MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers announced May 19 a robust $1 billion statewide effort to support COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, acquisition of needed supplies, emergency operations, and resources for local communities throughout Wisconsin.
The effort is funded by $1.17 billion in federal coronavirus aid, relief and economic security act dollars.
Recognizing that testing and contact tracing are essential to Wisconsin’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus, the state has allocated approximately $260 million for testing efforts and $75 million for contact tracing.
Wisconsin’s statewide testing program ensures Wisconsinites can be tested for the COVID-19 virus regardless of location, income or connection to an existing health care system. This $260 million program includes procuring COVID-19 tests and ensuring those tests can be processed quickly and accurately. At the beginning of March, Wisconsin’s lab capacity for COVID-19 tests was at zero.
As of May 19, Wisconsin’s testing capacity stood at more than 13,000 tests per day, with 52 active labs to process and analyze these test kits. Wisconsin’s goal for testing capacity is 85,000 tests per week. The cost estimate includes making the 85,000 tests available at no charge to patients and includes the cost of the specimen collection materials, diagnostic services and shipping. To support these efforts, the Wisconsin National Guard is currently operating 25 field testing teams working throughout the state to provide both community and targeted field testing.
The testing program includes:
● COVID-19 test kits: everyone who needs a test should receive a test. The state’s testing program will spend $202 million to provide COVID-19 test collection kits to Wisconsin hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, local public health departments, and others at no cost to ensure that everyone who needs a test receives a test.
● Local preparedness grants: These grants will provide $30,000 in funding to 96 local and tribal public health departments, for a total of approximately $3 million, to update preparedness plans to ensure Wisconsin communities, schools and businesses are prepared to support testing efforts into the fall.
● Local community and occupational testing pilots: These pilot programs will infuse $45 million in funding to local public health departments, occupational health providers, home health agencies and health systems to conduct COVID19 testing in congregate, community and occupational settings. This program will incentivize testing by providing eligible providers $35 per COVID-19 test administered to a Wisconsin resident and will run through Aug. 31.
● Public health testing coordinators: The testing program will provide $10 million in funding to local and tribal public health departments to coordinate local testing efforts.
Hand-in-hand with Wisconsin’s state COVID-19 testing program is Wisconsin’s statewide contact tracing program. The purpose of this contact tracing program is to conduct interviews with people who test positive for COVID-19 and alert individuals who have been in recent contact with those who have tested positive that they may have been exposed and to counsel them to quarantine during the period they may develop symptoms and get tested if they are symptomatic.
Of the $75 million, up to $50 million will be available to local and tribal public health departments to hire staff. The remaining funds will go towards technology resources and hiring additional state staff to supplement local efforts to quickly and effectively conduct interviews.
Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, Wisconsin identified a need for specific kinds and quantities of personal protective equipment to protect heath care providers, first responders, and others from contracting COVID-19. The state took early action to procure the types and amounts of PPE needed to provide maximum protection for Wisconsinites. This action ranged from requesting PPE from the strategic national stockpile to working with public and private sector partners to identify additional sources of PPE for acquisition. The acquisition of PPE is estimated to cost $150 million. After acquisition, this PPE equipment is distributed to recipients throughout Wisconsin, including health care facilities, first responders, and local governments.
The state has also allocated $40 million towards the procurement of ventilators. Currently, there are only investigational drugs to treat COVID-19, and no vaccine to prevent the virus.
Rather, medical professionals work to provide patients who test positive for COVID-19 supportive care. In some cases, the COVID-19 virus causes such a severe reaction that a patient loses the ability to breathe on their own. In such cases, the patient may be placed on a machine that breathes for the patient, called a ventilator. Being on the ventilator can give the patient additional time to recover from the virus.
Because of the importance of ventilators for COVID-19 patients, Wisconsin has taken steps to increase the quantity of ventilators in the state by purchasing 1,542 additional ventilators.
Wisconsin has also prepared for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases through an Alternative Care Facility. To date, the state has constructed a 530-bed ACF at State Fair Park in Milwaukee County. This ACF will be able to house low-acuity COVID-19 patients should there be a surge in hospitalization rates.
Approximately $445 million is being allocated to ensure Wisconsin hospital systems and communities are prepared to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients over the summer and fall..