U.S. surgeon general announces creation of federal COVID-19 testing site at ThedaCare clinic in Neenah
NEENAH - A two-week free COVID-19 testing site open to anyone, with or without symptoms, will open at a ThedaCare clinic in Neenah, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams announced at a press conference Friday.
The site, a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ThedaCare and state Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, will conduct up to 30,000 tests to help paint a better picture of how many asymptomatic carriers in northeastern Wisconsin are spreading the virus, Adams said.
More than 12,000 people in Fox Valley communities might have COVID-19 and not know it, predicted ThedaCare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Frank — and, if they're in contact with others, they are unknowingly spreading the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 40% of people who contract COVID-19 don't show symptoms.
"That's what's causing a lot of the spread in these communities. It's not really by people who are sick, it's by people who don't realize that they're spreading the virus," Adams said.
Roth told reporters he made a call to ThedaCare's chief strategy officer, Tom Arquilla, late Wednesday night to get the surge site rolling with the help of the federal government.
"They understood the need. They understood the urgency, and they never wavered," Roth said.
Testing at ThedaCare Physicians-Neenah, located at 333 N. Green Bay Road in Neenah, opened at a limited capacity Friday afternoon through 7 p.m. and will be fully open on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments must be scheduled at doineedacovid19test.com.
People will be asked to conduct a self-swab in their nostrils to collect a sample and will receive results at the same registration site in less than three days. Those under 18 must have a guardian present to consent to testing.
The surge testing effort could expand in capacity over the coming days as local partners explore potential additional sites, according to HHS.
Frank said since Oct. 1, ThedaCare's hospitals have been on average 90% full each day as hospitalizations due to the virus rise. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported Friday that 164 patients in the Fox Valley are hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 60 a month earlier.
The surge shows no signs of slowing as Wisconsin recorded 3,861 cases Friday, another single-day record.
Adams pointed to Arizona, a state that battled a major COVID-19 surge during the summer but brought it under control, as an example for Wisconsin to follow. They did so in a matter of weeks using what he calls "the three Ws:" Wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance.
As cases spiked in Arizona, state officials brought back some mitigation measures that were used in the spring, like limiting public events to 50 people, limiting indoor restaurant capacity to 50% and closing bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks. Many local leaders began enforcing face covering orders, a CDC study showed.
In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers have supported an effort to overturn Gov. Tony Evers' mask mandate, and a Sawyer County judge knocked down his effort to limit bars, restaurants and other businesses to 25% capacity.
Asked whether he believes Wisconsin should have such mandates, Adams said he is not a politician but that "policies that encourage people to follow those three Ws are going to lower spread of the disease."
If everyone acts now to slow the spread, Adams said, it's possible Wisconsin could be in a better place before Thanksgiving. But it will only work if people limit their "bubbles" of others they interact with to the size they were in March and April — a time when state health officials were urging people to keep their circles to five or less.
It's been a struggle for the Fox Valley since mid-summer, as people attended weddings, funerals, golf outings, Green Bay Packer watch parties and other events where asymptomatic carriers could spread the virus to others without knowing it.
"What no one wants is to go home for Thanksgiving and have a big Thanksgiving dinner and give Grandma COVID, and then Grandma doesn't make it to see another Thanksgiving," Adams said.
Because a vaccine is on its way in a matter of months, Adams said, people should not pursue herd immunity to the virus through natural infection. For no other disease "in the history of mankind" has the world tried to achieve herd immunity that way, he said.
Mitigation strategies like testing, tracing, wearing a mask, keeping circles small, washing hands and getting a flu shot will work to keep schools, businesses and other entities open, not the opposite, he said.
"A lot of people think we're trying to go back to March and April-type shutdowns. That's not the case here. We now know how to keep this virus under control," Adams said. "Pursuing a blind herd immunity strategy actually puts us at risk of having to close down."