Jeramey Jannene

National Guard Won’t Staff City Testing Sites

Guard being reassigned to other areas of state, local staff will replace them.

By - Sep 29th, 2020 05:22 pm
Wisconsin National Guard assist individuals in performing COVID-19 specimen collections at a drive-thru testing site. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin National Guard assist individuals in performing COVID-19 specimen collections at a drive-thru testing site. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The COVID-19 surge across Wisconsin will have consequences for Milwaukee.

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard have been deployed at two free testing sites in the city since early May. They’ll now be reassigned to seven different testing sites across the state.

The change, being led by the state Department of the Health Services, is designed to provide accessible testing where it is needed most.

Statewide data, updated last Wednesday, shows Milwaukee County as having the 44th worst two-week case level of the state’s 72 counties. The northeast corner of the state has seen a record surge in cases in recent weeks. Other parts of the state, including La Crosse County, have seen large surges in recent weeks. (Milwaukee County has the second-worst outbreak in the state over the duration of the outbreak.)

“We are seeing numbers again that are dramatically worse outside of Milwaukee right now, so it makes sense for the National Guard,” said Mayor Tom Barrett during a press briefing Tuesday.

The Milwaukee Health Department will need to hire personnel to manage the testing locally.

“As we move forward in our conversations with the state and the National Guard, the intent is to have more of the activities taken on by us,” said Barrett. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cost taken on by our local property taxpayers, because we simply don’t have the resources to do that. There is still CARES money.”

The state, county and city each received an allocation of funding from the federal CARES Act that can be used for costs related to the pandemic.

“In our conversations with the State of Wisconsin they have made it clear to us they are still going to continue to underwrite the cost of this testing, but that they need to get their National Guard members in other areas of the state,” said Barrett.

The Wisconsin National Guard has previously said it has approximately 700 members doing testing across the state. But outside of Milwaukee and Dane counties, many of the community testing sites have been temporary.

The free testing sites in Milwaukee are located at 2701 S. Chase Ave. and in the parking lot across from Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education (formerly Custer High School) at 4300 W. Fairmount Ave. Over 100,000 samples have been collected at the two sites, including over 8,000 last week.

When the sites originally opened in May they were staffed for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Hours have been gradually scaled back. Most recently hours were shortened to accommodate the earlier fall sunsets.

“Their assistance has been phenomenal and they have been incredible public servants in helping us move forward,” said Barrett of DHS and the National Guard. “I personally cannot thank the National Guard enough for its support during the pandemic.”

Barrett said the locations may change and the city is working with partners to identify testing sites. He said the goal is to maintain the existing capacity. New sites may include opportunities for individuals to get flu shots as well.

The tests used by the state are from Madison-based Exact Sciences.

“The details are still being finalized, so I have nothing concrete to report today,” said Barrett.

A testing site in Dane County will also switch to local staffing as a result of the change.

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