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Free community testing for COVID-19 begins at Alliant Energy Center

Free community testing for COVID-19 begins at Alliant Energy Center

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COVID 19 testing site

Workers gather information from people wanting to be tested for COVID-19 at a free drive-thru community testing site that started Monday at Alliant Energy Center's New Holland Pavilion in Madison. The testing is run by the Wisconsin National Guard.

Free community testing for COVID-19 started Monday at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, giving anyone who wants to be tested for the coronavirus a chance to do so.

Testing at the drive-thru community site is strongly recommended for people with symptoms of the respiratory disease, but even people without symptoms can get tested, Public Health Madison and Dane County spokeswoman Sarah Mattes said. Symptoms can include cough, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

The site is also recommended for people who are uninsured and do not have a primary care provider; people who have been in contact with others who been diagnosed with COVID-19; and essential workers who are not able to always socially distance at work, including food service workers, meatpacking plant workers, dairy farm workers, first responders and health care workers.

COVID 19 testing site

A worker collects samples from people in their vehicles at a free community testing site for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center. It's one of many such testing sites that have opened around the state in recent weeks and the first one in Dane County.

“If you have a doctor, you should call them first to see if they can test you,” Public Health Madison and Dane County said on its website. “If they are unable to test you, visit the community testing site.”

There should also be no out-of-pocket cost for getting tested at a clinic, health department director Janel Heinrich said.

The nasal swabs, used in a test developed by Madison-based Exact Science, can detect whether people have COVID-19 now. Unlike tests that look for antibodies in blood, it does not tell if people had COVID-19 in the past.

The new testing site came as health officials said Monday the state has met three of six key criteria in Gov. Tony Evers’ “Badger Bounce Back” plan to further reopen the economy: a 14-day downward trend in positive cases as a percentage of total tests, and more than 95% of Wisconsin hospitals able to treat all patients without crisis care and test all direct-care staff with symptoms for COVID-19.

The unmet criteria are 14-day downward trends in COVID-19 cases among health care workers and in emergency room visits for flu-like illness and suspected COVID-19. Those indicators have been declining but not enough to get green lights on the state’s website.

Seeking reassurance

Those lining up Monday for tests at the Alliant Center included people who work with vulnerable populations or who had recently returned from trips, and those who just wanted to know their status.

COVID 19 testing site

The Wisconsin National Guard is using protective equipment to collect samples from people for COVID-19 testing. The nasal swabs, used in a test developed by Madison-based Exact Sciences, check for active infections.

Missey Russell, 39, of Madison, and her three daughters, ages 18, 17 and 8, decided to get tested because of “the weekly runs to the store, and on top of that my daughter, she also works in a nursing facility,” Russell said.

Ann Elise Trafford, 25, of Madison, works for the Goodman Community Center distributing food, including no-contact deliveries to the elderly.

“I want to make sure that I’m not spreading when I’m going there every day,” she said.

AnnMarie Becker, 50, of Madison, said she had all the symptoms of COVID-19, minus the fever, back in February, but didn’t try to get tested because she didn’t think she’d be able to get a test and has no insurance.

She’s been laid off from her job as a massage therapist since mid-March, but is looking ahead to when she goes back.

“I decided to come and get tested before my boss asks me to come back to work,” she said.

Steven Upchurch, 32, of Madison, said he’d just returned a few days ago from a visit to Milwaukee, which is something of a “hotbed” for COVID-19, while Kathy Innis, 68, of Fitchburg, said she drove through a number of states and stayed at hotels during a trip back from Arizona about a month ago.

“I just want to make sure I’m OK,” she said.

That was one of the reasons for Lex Poppens, 59, of Monona, too.

“Part of it is I want to know,” he said. “Part of it is I’ve had to go into grocery stores and there are a lot of people with no masks or gloves.”

COVID 19 testing site

Motorists line up Monday at the Alliant Energy Center for the first day of free community testing for COVID-19. The site will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until further notice, health officials said.

Guard helping

The site, which can collect up to 800 samples a day, is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Wisconsin National Guard is operating the center, and no appointment or registration is necessary.

To use the site, at the center’s New Holland Pavilion, enter off of Alliant Energy Center Way from Rimrock Road. Stay in your car, and someone wearing protective equipment will come to your car and verify your name. A worker will take a sample by swabbing inside your nose, and the sample will be sent to a lab to see if you have COVID-19. Results should be available in three to five days.

Alliant is one of many community testing sites that have started around Wisconsin in recent weeks as testing capacity for COVID-19 has expanded and recommendations for broader testing have been implemented. It is the first community testing site in Dane County.

The center was identified weeks ago as an alternative care facility in case Madison-area hospitals got overwhelmed from a surge in COVID-19 cases. Late last month, with pressure on hospitals subsiding, health officials said that plan was on hold.

“Increased testing and contact tracing are core elements of our Badger Bounce Back plan and are critical to slowing the spread and boxing in COVID-19,” Evers said in a statement Monday announcing the Alliant site and two community testing sites in Milwaukee.

The “Badger Bounce Back” plan calls for 85,000 tests a week, or about 12,000 a day. More than 50 labs in the state can now process nearly 14,000 tests a day, according to the state Department of Health Services. In the past week, between 3,000 and 5,000 tests a day have been done.

Photos: Drive-thru testing for COVID-19 gets under way in Madison

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