Community testing for COVID-19 is falling short of demand in Rock County, and it needs to get fixed.
Cars lined Sunny Lane as people waited to get tested Wednesday at Blackhawk Technical College. By the end of the day, Wisconsin National Guard troops had administered 607 tests, leaving only 293 tests available for Thursday.
On Thursday morning, cars were in line at 9 a.m., two hours before testing was scheduled to begin. The testing site was scheduled to be open until 7 p.m. but closed at 2:35 p.m. when tests ran out.
How can tests run out?
Rob Balsamo is coordinator of fire and EMS at Blackhawk Technical College and now also is operations manager for COVID-19 testing being hosted by the school.
When planning for testing at the school, he asked Rock County officials for 300 tests a day. But then he saw what was happening at the testing site at Dawson Ball Fields in Janesville, where an average of 500 people were tested every day between Oct. 12 and Oct. 16.
Balsamo modified his request, asking for 500 tests a day at Blackhawk Tech.
County officials told him the state Department of Health Services had authorized 450 a day.
That’s 900 over two days, which so far hasn’t been enough. Blackhawk Tech will be hosting testing every Wednesday and Thursday through at least Dec. 10.
Balsamo said there is enough demand among residents for more testing—perhaps 1,000 or 1,200 tests a week—but he was told the limiting factor is the availability of National Guard personnel, who are running testing sites throughout the state.
Not so, says the National Guard.
“Generally speaking, it comes down to however many tests we’re allocated, we’ll execute,” said National Guard spokesman Maj. Joe Trovato.
Is there more demand for National Guard services than are available?
“No. I wouldn’t say that,” he said.
Maybe, then, it’s a lack of testing supplies?
Not that, either, Trovato said. He helped facilitate a state Department of Health Services media briefing Thursday, when the deputy secretary said there is no shortage of supplies.
We weren’t able to reach state health officials Thursday to ask for their version of events.
Jessica Turner, public health communications specialist for the Rock County Department of Public Health, said the county has asked for more tests at Blackhawk Tech.
“As many as they can give us,” Turner said.
Medical experts agree that more testing is part of what is needed to get ahead of the coronavirus, but Rock County testing is falling short. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are surging, but not everybody who wants a test can get one.
One of the two cars in line at Blackhawk Tech at 9 a.m. Thursday was driven by Shirley Russell, 78, Beloit.
“I haven’t been tested, yet, and the virus has gone pretty bad in Wisconsin, so I figured I’d go ahead and do it and see if I’m OK,” Russell said.
She agreed it would be good if more tests were available to meet the demand, “but if they don’t have the stuff to test with, you’re out of luck.”
People shouldn’t be relying on luck to get tested. They should be relying on government leaders to make sure testing is available for everybody who wants it.