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Long lines lead to 4+ hour wait times for COVID-19 testing at Alliant Energy Center


MADISON (WKOW) -- Kate Blackwell agreed with her teenage daughter that, given her job at a grocery store, she should get tested for COVID-19. When mother and daughter arrived at the Alliant Energy Center for free drive-up testing Monday, Blackwell said the posted sign noted wait times longer than two hours.

"The sign said about a two-and-a-half-hour wait and, it's like 'hmm' you feel strongly about getting tested?'" Blackwell said.

They decided to wait and ended up staying in line for more than four hours, an experience many reported having Monday at the lone free, public COVID-19 testing site in Dane County.

"Didn't bring any snacks or any water or anything like that because, I don't know what I was thinking," Blackwell said.

Kara Schnier did bring water and a snack for her wait but said it didn't last long. She also reported waiting more than four hours for a drive-up test Monday.

"At some point, they have you pull around and get into these individual lines," Schnier said. "But then you just sit there because then they send one line in at a time to get into another group of lines to go and get tested."

Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) did not respond to 27 News' questions Monday about what, if anything, the agency is doing to make the testing process more efficient at the Alliant Energy Center site.

PHMDC noted the longer lines in a social media post Monday and suggested it may be due to people seeking a test following get-togethers with friends and family over the 4th of July weekend. The agency advised people who are not feeling any symptoms to wait three to five days from when they attended the gathering before getting tested, noting it can take this novel coronavirus strain two to 14 days to incubate.

The region's health care providers also offer COVID-19 testing but not for asymptomatic individuals.

"We are testing by appointment and only for those with symptoms at our clinics," UnityPoint Health Spokesperson Leah Huibregtse said in an email. "Our hospital tests anyone who is admitted or is having procedures, even without symptoms."

"If someone has concern about potential COVID-19 symptoms, we encourage them to reach out to their health care provider," said SSM Health Spokesperson Jim Korth in an email. "If someone is determined to be at risk of infection, they’ll be connected with an SSM Health provider for evaluation and care, as appropriate. If testing is recommended, they’ll be directed to the nearest testing facility."

Both healthcare providers and PHMDC noted the increased testing comes as the county experiences a sharp increase in cases.

"At UW Health, we have seen increased demand for testing from symptomatic patients as the number of cases in the community continues to rise," said UW Health Spokesperson Emily Kumlien. "This is another reminder of how important it is for everyone to practice physical distancing and wear face coverings if we are to bend this curve back again."

While patience was required for those waiting in line Monday, it's also a virtue following the test; PHMDC says those who've received a test should self-isolate until the results come back. In Dane County, PHMDC says the results from tests at the Alliant Energy Center should be processed in three to five business days.

Schnier said her self-isolation plans include continuing her job search and watching shows on Netflix. She added that she finds herself fortunate, all things considered.

"I live in an apartment that has a nice A/C, I have a TV, I have all these things that can kind of keep me going for the next few days," Schnier said. "So reminding myself of that as well. That I could be worse off."

Reminder - look beyond raw case counts

As health officials and epidemiologists have said from the onset of the pandemic, key data to monitor goes beyond the overall confirmed case totals.

While increased testing will uncover more cases, the percentage of positive tests in Madison and Dane County has also increased in recent days. In Dane County, July 1 is the most recent day for which testing percentage is available. On that day, 11.1 percent of tests came back positive, the highest percentage since the county began tracking testing results.

Cases requiring ICU stays has remained stable, ranging between eight and 11 patients since June 22. However, public health experts have warned hospitalizations can lag case counts for several weeks so the public should remain cautious, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when either inside public buildings or when physical distancing cannot be guaranteed outside.