MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee police officers will now have an increased presence at the city's COVID-19 testing sites after people tried to cut in line and caused altercations with others waiting in line as well as testing site staff.
The Milwaukee Health Department made the announcement on Tuesday, as the city's testing sites deal with a surge in people trying to get tested for the virus.Since around Christmas TMJ4 News crews have spotted extremely long lines of cars outside facilities.
What's new today is the Milwaukee Health Department described reports it has received of bad behavior at the testing sites, such as line-cutting and other altercations. Such behavior in turn led to the decision to put security in place using Milwaukee police officers. The health department has never voiced such concerns in a public statement before.
The health department said if anyone intentionally cuts in line or tries to cause issues, the person will be asked to move to the end of the line - or leave altogether.
"Lines have been long; uncertainty and stress can cause heightened emotions. The MHD COVID-19 response team has been working as hard as possible to provide free COVID-19 tests to the community," their statement reads.
This isn't the first time MPD has had to protect Milwaukee Health Department workers. Starting in 2020, officers had to accompany health department inspectors during COVID-19 compliance checks after the health department received a death threat. Then-Interim Milwaukee Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said at the time, "Throughout this process, our inspectors have been verbally abused, they have definitely had to have some very difficult conversations, and those conversations have not been happy."
The health department added on Tuesday that since Dec. 20, they have administered almost 16,000 COVID-19 PCR tests at their testing facilities. Those are the Northwest Health Center, Southside Health Center, and Menomonee Valley Site.
"We have gone through I think four different lines in the past week and a half, and probably totaled up now 3-4 hours just in waiting lines over the past week," said Matthew Brien.
Brien says his daughter Eleanore tested positive for COVID last week and has been trying to get her re-tested to see if she's in the clear.
"We've gone through this 3 or 4 different times," said Brien.
And they aren't alone.
"We are seeing testing numbers unlike anything during the pandemic in the past," said Dr. Ben Weston, Chief Health Policy Advisor for Milwaukee County.
Currently, Milwaukee County has a COVID positivity rate of 34% and is averaging more than 1,100 new cases a day.
"Our case numbers are at an all-time record. We likely have worse days to come," said Dr. Weston.
As the demand for testing goes up, the lines at Milwaukee Health Department's testing sites have gotten longer. And because of this, health officials say they've seen an increase in people trying to cut in lines, or starting arguments with others.
"It's involved both people who are in line and our staff and I know that there have been some threats of violence," said Milwaukee Health Department's commissioner of health, Kirsten Johnson.
According to Milwaukee Police, the officers at the COVID testing sites are being paid for by a grant and they will be working overtime. So far they say no additional officers have been needed but the one assigned.
However, Aldmerman Michael Murphy and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic are asking for a bigger testing site to be used again like American Family Field.
“We need to expand our testing sites, expand the hours and do more to test people as soon as possible. We need more sites, open longer hours, I know our staff is working hard. It's clear that the demand, as well as the virus spread, is surging," said Dimitrijevic.
As of Dec. 30, the health department's COVID-19 dashboarddescribes case burden as "extremely transmissible," with about 571 confirmed cases per 100,000 people. Percent positively is also described as extreme with a rate of 23.8 percent of tests coming back positive.