Gov. Tony Evers takes reporters' questions by speakerphone during a March 30 briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. (Screen image via WisconsinEye.)
Gov. Tony Evers takes reporters' questions by speakerphone during a March 30 briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. (Screen image via WisconsinEye.)

Wisconsin now at 1,235 cases. Officials say isolation efforts working.

A number of new partnerships with companies in the public and private sector will double the number of coronavirus test samples that can be processed in Wisconsin to upwards of 4,000 tests per day.  

The boost in laboratory capacity was announced Monday by Gov. Tony Evers’ office as the number of total positive cases of coronavirus in the state reached 1,235 and the number of deaths hit 19, according to a combination of reports from the state Department of Health Services, local health departments and media outlets.

The new partnerships include laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega, and UW Health. 

“Our incredible teams are working around the clock to bring up the ability to support our state’s health care workers, first responders and patients affected by COVID-19. We are repurposing some of our equipment and reconfiguring areas of our laboratory space to help scale up Wisocnsin’s COVID-19 testing capabilities,” said Kevin Conroy, chairman and chief executive officer of Exact Sciences, a Madison-based company known for developing tests to provide early colon cancer detection. “We look forward to applying lessons we’ve learned in the ongoing fight against cancer to help bring an end to this public health crisis.”

Prior to the new partnerships, the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab were processing a majority of the samples.

“Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to have these industry leaders in our backyard,” Evers said. “They are exhibiting the right kind of leadership that all Wisconsinites deserve … stepping up with innovation, cutting down superficial barriers and doing all they can to help keep Wisconsin communities healthy.”

Despite the increase in testing capacity, health officials stressed this does not mean there will be a drastic shift in who can be tested. 

People still must be experiencing symptoms of the virus, including a fever greater than 100 degrees, body aches, fatigue, shortness of breath and a cough and have a doctor’s order to receive a test.

“We do want to make testing a little more widely available,” said Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “But we are certainly not at a point where we would recommend testing for everyone or testing without a doctor’s order.”

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with DHS, echoed Palm’s response, saying he did not foresee a time when testing was done outside of an overall evaluation by a doctor.

“Because the symptoms of COVID-19 can be a number of other things, the responsible thing to do is to get a medical evaluation and to make sure it isn’t something else,” he said. “My hope is that testing for COVID-19 becomes a lot more widespread, which means it would look more like how we test for influenza (the flu).”

Westergaard added there would probably never come a time when asymptomatic people would be tested.

Westergaard also addressed projections that prompted Evers to enact the “safer at home” order last Tuesday. Models used by the state determined 22,000 Wisconsinites would contract the virus by April 8 if more drastic measures were not taken to increase social distance and close down non-essential businesses.

He said that projection was based on a number of positive cases doubling every three to four days. He said in the past seven days, the numbers have not been doubling in that timeframe.

“The message and the reason for optimism is that in the past four days we have not doubled our case numbers,” Westergaard said. “This is really going to be a critical week – the most information week – to see how things go.”

He said it was his personal view that the measures taken have already saved lives.

“We are seeing a slower curve,” Westergaard said. “What we are doing is working.”