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Wisconsin testing capacity prepared for surge in demand

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As coronavirus case numbers rise sharply in Wisconsin, testing sites across the state are seeing record numbers come through, including the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. In response, labs are working to meet the demand and preparing for even more tests in the coming weeks.

State Department of Health Services(DHS) Deputy Administrator Chuck Warzecha said the steps Wisconsin took in April to ramp up testing left the state adequately prepared for the recent surge in demand.

"I think that we've been using a weekly total of 85,000," he said.

To get to that weekly testing capacity, Warzecha said the State Hygiene Lab worked with private companies like Exact Sciences, Epic and Promega. The companies are helping create the reagents for the tests and process them as quickly and accurately as possible.

He said the department has faced high demand before and learned to adapt for the future.

"Here was a period of time where we were really pushing the limits of the laboratories, And I think as you get close to that limit," Warzecha said. "It takes a while to work through the bugs and then you find that you've got a larger limit."

He said DHS is working to get that testing capacity up to 120,000 per week and the state is already headed there.

"We found that we've got excess capacity right now that we could be using, and we're going to continue to push to use that," Warzecha said.

In the meantime, Dr. Jeff Pothoff with UW Health said health care providers are watching closely.

"We often will see a bit of a lag between increase in positive cases, and then people hitting the hospitals," he said.

To prevent that, Pothoff said the best defense is quick detection. That's why UW Health ramped up its on-campus testing as well.

"We control within UW Health all those processes from collection to processing to running the test to reporting the result," he said. "It's all within our own infrastructure."

He said the next, most important step is contact tracing and self-quarantine. He believes if the demographic already infected can keep the virus from spreading to those who may be more at-risk, Wisconsin can keep hospitalizations down.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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