Waukesha Co. leaders hope free COVID-19 testing will slow virus spread, help economy reopen

NOW: Waukesha Co. leaders hope free COVID-19 testing will slow virus spread, help economy reopen

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Waukesha County officials are encouraging people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 to sign up for an appointment to get a free test.

"We knew that there were citizens in our community that were symptomatic and they weren't able to get testing, and we knew that this was an issue," said Elizabeth Laatsch, public health coordinator for the Waukesha County Public Health Division.

Saturday was the first day of the county's three-day community testing site. Every time slot was booked for Saturday, but there are still slots available Monday and Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. To sign up for an appointment, you have to be symptomatic and live or work in Wisconsin. You need to call 262-548-7626 to register for an appointment.

Laatsch said increased testing not only helps meet the goals of Gov. Tony Evers' Badger Bounce Back plan but also helps slows the disease transmission in the community.

"It keeps the sick people out of the community and allows the healthy people to be back in the community going to work and help opening up our economy," she said.

Capt. Joe Trovato said by next week, 700 members of the Wisconsin National Guard will be trained to administer tests around the state. Of those, 28 members are working in Waukesha.

"I live here in Waukesha myself, so being here today to support the community that I grew up in and currently live in... this is what being a citizen soldier is all about," Trovato said.

Trovato said the nasal swab takes seconds and is much less invasive than original tests. Each test kit is sent off to Exact Sciences in Madison. Results are expected in one or two days.

"It's not just the person that's sick that we're testing. We're also finding out who they've been in contact with and can help them either quarantine to watch for symptoms or get tested themselves," said Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow.

Waukesha County health officials have been doing contract tracing for six weeks. 

Laatsch said to her knowledge, no positive cases have been linked to large events in the county, including rallies in Brookfield protesting Evers' "Safer at Home" order. She said Waukesha County has redeployed several staff members from other departments to the public health division to help with contract tracing.

"We have over 35 contact tracers right now, and we're definitely looking to expand that," Laatsch said.

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