University of Wisconsin campuses will open free “surge testing sites” that provide rapid-result COVID-19 tests to off-campus community members, with the aim of alleviating the high demand for testing across the state.
Testing will be available on all 13 of the system’s four-year campuses, with some additional availability on the 13 branch campuses as well. Testing will begin as early as Thursday, though most campuses will start Monday.
The effort, announced Wednesday by interim UW System President Tommy Thompson, emerged through a partnership between the system and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the first such partnership between HHS and a university system.
Thompson said the six-week effort, which will provide 250,000 rapid tests, is an example of the “Wisconsin Idea in action,” and that the universities were well-positioned to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 surge in Wisconsin.
The testing will be open to students, staff and “people from schools and cities and villages, people that walk in all the way down to age 5,” Thompson said. “Anybody that wants to come in and get tested, we want to do it.”
UW-Milwaukee expects to conduct 1,500 tests per day from its student union testing site, a significant increase for the school. In comparison, the Milwaukee Health Department site at Miller Park has a capacity for about 2,000 tests per day. UW-Eau Claire will have a daily testing capacity of about 460 through the program.
Thompson said the effort will help universities get a better sense of how COVID-19 is spreading among off-campus students. It will also help the campus’ efforts to test all students before and after they leave for the holiday break.
The tests, designed by the health care company Abbott, deliver results within 15 minutes. Most UW campuses have used rapid COVID-19 tests this fall to track spread through dorms.
Rapid tests are less reliable than the other commonly used COVID-19 test. The latter — called a PCR test — takes several days to return from a lab. But the rapid test allows for quick results that can be confirmed through other tests if necessary.
The state Department of Health Services will provide the UW System with an additional 30,000 PCR tests to make confirmations as a part of the surge testing effort.
Community members can register for a test online at www.doineedacovid19test.com.