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NEWS | May 6, 2020

Wisconsin National Guard helps expand COVID-19 testing

By 1st Lt. Meghan Skrepenski Wisconsin National Guard

ALMA, Wis. – Approximately 30 Citizen-Soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard helped the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site May 1, working with local emergency management officials to increase testing in western Wisconsin.

Testing had been largely unavailable in the area for those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Buffalo County requested Guard assistance, and anyone who met the county’s criteria for testing was able to take advantage of the drive-thru testing, according to Maj. Roger Lovelace, the officer in charge of the specimen collection team, and a physician assistant with the Wisconsin National Guard.

The specimen collection team was trained by another Guard team that has helped refine the process.

Lovelace said a line began forming before the scheduled 11 a.m. start time, so the team set up early and began testing. Almost 200 citizens took advantage of the testing by day’s end.

“The turnout was surprising, even when we were expecting a high turnout,” Lovelace said.

“I think the Soldiers were anxious to get on the mission to help out their fellow Wisconsinites,” he said. “And despite the little bit of rain we are getting, they are staying fairly positive. They are happy to be helping their fellow citizens, and that is what keeps them excited.”

Spc. Marissa Steffens, who has been in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for eight years serving as a light-wheeled mechanic, said Citizen-Soldiers are versatile and adaptable to fit the state’s needs.

“This is not typically what I am trained to do, but the Army has given us the ability to be here and provide COVID-19 testing,” she said.

“Our current testing site is about an hour away from where I grew up and have known my entire life, so people from my home town are coming through and getting tested,” Steffens said. “I know that we are taking these precautions seriously, and it’s nice to know we are offering something for people, making this available to them that wasn’t already available to them before. I’m coming up on the end of my contract and being able to participate in something like this before I exit the Army National Guard feels pretty special.”

Bruce Fuerbringer, Buffalo County Emergency Management director, said the request for assistance for testing was submitted April 27 and was able to be quickly turned around for the May 1 testing site.

“We were kind of hesitant. We weren’t sure how much turnout a rural community would bring, but the turnout this morning has been amazing,” he said. “This just goes to show that even in the rural setting where people think this isn’t a big deal, it is a big deal, as there is a concern. I think this is a huge service to the residents of these counties and others that came in to get it because it’s free and you don’t have to have a doctor’s orders to come and get it.”

Fuerbringer said testing was for those feeling symptomatic. Many of those tested were displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

“This has been a real boon to this area and fighting the COVID situation, and we appreciate the state and the Guard’s support,” Fuerbringer said.