Hours-long lines at Milwaukee drive-thru COVID testing site ahead of Christmas holiday

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wednesday hundreds of people waited in line for hours to get a free COVID test at the Milwaukee Health Department's Menominee Valley drive-thru testing site.

That was the only location open Wednesday, but Thursday three sites will be open in anticipation of more long lines ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Extra staffers were on hand and more lanes were open, but some people still waited for more than an hour to get tested. A public health official says it shows people are willing to be vigilant before gathering with friends and family, but adds that must continue as the pandemic worsens.

There were hundreds of cars Wednesday, and hundreds of reasons to get tested.

Bob Rudolph of Milwaukee said, "I've had this cough, not feeling well for about a week. My cousin's in town, he just got tested because his wife is sick. So I thought I'd better get tested myself."

Ken Wick wanted to go back to work. "I just have to make sure I'm good. Go see the family, make sure everyone's safe." Pointing to the woman next to him, he said, "She's had COVID, and my roommate had COVID, so I'm just trying to get to work."

The lines for free tests snarled traffic all day long on St. Paul near 25th. Rudolph said, "Let's see, I got here about 2:30. So it's been about an hour."

Three testing lanes were open instead of the usual one as the Milwaukee Health Department ramped up testing capacity in response to the latest surge. Staff is adapting to handle whatever is needed. On Wednesday the vaccinators were instead administering tests.

Dr. Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department said, "We're going to continue to do that and flex staff, but we're pulled in a lot of different directions. So we ask for the public's understanding. We really are trying to work as efficiently as possible."

The health department administers tests six days a week, in addition to vaccinations. Results for the PCR tests should be available within 48 hours, but the lab the health department is using has been returning results in about 24 hours.

But the health department says people still need to monitor symptoms and be aware of any close-contact exposures. Dr. Tomaro said, "Just recognize a test on Dec. 22 does not equal negative on Dec. 25."

In order to help identify and isolate cases, Dr. Tomaro says it will be important to make free antigen tests more readily available. "People need to understand the seriousness of the new variant and how quickly it spreads."

Thursday the health department will be running all three testing locations:

  • The Menominee Valley site will be open from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • And the Southside and Northwest health centers will be open from 12-6 p.m.

The health department recommends you pre-register online in order to speed up the process.

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