Gov. Evers announces public-private partnership to 'double' state's COVID-19 testing capacity

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers on Monday, March 30 announced a new public-private partnership among Wisconsin industry leaders to increase Wisconsin's laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19.

According to a news release from the governor's office, prior to this announcement, the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab were leading the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs in performing testing -- performing the majority of testing along with private labs.

The new partnership includes laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega and UW Health. These organizations, along with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, will now share knowledge, resources and technology to bolster Wisconsin’s testing capacity, the release said.

“The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab should be commended for the tremendous lift they have done over the past few weeks to rapidly bring these tests online. And I want to especially extend my gratitude to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene for going above and beyond to expand testing capacity within the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, and ensure Wisconsin does not have a backlog of COVID-19 tests,” said Gov. Evers in the release. “I also want to thank the Wisconsin Diagnostic Lab at Froedtert, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Gundersen Health Systems, and Aurora Health Care for their early work and continued leadership. But even with these combined efforts, unfortunately, we know all too well that as this disease spreads there will be significant pressure on our labs to keep pace with testing.”

The release said the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs have been averaging completion of 1,500-2,000 COVID-19 tests per day.

The expanded capacity from the state’s new public-private partnership is expected to double that capacity initially and continue to expand as additional platforms and supplies become available.

“Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to have these industry leaders in our own backyard,” said Gov. Evers in the release. “They are exhibiting the right kind of leadership that all Wisconsinites deserve: stepping up with innovation, cutting down superficial barriers, and doing all they can to help keep Wisconsin communities healthy.”

Residents who are seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor. These labs are not testing sites.

“While I am excited to announce these critical partnerships that will increase our capacity to fight this outbreak in Wisconsin, there are still very real challenges to obtaining supplies of critical laboratory materials,” said Gov. Evers in the release. “The rapid spread of COVID-19 in other parts of the country and world are making these important supplies scarce, but with our new partners, and through the state’s ongoing efforts to obtain these materials from the federal government and through the private market, we are working day and night to reinforce our sources of these supplies.”

Gov. Evers moves ahead with plans to buy PPE/seeks donations

Over the weekend, Gov. Evers’ administration announced they're moving ahead with plans to buy 10,000 ventilators and one million protective masks in the fight against the coronavirus after Evers’ administration had clashed with Republican lawmakers over whether he needed their permission to make such purchases.

GOP leaders contended he already had that power after Evers gave them a bill calling for spending more than $700 million to help care for thousands of sick and jobless people in Wisconsin. Evers’ chief of staff said Saturday night, March 28 that the administration has been making smaller purchases and will now move forward with the large purchase of ventilators and masks.

"Wisconsin is competing not just with other states, but the entire world to get these supplies," said Gov. Evers Monday. "This is obviously a global crisis. We need much more."

Evers shared the following message on Twitter Sunday:

“I wanted to provide some updates on Wisconsin’s 24/7 whole-of-government response to the #COVID19 crisis. I am incredibly grateful to have the leadership and support of @WI_Guard and @ReadyWisconsin as we work around the clock to keep our communities safe. 

Two weeks ago I submitted a request to get Wisconsin’s share of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). That includes:

  • N95 Respirators: 54,709

  • Surgical Masks: 130,326

  • Face Shields: 24,816

  • Surgical Gowns: 20,233

  • Coveralls: 104

  • Gloves: 72,044

As of today, we have received about half of these items and have been working this weekend to start distributing this PPE to local communities.

In addition to our SNS shipments, we have also requested PPE from FEMA which is critically necessary to protect our first responders and health care workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.

At the same time, we have continued to work at the state and regional level to purchase supplies and equipment, including PPE, testing supplies, and ventilators.

Wisconsin is competing not just with other states and the federal government but with the entire world to get these supplies—this is a global crisis.

So in addition to working with the federal government to get our share and working to make large purchases in partnership with our neighbors in the Midwest, last week we also launched a PPE Donation and Buyback program.

Wisconsinites can now go to to either donate or sell large quantities of PPE to the state of Wisconsin, such as masks, gloves, and gowns.

The good news is that, due to the generosity of hundreds of Wisconsin businesses, non-profits, and even individuals, we’ve been able to start distributing donated PPE into our local communities.

But the bad news is that it isn’t enough–we need more. We need PPE and our requested lab supplies in order to increase our capacity to test tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, isolate those who are infected, and do our best to contain the spread of the disease.

We’re headed into the worst of this, folks, and the need is only going to get greater.

Our leadership team at the State Emergency Operations Center has been preparing to support our hospitals and our local and tribal health partners to assist them in setting up voluntary isolation centers.

We’re also working with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that field hospitals and facilities will be ready when the surge of acute cases begins to hit our healthcare systems in the coming weeks.

Now, I trust the science, our public health experts, our emergency management professionals, and our military leaders when they say these plans are necessary.

Even still, I sure as heck hope we’re all wrong. But the responsible thing to do is plan for the worst and hope for the best, so that’s what we’re doing.

We can and should learn lessons from other communities—listen to the science, be prepared, act swiftly, and save lives.”

Resources to keep you informed about COVID-19

CLICK HERE to view the Milwaukee County COVID-19 dashboard.

CLICK HERE to view the latest COVID-19 totals (updated daily at 2 p.m.) from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. A Fox Television Stations initiative to provide you with the most up-to-date national and international news on COVID-19.

    Helpful phone numbers

      About COVID-19 (from the CDC)

      Symptoms: Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses).