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Dane County expands testing capacity as ERs become overburdened with COVID-19 testing

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ERs Overburdened with COVID-19 Testing

MADISON (WKOW) -- Local health systems are reporting more and more people coming to the ER for a COVID-19 test which is diverting staff from patients with serious medical conditions.

That's one reason Dane County is offering more options for testing.

"We're doing everything we can to try to avoid people going to emergency rooms or urgent care for testing," said Ken Van Horn, testing director for Public Health Madison & Dane County.

However, with the rise in COVID-19 cases, more people are heading to ERs for answers.

Van Horn said, "Testing demand closely follows the number of new cases every day. Also, increased activity in the last couple of weeks at schools and University of Wisconsin, are driving slightly larger numbers."

Dr. Jeff Pothof with UW Health said, "COVID-19 is a pretty scary disease and I think sometimes, even though you have mild symptoms, seems like a really big deal and you want an answer as quickly as possible. People might come to the emergency department thinking this is my best option for getting a COVID-19 test, even though, I'm not really having an emergency, I can totally breathe fine. I'm just curious as to whether or not I got it."

A response could take a while if you head to an ER.

Dr. Pothof said, "It's likely that there are many other people coming to the emergency department who have much more pressing medical needs than yours. And the wait can be long, you know, on the order of hours."

Testing capacity in Dane County continues to grow, so the wait is much shorter.

Van Horn said, "You can get your appointment within a few hours usually, and then you're in and out the door in about 20 minutes. We have 32 different sites in and around Dane county that offer testing seven days a week and up to 120 hours a week that testing is available."

Testing is also available to all Wisconsin schools through the Department of Health Services' K-12 School Testing program. 

Health officials say for people experiencing no symptoms or mild symptoms, you should try to get a COVID-19 test at a community test site or it could cost you.

"There's people who go to the ER thinking they're getting a free test and then they get like a $2,000 bill because they were seen in an emergency department. They're probably like, 'What the heck is this? I could have gone to Walgreens and done this for free.' If you find yourself, you know, unable to breathe, those are things that you need to come see us for," said Dr. Pothof.

You don't have to be a resident to get tested in Dane County. Testing is free and identification is not required.

Wisconsin and Vault Medical Services have teamed up to offer COVID-19 testing with at-home sample collection for any person who believes they need to be tested, with or without symptoms, at no cost.