As rain and blustery wind lashed about 60 local officials and the Wisconsin National Guard medical team, hundreds of residents waited in lines in their cars to get free COVID-19 tests Monday in Janesville.
It was the first day of a five-day run of drive-thru testing offered by the National Guard and Rock County Emergency Management at Dawson Ball Fields south of downtown.
The National Guard plans to continue testing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day this week at the ball fields, city spokeswoman Maggie Darr said. The goal is to test up to 500 people each day, she said. Testing officials have 2,500 tests to administer.
Darr, a coordinator for the testing, said by mid-afternoon Monday, National Guard officials had tested about 200 people who had registered online in advance.
Additional cars waited in line amid the rain, wind and emerging word that President Donald Trump plans to visit Janesville this weekend.
The public testing site opens at a time when positive cases of the coronavirus are peaking in Rock County. Deaths, hospitalizations and new cases soared over the weekend in the county, and Wisconsin has made national headlines for its sharp spike in cases.
Testing officials guided Monday’s line of vehicles in loops around barricades at the ball fields. At times, cars were backed up hundreds of yards north along Beloit Avenue.
The National Guard confirmed the testing site and dates last week and opened online registration over the weekend. A crew of city, Rock County Emergency Management and county health department officials aided the National Guard as dozens of people moved through the site every hour.
Darr said anyone can register to get tested at Dawson, although those being tested won’t have scheduled appointments. After cars filled the parking lot for most of the day Monday, Darr suggested people should plan for a wait in their cars.
The tests are the typical nose swab type. Darr said the main goal is for people to learn whether they’re infected so that they can stay home and isolate.
Organizers hope people who think they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, aches and headache, will use the testing site this week.
“It’s open to anybody. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people, including a woman this morning who said, ‘I want to go visit my mother in Minneapolis on Friday, and I want to make sure that I don’t have COVID. Can I get a test?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. She’s a perfect example of somebody we’d rather get a test before they potentially go and visit family,” Darr said.
Two Spanish-language interpreters worked at the testing site Monday to help some people who had registered navigate a short health questionnaire after their tests.
It’s not clear when the state will issue results to those who are tested, but a state Department of Health Services portal to register for the tests indicates that results will be sent via email or text message.
The health department lists a hotline for people to call if they haven’t gotten results within five days.