Miller Park to become a COVID-19 testing site as National Guard moves out of Milwaukee
With the Wisconsin National Guard scheduled to transition out of its COVID-19 testing role in Milwaukee over the next two months, local leaders are planning to provide testing at two health centers — and Miller Park.
"You're going to see a pretty significant increase in our capacity, and instead of having two sites we will now have three sites," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley stressed that the addition of a central location like Miller Park is a "good thing" for residents.
"We just want to continue to support as many local municipalities to make sure that we can continue to have no barriers to testing sites throughout Milwaukee County," Crowley said.
Starting Monday, Milwaukee will use Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Road, and Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd St., to provide testing. Once they are fully running, each site will have a capacity of 400 tests each day.
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The health center sites will be staffed by the Milwaukee Health Department with assistance from the Milwaukee Fire Department and a county EMS team.
On Oct. 19, testing will begin at Miller Park, staffed by the guard, the Health Department and the county EMS team. That site will have a capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 tests each day.
That's compared to a total capacity of 2,000 tests each day at the current National Guard sites, with about 1,500 to 1,600 tests performed per day in recent weeks, Barrett said.
The sites will be open to any county residents, and the priority is to test people who are symptomatic, who have had close contact with someone with the virus or who are referred by a health care provider. Testing will be free and no appointments will be required.
The testing will be funded by federal CARES Act dollars allocated to the city and the state Department of Health Services.
At this point, local officials are prepared to run the three sites through the end of the year.
"This is why it is so critical that Congress meet and come up with a funding package because the city, the county, the state, all of us have limited resources after the turn of the calendar year," Barrett said. "Timing is of the essence for Congress to act to get assistance to local governments to continue the testing."
A Milwaukee County team of paramedics, dubbed the community-oriented regional EMS, or CORE, will be supporting the testing sites by helping with medical oversight, ensuring quality in the process and ensuring a smooth flow for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County residents using the sites, said Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.
About 90 guard members are currently staffing the two testing sites at UMOS, 2701 S. Chase Ave. on the south side, and Barack Obama School-Custer Stadium at 4300 W. Fairmount Ave. on the north side.
The National Guard sites will be open through Oct. 17. Their current hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
As the guard transitions out of the city, officials anticipate a fully civilian testing staff by Nov. 25.
Hours at Northwest Health Center and Southside Health Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays.
Miller Park hours will be 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Why the sites are moving
Barrett said during a virtual news conference Thursday that it was necessary to move testing from the two locations where the National Guard had been set up.
"To be successful in continuing our testing efforts for the fall and winter months, we need to move to Miller Park as our main testing hub," Barrett said. "Just logistically, for weather reasons, Custer and UMOS become more difficult and we cannot appropriately weatherize those sites to protect staff and residents."
He said construction would start Wednesday at Miller Park.
The county is also working on potential transportation options for the Miller Park site, Crowley said.
"We have a commitment to racial equity and we are eager to assist the city of Milwaukee in this effort," Crowley said. "The county is looking to support additional transportation options to Miller Park in order to ensure that site is accessible by public transportation."
The guard first opened its Milwaukee testing sites in May. The free, no appointment needed testing sites quickly became popular, often drawing hundreds of people each day to their locations on the north and south sides of the city.
Guard members are being transitioned out of Milwaukee and Madison so they can be deployed across the state in an effort to increase free, consistent testing as cases grow statewide.
Wisconsin is one of the nation's COVID-19 hot spots, particularly the northeastern and central parts of the state that have struggled recently with rapidly rising hospitalizations.
In contrast, Milwaukee is doing well in terms of the number of hospital beds it has available, interim Milwaukee Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said Thursday.
But, she said, that's a measure city health officials are watching as state numbers rise.
"Obviously, with city of Milwaukee having regional health facilities, it's something that we very much need to pay attention to," Jackson said.
As of Tuesday, the county had seen more than 30,500 cases of COVID-19 and 435 deaths.
Crowley urged other municipalities to open additional testing sites as Wisconsin faces a surge in coronavirus cases.
Contact Mary Spicuzza at (414) 224-2324 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @MSpicuzzaMJS.