Wisconsin labs nearing testing capacity needed to reopen
MADISON — Laboratories in Wisconsin are closing in on Gov. Tony Evers’ goal of being able to test nearly 100,000 people a week for the coronavirus, a key benchmark for easing social distancing mandates, health officials said Thursday.
Evers on Monday announced a plan for reopening businesses that calls for labs to be able to test at least 85,000 people a week for the virus as well as decreasing infections over a 14-day period. Wisconsin has been under the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order since March 25.
Labs would have to be able to test about 12,140 people a day to meet the 85,000 capacity mark. State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said during a video conference that 48 labs are now testing Wisconsin patients and their daily capacity stands at 10,937.
“We’re making significant progress toward our goal,” she said.
But she cautioned that the tests must show a downward trajectory before the reopening plan can take effect. She said the plan could still be implemented if that trajectory emerges before the labs reach 85,000 capacity.
“That is not a limiting factor as we think about turning the dial,” she said.
Doctors had been holding off ordering tests for people presenting with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, out of concern about overwhelming laboratories, Palm said. But state health officials are now telling doctors to order tests for anyone who presents with such symptoms.
“The message is: Right now laboratory capacity is sufficient to test anyone with symptoms,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer, said. “We need that data. Our paradigm needs to shift a little bit.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Palm said that as of Thursday the number of positive tests in Wisconsin stood at 5,052. The virus has now killed at least 257 people in the state, she said.