MADISON, Wis. (WFRV) – Governor Tony Evers encouraged all Wisconsinites with symptoms of coronavirus – no matter how mild – to get tested at the various community testing facilities opening across Wisconsin. The governor and other state officials also discussed their work to increase testing capacity as well as Wisconsin’s need for President Donald Trump to assist in combating the virus.
Tami Burns, a nurse at a Madison Dialysis Center, joined state officials during the May 4 briefing, emphasizing the challenges some are facing during the outbreak. Burns outlined how the waiting room at her facility has changed – patients coming to receive difficult treatment without family or friends to support them, discussing fears patients who have had to stop working due to health concerns, and working with limited personal protective equipment.
Burns also encouraged everyone going out into the public to wear a mask.
“It may not feel like contributing, but it is contributing,” Burns concluded.
Secretary-designee Andrea Palm of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services emphasized the progress the state had made in the Badger Bounce Back program, including accessing decontamination technology to extend the life of needed PPE. Healthcare workers are now being asked to save PPE in order for it to be decontaminated.
Sec. Palm outlined the importance of additional testing across the state and explained that Brown County has an ongoing request for 3,000 coronavirus testing kits to supply its community testing facility at the Resch Center and a future Green Bay east side location. She adds that while the testing capacity has increased in Wisconsin, there are many portions of the state – especially rural communities – that are not testing enough residents to fully understand what the virus looks like in those communities.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, says that while more testing is better, the state doesn’t have enough testing material to test everyone. Right now, he says the goal is to test anyone with symptoms within the community or those who, despite not displaying symptoms, may be at risk of contracting the virus. Those that are “feeling fine” should not seek out testing, because there are not enough materials and it can cause false-positive results in the state’s data regarding the virus.
Dr. Westergaard says officials believe that the coronavirus test that is being used is largely reliable, falling somewhere “in the high 90s” for percentage reliability.
When asked about antibody testing, Dr. Westergaard says there are currently tests that seem fairly reliable in detecting if a patient has the coronavirus antibodies. Despite this, he says there is yet to be a good understanding of what it means when a patient has that antibody – and the answer maybe be months or a year out. He says that there is reason for optimism, but the research isn’t fully sound to rely on antibody testing.
Ryan Nilsestuen, Chief Legal Counsel, Office of the Governor, says that if the Wisconsin Supreme Court sides against the extension of the Safer at Home, that is the final decision. Despite this, Nilsestuen says officials are preparing for whatever the outcome is from the court.
Dr. Westergaard explained that stores such as Costco requiring shoppers to wear masks when they enter is “a very reasonable strategy” in order to prevent transmission. He says that health officials encourage the use of homemade masks and simple face coverings when in public as PPE continues to be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.
When asked herd immunity, Dr. Westergaard says that the goal isn’t to achieve herd immunity but instead to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and continue working on a vaccination. He says that the danger with letting the virus spread, it could quickly get to capacity which could cost many lives.
Sec. Palm says Wisconsin now has just over 250 contact tracers that have been trained and deployed to meet with those who have tested positive. She explains that as testing expands, it will be crucial to conduct contact tracing with everyone who tests positive.
Gov. Tony Evers is scheduled to meet late Monday afternoon with both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders to discuss the next steps in Wisconsin’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.