Community Spread Continues as Wisconsin Faces Testing Bottleneck

Wisconsin now has 155 cases, with community spread in Brown, Dane, Kenosha and Milwaukee Counties.

By Frederica Freyberg

March 19, 2020

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Community Spread Continues as Wisconsin Faces Testing Bottleneck

Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 155 positive COVID-19 cases, a 49-case increase from Wednesday. The cases now encompass 17 counties. Brown County was added Thursday to Dane, Milwaukee and Kenosha Counties as having community spread.

The increase in cases comes at a time when the state has stepped up testing capacity, but is also experiencing a shortage of supplies to complete testing.

“The testing bottleneck is creating dire consequences for our hospitals and their staff. Importantly these delays only increase the risk of COVID-19 spread,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse.

Kind and seven other members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation wrote a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Thursday citing what they described as “extremely urgent concerns about the availability of reagents and other coronavirus testing supplies at labs through the state of Wisconsin.” 

The shortages “also have serious implications for the provision of health care as health care workers pulled out of the workforce may need to wait days for test results,” the letter states.

According to State Epidemiologist Ryan Westergaard the number of specimens received during the week of March 16 at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Health Department Laboratory far exceed the labs’ daily capacity.

Westergaard said because of this, healthcare providers are urged to prioritize testing for only the most critically ill patients who are already in an intensive care unit or for hospitalized patients and long-term care residents with unexplained fever and symptoms of a lower respiratory tract illness.

“Testing should be reserved for making a diagnosis of COVID-19 in patients suspected of having the disease, in order to inform clinical management and infection control decisions,” according to Westergaard.

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