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Online COVID-19 testing registration tool helps decrease wait times at Alliant

Online COVID-19 testing registration tool helps decrease wait times at Alliant

Alliant Energy Center COVID-19 testing (copy)

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard collect samples from people in their vehicles at a free community testing site for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center in May.

State health officials are looking to cut down long wait times in drive-thru community COVID-19 testing sites with the implementation of a new online registration tool. 

The rollout of COVID Connect comes after Madison’s Alliant Energy Center logged complaints in recent weeks of four-hour-plus wait times as the site often saw thousands of people lining up each day to get tested.

In addition to opening up more driving lanes — the Alliant is now up to six — plus its walk-up line for bicyclists and pedestrians, National Guard officials staffing the site began piloting the new registration system that local public health officials said decreased some wait times to under 10 minutes this week. 

Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp credited the combination for making wait times “much better” in recent days at the site.

“We’ve seen extraordinarily strong demand for testing at our sites in both Milwaukee and Madison in recent days and weeks,” the state’s adjutant general told reporters Thursday, noting the Alliant alone has administered more than 50,000 tests in the weeks it’s been open. 

With the use of COVID Connect and the additional lanes, Public Health Madison & Dane County spokeswoman Sarah Mattes said officials are able to conduct 250 tests an hour — though she didn’t have comparable figures from before the new registration system was implemented. 

Under the new process, which will be picked up statewide in the next week or so, individuals are able to use their cell phones while they're waiting in line to enter their personal information, current symptoms, whether they had traveled recently or been in close contact with anyone who had tested positive for COVID-19 and whether they are a health care worker or first responder. 

Once the form is filled out, the site will provide a QR code for the National Guard members to scan, Knapp said. 

Filling out the information online cuts out the in-person interview process where soldiers and airmen approach individuals looking to get tested, take down their personal information and fill out a waiver. 

That process, which Knapp said usually takes five minutes, could be cut down to around 30 seconds by having this information entered electronically. 

After testing results are final, individuals would receive an email with a link to access the information, according to an announcement from Gov. Tony Evers’ office. 

The new tool, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Division of Public Health Interim Administrator Stephanie Smiley said, would also aid in contact tracing efforts.  

All the information provided is going to the state’s Disease Surveillance System, Smiley noted, a secure website that is the same connection officials use to log specimen results. 

The Alliant began piloting the system last week, Mattes said, though she noted it hasn’t been in place every day. She added the system isn’t being used at other Dane County community testing sites at this time. 

Overall across the state, Knapp said more than 200,000 tests have been logged at National Guard-supported sites, including nearly 50,000 in Milwaukee area locations. 

The Department of Health Services began working on COVID Connect on May 15, an agency spokeswoman said, and it was completed May 29. Three small pilots were then conducted in June with the National Guard to work out the process, with the first full volume run taking place July 2, she added. 

The effort was developed with seemingly no extra costs to the state, as Microsoft granted Wisconsin officials free Dynamics licenses for six months as well as up to 1,000 consulting hours for implementation purposes, the spokeswoman said. 

The Alliant Energy Center will be open for testing until at least Aug. 31.

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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