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Wisconsin takes steps to dramatically increase capacity for COVID-19 testing

Governor Tony Evers announced on April 20 that the state of Wisconsin was taking big steps to increase COVID-19 testing capacity throughout the state.

Working with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, the state has increased the number of labs performing COVID-19 tests from just eight labs one month ago to 36 labs. The state plans to continue public-private partnerships to add more labs and more testing capacity in the days and weeks ahead. However, in order to sustain the existing and expanded clinical lab network’s efforts, the state will need federal partnership to ensure availability of reagent and other critical supplies in Wisconsin.

Testing is key to Wisconsin turning the dial on COVID-19 and reopening the state. 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.

Where Wisconsin started

Wisconsin started its COVID-19 testing efforts with a small group of dedicated labs, including the State Laboratory of Hygiene, the Milwaukee Public Health Lab, UW Health, Gundersen Lutheran, ACL Laboratories, Mayo Clinic, and Wisconsin Diagnostic Lab. This group helped build a critical base to grow from, and the state offers a special thanks to each of them for getting in on the ground floor.

Testing in the state needs to be increased, and thanks to Exact Sciences, Epic Systems, Marshfield Clinic Health System, the State Laboratory of Hygiene, the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, the City of Milwaukee Public Health Lab, the Wisconsin National Guard, and other important partners, Wisconsin is making that happen. Other plans are in place to grow and accelerate testing in Wisconsin.

New Initiatives

National Guard teams serving a rapid response role in hotspots and underserved areas of the state will collect specimens for COVID-19 testing. One of the 11 teams began using 1,100 Exact Sciences test supplies to offer testing to all inmates and staff at the Milwaukee House of Correction to help control the outbreak there. Starting April 20, two teams of citizen soldiers will also be staffing standup specimen collection sites at Milwaukee Health Services Inc.’s clinics on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and Silver Spring Road.

Exact Sciences is devoting a significant portion of its lab capacity and resources to COVID-19 tests processing. This will enable them to provide the state with approximately 20,000 tests and processing each week, which will be distributed to health care systems throughout the State. This was a major effort by Exact Sciences undertaken in a very short amount of time.

Epic is providing crucial assistance in our effort to distribute Exact Sciences’ tests by providing the interoperability necessary to connect healthcare providers with Exact to ensure timely processing of tests and reporting of test results.

Promega is providing major support by sourcing high demand reagents and materials for a number of labs in the state including Exact Sciences’ lab. In addition to these materials, they’ve also shared equipment and provided invaluable problem-solving skills. They are a critical part of the supply chain in supporting expanded testing.

Marshfield Clinic Health System will be working on ramping up to process 10,000 tests per week from providers around the State.

2,200 test collection supplies and PPE are headed to Green Bay in response to an outbreak with significant risk potential to the community. Having these tools is essential to the local health department and healthcare system response.

In partnership with Exact Sciences and the Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, the state is supporting additional testing capacity. The Health Centers will work first with their patients, and as additional capacity becomes available, will broaden their outreach to support access to testing for others in need. Community Health Centers have networks within the community and with other social service organizations and will work through those channels to support additional testing.

Wisconsin Diagnostic Labs provided much-appreciated support to the 16th Street Community Health Clinic drive-thru testing project. They’re also expanding their capacity and offering help to clinical partners experiencing challenges with access to lab capacity.

Through additional procurement efforts by the state, Wisconsin will be receiving over 250,000 additional test collection supplies in the coming weeks.

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following months, we have published more than 375 articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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