9K fewer COVID tests at Miller Park from peak before Thanksgiving

A record 120 people died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin, state health officials announced Tuesday, Dec. 22. The old daily record was 107 deaths, set on Dec. 1. There’s worry that family gatherings at Christmas and New Year's will spread the virus, and there’s a push to get more people tested.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a drop in testing at the Miller Park site in recent weeks has him concerned. This, as Governor Tony Evers announced Tuesday his administration has partnered with a medical testing company to provide at-home COVID-19 tests for free if a requestor lacks health insurance coverage. Anyone can order a test through the state Department of Health Services website starting immediately.

"It helps you make your personal choices," said Mayor Barrett. "It helps you with your friends and family as to how to act. This is particularly important as we come onto this important holiday week."

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With the holidays fast approaching, Barrett said Tuesday the percent of positive tests is still high.  Health officials say that’s a sign the virus continues to linger.

"Realize that if you were tested on Monday, that does not mean you would be negative on the holiday when you are with your family members or other groups," said Dr. Nick Tomaro, Milwaukee Health Department.

Since opening in late October, the Wisconsin National Guard testing site at Miller Park saw a peak of 19,000 tests the week before Thanksgiving.  Last week, it was down to 10,000. 

"As you go through a period of less community spread, it’s even more critical in ways because this is the way we tamp out the virus -- the way we stop the pandemic," said Dr. Tomaro.

As for the at-home testing kit, once it arrives, users must collect a sample as a Vault testing supervisor looks on via a Zoom connection. Users will then mail the sample back to a Vault lab using a prepaid label that comes with the kit. Results will take between two and three days.

Evers' administration did not include the cost of the program in the announcement. Vault's website indicates people can order a test for themselves for $119 per kit. DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said during a teleconference with reporters that a requester's health insurance provider will be billed. If the provider won't cover the test or a requester lacks health insurance the state will pay for it, she said.

"These kits will be available to Wisconsinites at no cost, and anyone can get one by ordering their test kit online," said Governor Evers.

Governor Evers added Tuesday that more than 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are coming throughout the next two weeks, as leaders turn their attention to long-term care facility residents.  

In the meantime, health officials stress as families gather for the holidays, the one thing you don’t want to get this Christmas is COVID.

"We want people to stay home," said Marlaina Jackson, interim commissioner, Milwaukee Health Department. "We want them to pare down. The numbers are still significant. The goal is to try to get through this last hump."

State health officials say they are also monitoring test results for that new strain of COVID-19 that is sweeping the United Kingdom. Officials said Tuesday the mutation has not been found in Wisconsin results but admitted they're only testing a small percentage of tests for it. The new strain is said to spread faster.