COVID Testing Surges, While Mayor Pleads For More Vaccinations
City testing sites operating at near max capacity while there is no wait for vaccinations.
“I have said time and time again that the most effective tool we have to fight against COVID-19 is vaccination,” said the mayor during a Tuesday afternoon tour of the Northwest Health Center‘s vaccination clinic and drive-through testing site, 7630 W. Mill Rd.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible omicron variant, are exploding. The city now has a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 21.7%. Fifty percent of Southeastern Wisconsin hospitals are at capacity and multiple outstate regions report 100% intensive care unit bed utilization (statewide ICU utilization is 96.5%). Advocate Aurora Health Care took out full-page newspaper ads last week that ask for help and note “more than 90% of all COVID inpatients are unvaccinated or due for a booster.”
“The demand for vaccines is low and the demand for testing is high,” said the commissioner, no relation to the mayor. “I wish it were the opposite.”
“You have all these people in cars coming to get tested for COVID, but you don’t have so many people getting vaccinated for COVID,” said the mayor.
And while Johnson and Johnson both noted the disparity between vaccination rates and testing demand, the city does not have data as to whether those getting tested are already vaccinated.
Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Marina Dimitrijevic, who has repeatedly called for enhanced mitigation measures, is calling for the city to staff the centers over the New Years’ weekend to avoid a repeat of the long lines. But the health commissioner said that’s not possible.
“No we will not be open Saturday and Sunday,” she said. Why? “I want us to have a staff next week to continue to test.” The locations are also scheduled to be closed Friday.
She said the department is looking at ways to extend service hours, but faces the same staffing issues confronting hospitals. Johnson, in praising the MHD team, said the staff has been subject to long hours and threats. MHD, after the tour, reported that 55 people resigned in 2021. A department spokesperson said nearly all exit surveys indicate individuals cited a desire for an improved work-life balance.
Data is also missing as a result of the proliferation of at-home tests. But the commissioner said it is important for people with symptoms and a positive at-home rapid test to behave as if they are positive and not immediately come to the drive-through sites to get re-tested. She stressed that Milwaukee is seeing widespread community transmission of the virus.
Suburban residents are getting tested at the city sites. The city will test all that come, including on foot, for free. It does not receive compensation for the effort, but is funding much of its effort with federal funds.
The commissioner said she doesn’t intend to reinstitute a citywide mask mandate.
“One of the challenges we face is the politics around health orders,” said Kirsten Johnson. “There are challenges around enforcement, there are challenges around our legal and statutory authority as public health officials and I don’t want that to be threatened in the future.”
The commissioner, who previously ran the joint public health department for Washington and Ozaukee counties, said she backed a broader order than just the city proper. “I would love for there to be a mask mandate that covers more than the city of Milwaukee,” she said. “Our borders between our communities are fluid.”
But she also doubted its possible effectiveness given where contact tracking indicates transmission is occurring. “The way we are seeing transmission occur is when people are getting it from their friends and families and at-home gatherings,” said the commissioner. “We know that has been the primary mode of transmission since the beginning of the pandemic.”
“I am unfortunately not surprised by the situation we find ourselves in,” said the health commissioner.
All COVID-19 testing and vaccination is free at the MHD sites.
The Northwest Health Center (7630 W. Mill Rd.) and Southside Health Center (1639 S. 23rd St.) are open Mondays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The facilities are closed on Wednesdays. Testing takes place in a drive-through garage and vaccination in the former Mill Road Library at the northwest side site. Both testing and vaccination are in a drive-through heated tent on the South Side.
The Menomonee Valley Site (2401 W. St. Paul Ave.) is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Testing and vaccination takes place in a drive-through garage.
All sites welcome walk-ups.
- 10 Health Centers Offering COVID-19 Tests - Matt Martinez - Jan 24th, 2022
- City of Milwaukee COVID-19 Sites Closed on Tuesday, January 25 - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jan 24th, 2022
- City Hall: Mask Mandate Anticipated To Go Into Effect Saturday - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2022
- MTEA Statement on Passage of Mask Requirement by Milwaukee Common Council - Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association - Jan 18th, 2022
- City of Milwaukee Weekly COVID-19 Update - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jan 14th, 2022
- DHS Now Auto-Importing Positive COVID-19 Test Results - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Jan 14th, 2022
- National Guard Deploying to Hospitals, Nursing Homes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 13th, 2022
- City Moving Toward Cash Vaccination Incentives, Free Rapid Tests - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 13th, 2022
- MKE County: COVID-19 Deaths Rising in Milwaukee - Graham Kilmer - Jan 11th, 2022
- Gov. Evers and DHS Announce Rate Increase to Help Support Healthcare Workforce in the Midst of COVID-19 Case Surge - Gov. Tony Evers - Jan 11th, 2022
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