University of Wisconsin COVID-19 surge testing sites will continue to operate until at least Dec. 25, UW System President Tommy Thompson announced Monday.
Since opening their doors in November, 22 testing sites in close proximity to UW System universities have administered roughly 100,000 free tests to students and employees, according to a UW System press release.
Originally, the UW System estimated the sites would only operate through mid-December. Additional support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowed the UW System sites to run surge testing until at least Christmas.
UW System Board of Regents President Andrew Petersen commended the extension in the UW System press release.
“I applaud President Thompson, our chancellors and all of the staff who have contributed to the success of these surge testing sites,” Petersen said. “We are pleased to provide this service to the people of Wisconsin at this difficult time and know it is making a difference.”
The announcement comes amid a steep drop in testing numbers throughout the state. While testing is on the decline, the COVID positivity rate remains high, making it hard for Wisconsin officials to accurately gauge the severity of the spread.
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In a media briefing Tuesday, Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm urged people with COVID-19 symptoms and those who have been exposed to the virus to take advantage of community testing sites.
“We’re all kind of scratching our heads about it, considering the high level of new daily cases that we continue to see,” Palm said. “Often that motivates people to get tested, because they understand the intense community spread, the prevalence in communities.”
Palm also said while it is too soon for Wisconsin health officials to see if there will be a post-Thanksgiving surge, it will be difficult to take the necessary steps to combat the virus.
The Wisconsin DHS reported 4,114 new COVID-19 cases Dec. 8 and 68 new deaths.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, acting director of the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases Traci DeSalvo said the downward trend in new cases is a positive sign for the state. DeSalvo warned, however, that the average number of new cases is still considerably high — especially considering a decrease in testing.
“We are still seeing significant numbers of cases with the seven-day average near 4,000 cases, and you may remember back in the summer when we reached the 1,000 case per day average, that seemed very high,” DeSalvo said to WPR.
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While testing has been on the decline, Wisconsin’s capacity for COVID-19 tests still remains high, Palm said. For example, while 25,251 people received tests Dec. 8, the state’s theoretical maximum testing capacity was 59,619.
Palm said she encourages Wisconsin residents to get tested and follow the proper guidelines based on a positive or negative result.
“We have the capacity to do these tests,” Palm said at the media briefing. “So if you need a test, get a test and do the appropriate quarantining and isolation depending on the result you receive.”