MILWAUKEE — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the Wisconsin National Guard has had a consistent presence in Milwaukee, with members testing people for the virus, but that will soon change as the guard turns over the community testing sites to civilians.
It was early May, when Milwaukee opened up two free community testing sites for COVID-19, all run by the Wisconsin National Guard: one on the north side in the parking lot of the Midtown Shopping Center, and one on the south side in the lot by UMOS.
Over the weeks, they made some adjustments, like moving the north side site to the lot at Custer Stadium across from Barack Obama School, or creating an online system for people to pre-register and obtain their test results. However, to this day, cars continue to line up at the sites with people ready to get swabbed.
Then last Thursday, during the bi-weekly Milwaukee city-county COVID-19 response briefing, Mayor Tom Barrett mentioned a change to these sites in the near future.
“We have really, really, really benefited immensely from the presence of the National Guard as really our partner,” Barrett said during the Sept. 24 update.
The change is that the National Guard will soon be heading out.
Major Joe Trovato said by Thanksgiving, the large testing sites in Milwaukee and Madison will be run by civilians.
“We're going to be transitioning those to civilian-run testing sites over the next couple of months,” Major Trovato said.
He expects training will begin in a few weeks.
“The Guard will help train all of those teams to run basically the same type of set-up that we're currently running,” Major Trovato said.
The Guard will still collect specimens locally if they’re requested to help with an outbreak somewhere like a senior-living or correctional facility.
Major Trovato said the transition will enable them to help more communities across the state.
“There's going to be regular and consistent community-based testing done on a more regional approach with predictable timelines,” Major Trovato said.
This regional approach Major Trovato said, is that much more important with Wisconsin now seeing record-levels of cases.
“We wear the uniform because we want to serve our fellow citizens and the communities in which we live and work as well,” Major Trovato said.
So far the Wisconsin National Guard has collected half a million specimens in the state.
TMJ4 News reached out to the Milwaukee Health Department for more on the transition. A spokesperson said they’re still finalizing the details.