Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

COVID Testing Surges, While Mayor Pleads For More Vaccinations

City testing sites operating at near max capacity while there is no wait for vaccinations.

By - Dec 28th, 2021 05:04 pm
Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson speak with an employee at the Northwest Health Center vaccine clinic. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson speak with an employee at the Northwest Health Center vaccine clinic. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee’s Johnson & Johnson team, Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson, are pleading with Milwaukeeans to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

“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.

But only 60.8% of Milwaukee residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of any of three vaccines. In late May the figure was 48.1%.

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.

The Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) closed its three testing sites over the holiday weekend, but reopened them Monday morning to hours-long lines. It tested 1,875 people Monday, up from 1,311 on Dec. 20.

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.

That extends beyond city borders, which is complicating MHD’s effort to slow the spread.

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.”

The acting mayor, running for office on a permanent basis, said it would take more than city action to stem the pandemic. During the tour, he repeatedly encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“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.

Individuals can save time by pre-registering. Any visitor should check the MHD website in the event hours change.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here

Categories: Health, Weekly

One thought on “City Hall: COVID Testing Surges, While Mayor Pleads For More Vaccinations”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    “More than 90% of all COVID inpatients are unvaccinated OR DUE FOR A BOOSTER.”

    How many of these damn COVID shots are we supposed to take? 100? Have you read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book about Fauci? I ordered it yesterday from Amazon ($19.42)

    “The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health (Children’s Health Defense) Hardcover – November 16, 2021 by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Author)

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