Widespread community testing performed by members of Wisconsin’s National Guard for residents of northwest Wisconsin with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 began Friday at the Buffalo County Highway Shop in Alma. Residents of Buffalo and neighboring Pepin County were eligible to be tested.
The testing was facilitated through the Western Wisconsin Public Health Readiness Consortium.
“The counties that are part of the consortium heard about the potential to have the National Guard come in and we thought that that would be beneficial for our community,” said consortium director Brittany Fry. “We worked together on how we're going to partner and why we were needing this and did an application as a region.”
The region extends from Pepin County in the south, along the Mississippi River, to northern counties on Lake Superior’s shore. A total of 12 testing days are scheduled to run until mid-May at locations ranging from Alma to Ashland, River Falls to Ladysmith. Tribal health departments are also consortium members, and a location at St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake will host two days during the effort.
Day one at the Alma site was busy according to reports from the National Guard, with the unit getting an early start as lines began to form before the scheduled 11 a.m. start.
“The turnout was surprising, even when we were expecting a high turnout,” Major Roger Lovelace was quoted in a press release. He reported about 200 tests being administered.
Qualification for the testing does not require a doctor’s referral but is limited to residents exhibiting symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat and lost sense of taste or smell. Before the testing event, Buffalo County had four reports of COVID-19 cases and one death from the virus. There are no confirmed cases in Pepin County. Testing in rural areas has lagged behind places where reported cases are prevalent.
“We were kind of hesitant, we weren’t sure how much turn-out a rural community would bring, but the turn-out this morning has been amazing,” Buffalo County Emergency Management Director Bruce Fuerbringer said in a press release. “This just goes to show that even in the rural setting where people think this isn’t a big deal, it is a big deal, as there is a concern.”
“I think this is a huge service to the residents of these counties and others that came in to get it because it’s free and you don’t have to have a doctor’s orders to come and get it,” he added.