for which symptoms should prompt a test.
"In the early days, we said that was fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. What we're learning is, COVID-19 can have a whole lot of other symptoms. Things like muscle aches and sore throats and headaches. And as many of us have heard, loss of the sense of smell or taste,” Willems Van Dijk said.
She says the state is even looking at recommending testing people without any symptoms. If that change is made, Willems Van Dijk says the state would blow past the goal of 11,000 COVID-19 tests per day.