By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner staff
As has been announced in the Banner, during the past two months residents have had the ability to receive free COVID-19 drive-through testing in Whitewater, Elkhorn, and Walworth, not to mention recent sites in Beloit, Janesville, and Madison. Generally the reported wait times have been thirty minutes or less, and there has been no requirement for a person to have experienced symptoms or to have had a possible exposure. Yet another opportunity will be offered in Lake Geneva on July 28-29. How can this be when there are reports in a number of southern states of testing being offered on a restricted basis, and of people waiting for many hours for a test? Not to mention, results from our testing have generally come back within 2-3 days, whereas it’s taking up to ten days in some areas. The Banner reached out to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services for answers. Elizabeth Goodsitt, Communications Specialist, provided the following responses.
Banner question: It seems that community, drive-through testing is so generously available in WI compared with many other states. Elsewhere, there are reports of people waiting for hours to be tested. Sometimes it seems they even have to make appointments to use a community site. In WI, at least in Walworth & Rock counties, including two upcoming drive-throughs, we’ve had multiple opportunities to get tested with very minimal waiting. We recognize that the National Guard’s assistance has been critical, but it would also appear that we’ve had much more availability of testing supplies than other states. Is this largely a factor of WI not having as much demand for testing due to the spread not having been as extreme as in AZ, TX, FL, etc.?
Response: Wisconsin has, so far, used less testing capacity than many other states. This allows us to make testing more immediately and broadly available to the individuals who need it than some other states might be able to do, but we also are encouraging testing for any individuals who need it. Testing is an essential tool for containing the spread of COVID-19. So any individual with a symptom should see their provider for a test. Any individual who is a close contact of someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 should see their provider for a test. And any individual who has difficulty accessing testing from a health care provider should seek testing from the community test site. The State of Wisconsin is committed to providing access to testing for individuals who might have difficulty accessing that test in a traditional healthcare setting.
Banner note: It appears that Walworth County may have been more proactive in requesting testing than some counties. Carlo Nevicosi, Deputy Director of the Walworth County Department of Health & Human Services, indicated, “I have actually been a bit surprised, too” (by the level of testing we have been offered.) “Having the National Guard deployed to do this might be the defining factor. They’ve accommodated all of our requests.”
Banner question: Do we have an approximate number of WI residents who have been tested in all settings?
Response: You can always see that number on our Summary Data page. As of 7/10, Wisconsin has tested 670,164 people.
Banner note: As of July 15, the reported number is 725,026, which would indicate that approximately 12.5% of the state’s population has been tested. (There are undoubtedly some people who have been tested more than once, however.) According to the CDC, nearly 42,000,000 people have been tested in the U.S. That would represent approximately 12.8% of the population.
Banner question: Have the testing supplies and lab fees for the drive-throughs been paid for through a federal grant? If so, did the federal money have a stipulation that it be used for testing, or could it be that other states have received similar money but are spending it in other ways?
Response: Federal funding that has been available to support States’ COVID-19 can be used to meet testing needs. The testing provided at community testing sites run by the State of Wisconsin is available through this federal funding. Other community test sites may use other funding. Testing is also available for free for all individuals with a symptom or close contact through their health insurance. There is also federal funding for COVID-19 testing available through Medicare and HRSA for individuals who do not have insurance.