Some National Guard sites shut down across Wisconsin as COVID-19 testing demand decreasing

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RACINE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) – The Wisconsin National Guard drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Racine County Fairgrounds was shut down Wednesday, March 10, something that is part of a larger trend across the state. As testing demand decreases, positive coronavirus cases continue a downward trend and vaccination efforts ramp up.

“You can see demand is significantly lower, due to a variety of factors,” Racine County Communications Director Mark Schaaf told CBS 58.

The final day of the site at the Racine County Fairgrounds saw a slow trickle of people driving up for a test. The National Guard will continue weekly testing for the Racine County community at Festival Hall on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through May 24.

Schaaf said it’s encouraging to see the number of positive cases go down, but urges residents to continue with prevention efforts.

“While we’re going in the right direction, we’re not out of the woods yet,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf said the Guard has been a vital partner in the testing effort. The Guard said it's collected more than one million specimens since the pandemic began, but the pace of that collection has slowed.

“We had a peak where we were doing thousands of covid tests in a single day, at single sites, where there were thousands of tests collected in Milwaukee and Madison,” Maj. Joe Trovato, with the Wisconsin National Guard, said. “But now those numbers are more like in the hundreds statewide.”

Maj. Trovato said it’s up to the communities it works with to decide if they want to continue the National Guard-run sites or discontinue them. Several have been shut down statewide since the beginning of March.

In Milwaukee, hours of operation were changed at the American Family Field testing site due to the decrease in demand. City officials said while the demand has decreased, they do monitor the percent positive of the tests. That number is at its lowest level since testing began, according to a city official.

Data from the state Department of Health Services shows a steady decline in testing since peaks in the fall. While there are some outliers, the general trend shows fewer occurrences of the state hitting more than 40,000 tests administered in a day and more regularly staying below 30,000 tests.

But health experts warn testing is still a critical tool as the pandemic continues.

“The primary purpose of the vaccines is to prevent severe disease and prevent hospitalizations and they’re fabulous at doing that,” Dr. Nasia Safdar, of UW Health, said in an interview. “But what we also need to understand is, can you have mild disease and no symptoms and still carrying the virus? And for those reasons, particularly if people have symptoms that are compatible with covid, it still is a good reason to test.”

Safdar is UW Health’s medical director of infection control. Safdar said things like new strains of the virus and the need to monitor outbreaks make testing still important, even as vaccine efforts continue.

“Nothing is 100%, and so there will still be people who will still have covid, despite being vaccinated, and the only way to know that is a robust testing program,” Safdar said.

In other pandemics, experts monitor when it’s safe to reduce or even completely remove testing sites and resources, but that will still take time.

“We are not quite there yet, but I think eventually we will be,” Safdar said.

Community testing sites remain active. You can find one near you here.

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