UW-Milwaukee offering rapid-results COVID-19 tests beginning Nov. 10

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), in partnership with the University of Wisconsin System and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will provide community members with new rapid-results COVID-19 tests, beginning Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The free testing will be done on campus inside the UW-Milwaukee student union, as part of a six-week federal effort for "surge testing."

"We're the first state and the first university system to be tapped by the federal government to do this kind of testing," said UW System President Tommy Thompson.

A total of 250,000 federally provided Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests will help identify people who may have COVID-19 quicker.

Federal surge testing sites extend temporary help to areas seeing a spike in cases.

"Really to get those super spreaders -- those that are asymptomatic out of the area where they're gonna spread this terrible disease -- and quarantine them," Thompson said.

At UWM, the tests will be given to community members age 5 and older and university employees. Students will continue to be tested through an existing testing program supplied by Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which provided 350,000 antigen tests to the 13 UW System schools.

Abbott BinaxNOW tests are self-administered using a light nasal swab under the supervision of medical professionals from federal contractor eTrueNorth. Abbott BinaxNOW tests provide results in about 15 minutes.

"So it's a card test, it doesn't require a machine -- less technical, you see a color change and a positive or a negative," said Dr. Aamir Siddiqi, campus health director at UW-Milwaukee.

Doctors say rapid tests are typically less accurate than a PCR test that provides results in three to five days. 

"They are less accurate than a PCR test, but then again for a mass scale, they still have a good -- as we call it in medical terms -- sensitivity and specificity," Dr. Siddiqi said. 

Confirmatory PCR tests from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services will be provided — also free of charge — to people who have symptoms but test negative with the Abbott BinaxNOW antigen test and to people who don’t have symptoms but test positive with the Abbott BinaxNOW antigen test.

Antigen tests, which are relatively fast and inexpensive, look for proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. PCR tests, which are more accurate but may take longer to process, look for genetic material from that virus.

The rapid testing site comes at a good time for Milwaukee. Leaders want people to get tested, but say the city's community testing sites are exceeding their intended capacity regularly.

"If the lines are just too long again based on being able to get our staff home so that they can be back the next morning, we have to make a decision to close or stop that line from forming," said Milwaukee Interim Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson. 

UWM expects to test as many as 1,500 people per day at its BinaxNOW testing site in the UWM Student Union, starting Tuesday, Nov. 10, and continuing on weekdays through mid-December. Tests will be offered at UWM at Waukesha and UWM at Washington County on Nov. 18, 19 and 25 and Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 18. There will be no testing at the Milwaukee campus on those dates. 

Participants can register for a free test ONLINE HERE. They will go to the testing site, administer the test and wait for results that they will retrieve by logging into the same website via their smartphone. There will be a computer terminal available for those without access to a phone. If they need a confirmatory PCR test, it will be done immediately at the same location, with results available in about four days.

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