State expands COVID-19 testing capacity

    Health care staff from the FoundCare center wear protective gear as they help people who called to setup a drive through appointments to be tested for the coronavirus in the centers parking lot on March 16, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. FoundCare, a nonprofit federally qualified health center, said the testing for COVID-19 will be open to Palm Beach County residents who have called ahead for a scheduled appointment.
    Health care staff from the FoundCare center wear protective gear as they help people who called to setup a drive through appointments to be tested for the coronavirus in the centers parking lot on March 16, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    Wisconsin is further expanding the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19, one of the conditions required to begin relaxing the statewide lockdown that has been in effect since March 25, Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday.

    Testing is key to Wisconsin turning the dial on COVID-19 and reopening the state,” the governor’s office said in a statement released Monday morning. “With increased testing, Wisconsin gets a more accurate sense of the spread of the virus. More testing also means improved contact tracing efforts, which help identify possible exposures to COVID-19.

    Last week, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) announced an extension of the Safer at Home order to May 26, which closed all but so-called essential businesses whose employees could not work from home.

    The DHS plan for reopening that was laid out on April 16 called for widely expanded testing as well as contact tracing, hiring more personnel to conduct contact tracing and acquiring more personal protection equipment (PPE) with which to furnish those healthcare workers.

    As of Monday the state now has 36 labs able to analyze COVID-19 tests, the governor’s office stated. Companies, agencies and organizations including Exact Sciences, Epic Systems, the Marshfield Clinic Health system, the State Laboratory of Hygiene, the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network and the City of Milwaukee Public Health Lab have been involved in helping the expansion.

    In addition, 11 teams from the Wisconsin National Guard are being deployed to assist with testing, focusing on state hotspots and communities underserved by healthcare providers, according to state officials. Those include a team testing inmates and staff at the Milwaukee House of Correction, where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak, and teams helping to collect specimens at two Milwaukee Health Services Inc. clinics on the city’s north side, where the spread of the illness has been disproportionately severe.

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    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.