A month ago, the conditions for which one could be tested for COVID-19 could be called stringent.

“You almost had to be dead to be tested,” joked Kelli Engen, St. Croix County Public Health Officer.

Thanks to the Wisconsin National Guard however, that is no longer true, as 10 drive-thru testing sites were held throughout western Wisconsin over the last two weeks. One was conducted at Western Wisconsin Health in Baldwin on May 8.

Western Wisconsin Health CEO Alison Page said anyone could have been tested over the period if they felt like they were exhibiting any of the COVID-19 symptoms. Two hundred twenty-nine people took advantage.

Added Officer-in-Charge Christina Baurichter: “It’s gone amazing, really well,” she said, halfway through the testing. “Personally, we’ve had no issues.”

Thirty soldiers were on site to conduct the tests via nasal swab while decked out in protection suits from head to toe.

“This is something we are trained on,” Baurichter continued, adding her fellow members were from all over the state.

Besides Baldwin, other nearby sites included River Falls, Turtle Lake and Eau Claire.

“This is a marathon and we are on mile four”

Page noted how the virus has affected different parts of the country.

As of last week, California has had 56,000 cases and only 2,300 deaths, while New York has seen 316,000 cases and 25,000 deaths. California is a state of 40 million people compared to New York’s 20.

“Granted, in California, people are more spread out than in New York,” she continued. “…There will be some interesting research and lessons to be learned following this pandemic.

Both Page and Engen praised the immediate efforts to shut down schools and especially nursing homes in this area in mid-March in helping to limit the spread.

“It hit the coasts before it hit the Midwest, so we’ve had more time to prepare and our social distancing efforts had more impact,” Page said. “The past two months has given us time to prepare for when/if the virus hits our region. We are ready.

“…This is a marathon and we are on mile four.”

Another way to help in the battle is testing. Both Page and Engen commented it’s a goal of Governor Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm to test 85,000 Wisconsinites a week. Up until the last couple of weeks, the total number of people tested since mid-March was near that figure.

“Bringing in the National Guard is one piece of that puzzle,” Page said.

Engen praised Western Wisconsin Health for being “an amazing partner” in the battle to ramp up testing.

“Anyone who wanted to be tested could be tested,” Page said, implying Pierce and Dunn county residents weren’t turned away.

Page added, if anyone believes they have COVID-19 symptoms, they call the triage nurse at 715-684-1111.

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