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Milwaukee looks at extending hours at test sites, but faces challenging staffing levels

Posted at 5:18 PM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 18:18:52-05

MILWAUKEE — The demand for COVID-19 testing remains high as people get together this holiday season and as Milwaukee sees more than 20% of tests come back positive.

Milwaukee's Health Department reported they are seeing 500-1000 more COVID tests done this week compared to previous weeks. City leaders are looking at extending hours at their three testing sites. They say there are enough testing supplies, but having enough staff is an issue.

"We are experiencing the same staffing issues as hospital systems. We've been trying to maintain our operations," said Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Kirsten Johnson.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, Commissioner Johnson said keeping staff is an issue as they deal with threats, burnout, and stress.

The City of Milwaukee reported 55 voluntary resignations in 2021 from the Milwaukee Health Department. A spokesperson for the health department noted that while the HR team does not specify COVID-specific departures, nearly all of the exit surveys that were conducted indicated employees were leaving to pursue a career with a better work-life balance.

Vaccinator Rosemary Erkins said early this year she felt so strongly about helping the city she grew up in that she came out of retirement.

"Oh, because nurses we're here to help. Okay, that's what we do. I had to come and help, and then I brought in other retirees with me," Erkins said.

As Commissioner Johnson toured the city's Northwest Community Health Center with Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson there was a dramatic difference between the testing line and the vaccination line.

"I'm unfortunately not surprised by the situation we find ourselves in after Christmas between omicron and our vaccination rates," Commissioner Johnson said.

The two leaders stressed the need for vaccinations, boosters, testing before gathering, and masking up to help keep people healthy rather than push for a city mandate that comes with challenges to enforcement and legal authority

"It's going to take all of us to be active partners, and this isn't just going to be a mandate that comes from the city. It's going to be the actions that people take in their home," Acting Mayor Johnson said.

Commissioner Johnson discouraged those who test positive with an at-home kit and are symptomatic from coming to the testing site for a PCR confirmation.

"You can assume that it is positive and that you should follow the precautions," Commissioner Johnson said.

Currently, it's not clear when and if the city will be able to extend testing hours.

City-run test sites will be closed on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2.

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