Milwaukee Health Department increases police presence at COVID-19 testing sites

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee Health Department announced Tuesday, Jan. 4, they are increasing security at COVID-19 testing sites with help from the Milwaukee Police Department.

Health department leaders say increased stress can often cause emotions to boil over, and some people waiting in line have taken frustrations out on other people in line or on staff.

According to a news release from the health department, since Dec. 20, they've administered nearly 16,000 COVID-19 tests at the Northwest Health Center, Southside Health Center and Menomonee Valley site.

Several intersections around the Southside Health Center were taped off to guide the flow of traffic, but health department staff said that posed other challenges as not everyone in the neighborhood realized some streets were closed.

Staffers on site declined to speak on camera, but said off-camera while long lines earlier in the day caused some logistical issues, they largely resolved toward the end of the day as the lines thinned.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson said, "This has been a team effort from the beginning, since the pandemic got here."

While the health commissioner would not elaborate on the incidents, she did say the measures were in response to specific cases. Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said, "I do know that it's involved both people who are in line, so other people and our staff and I know that there have been some threats of violence."

At the Milwaukee County weekly COVID briefing, Commissioner Johnson said, "I think that the real issue has been that people are getting out of their cars. And so if you are at one of our testing sites, please stay in your car. It's the safest place to be both from the perspective of spreading virus the virus but also just in terms of individual safety."

The city and health department are also considering new strategies to alleviate the crush at the testing centers. Some hours have been expanded, staff shifted to high-traffic sites, and additional sites could soon open.

And the health department is trying to attain more rapid tests. Commissioner Johnson said, "I would like to see them not only in libraries but also available at testing sites, so they could be handed out and alleviate some of those long lines, and also potentially with our schools."

Lines have been long at the sites, and the department says there have been multiple accounts of individuals attempting to cut in line or cause altercations with others waiting in line and MHD staff. Because of this, the Milwaukee Police Department will be present at testing facilities to assist with the line and keep everyone safe.

If an individual deliberately cuts in line or causes an altercation, they will either be asked to move to the end of the line or leave, according to the health department. 

"The Milwaukee Health Department genuinely appreciates the respect the vast majority of Milwaukeeans have shown to one another throughout this pandemic. Please continue to be kind, respectful, and understanding," the department said in a news release.

Milwaukee Health Department testing site locations and hours can be found at Milwaukee.gov/covidtesting.

Additional free testing sites throughout Milwaukee County can be found at HealthyMKE.com/testing.

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