By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The number of positive coronavirus cases in Wisconsin do not appear to be going down anytime soon. The one bright spot in that announcement, is that Milwaukee County is no longer the coronavirus hotspot it once was at the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett announced that the two National Guard coronavirus testing sites would be closing down. The number of cases is unbelievably high in Wisconsin, but the majority of cases are beyond Milwaukee, Barrett said during a press conference on Monday, Oct. 5.
“There is a need to redeploy some National Guard members to those parts of the states,” Barrett said.
The National Guard testing sites, currently located at UMOS, 2701 S. Chase Ave., and Barack Obama School – Custer Stadium, 4300 W. Fairmount Ave., will be closing after Saturday, Oct. 17. The new site, located at Miller Park, 1 Brewers Way, will open on Monday, Oct. 19. Furthermore, the Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd St., and the Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Rd., will be open for testing starting Monday, Oct. 12.
Milwaukee County ranks at 51 out of 72 counties in the number of incidents per capita, Barrett said.
“I think our mask policies, testing policies and tracking policies are working,” he said.
Miller Park will increase testing capacity to about 1,500 to 2000 tests a day, Barrett said. Currently, the testing capacity at UMOS is about 1,000 and between 500 and 600 at the Barack Obama School.
Nick Tomaro, the preparedness coordinator for the Milwaukee Health Department, noted that the combined capacity of the National Guard sites will shift to Miller Park, which is a more centralized location.
Tomaro added that the health department is also looking at way to winterize testing sites as the temperatures begin to drop.
The cost of testing is being covered by CARES Act funding and currently covers testing for 2020, Barrett said. The federal government will determine testing funds for 2021.
Dr. Ben Weston, the director of medical services at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said staffing at Miller Park and the other locations is separated into three groups: the CORE team, health department employees and contracted professionals.
The Community Orientated Regional EMS team or CORE Team will be providing medical oversight. The CORE Team originally provided on-site medical assistance during special events and works to promote health efforts in Milwaukee. They are experienced and licensed paramedics who have worked with the National Guard to understand the practice and procedures of testing, Weston said.
Weston said that paramedics in Wisconsin are required to have the skills necessary to perform a nasal or oral swab test, although only the nasal test is available at testing sites. The health department is working with the Exact Sciences, the lab which will be testing the samples.
The staff at Miller Park will work to make sure that safety, quality and efficiency guidelines are met including directing traffic to ensure flow continues, making sure patients have filled out the correct forms and are receiving adequate information and so on.
Weston said the health department continues to emphasize that persons displaying symptoms, persons who have encountered a positive case or those who were referred should get tested. For additional information on testing sites go to IMPACT 2-1-1 or impactinc.org/impact-2-1-1/testing/. To join the CORE Team, visit the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management Facebook page at facebook.com/MKEOEM/.