Last Sunday’s newspaper was filled with stories of perseverance during the pandemic. Businesses reinvented themselves to keep customers. Nonprofits pivoted to help the unemployed. Unable to perform in public, the orchestra streamed live performances from their homes and athletic fields.
“Madison Forward,” the Wisconsin State Journal’s special report on the staying power of businesses and nonprofits during COVID-19, was inspiring and instructive. Not every operation and organization made it through the last year of health restrictions and a weak economy. But the many who survived have shown “resounding resilience,” as Part 1 of our special report showed through human stories and statistics.
We’d like to add one more remarkable effort to the long list of successes to celebrate: the Alliant Energy Center’s ever-evolving testing and vaccination services on Madison’s South Side.
The free community health facility opened last May, just three months after the first COVID case reached Wisconsin. Back then, the Wisconsin National Guard was staffing the site in the New Holland Pavilions, which were built for large animal events such as the World Dairy Expo. The pavilions weren’t designed for medical teams and equipment serving tens of thousands of potentially infected people driving through in their vehicles.
Moreover, scientists weren’t sure how or where COVID would spread. Many of us were scared.
It seemed like a lot. But this makeshift health center was just getting started.
The site adapted, improved and expanded while overcoming setbacks. Following a Fourth of July surge in cases, for example, the wait for a COVID test was as long as four hours. Lines of cars snaked around Dane County’s sprawling Alliant property. Yet more than 2,600 people were tested there on July 7 alone.
Then on Dec. 29, the facility started vaccinating people, gradually expanding eligibility to all adults.
Today, getting a shot or test can take as little as 15 to 30 minutes, with results the next day. You can check for backups on social media. You can walk, bicycle or arrange for a free ride to Alliant for a jab or swab. They even allow drop-ins without appointments. And now that Alliant has become one of the few Federal Emergency Management Agency mass vaccination sites in Wisconsin, it can administer as many as 7,700 shots each week.
All told, Alliant has tested more than 415,500 people and vaccinated more than 57,000.
Most important: Life is starting to return to normal. The Alliant Energy Center is hosting public events again. A section of the parking lots has become a temporary site for the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Commercial events such as a spa, hot tub and sauna sale recently filled the arena. After a year hiatus, the Dane County Fair is returning this July.
It’s the beginning of the end — we hope and expect — of this terrible disease that’s killed more than 6,800 people in Wisconsin. And this giant, temporary health facility helped force COVID’s decline.
Public Health Madison and Dane County, which runs the site, deserves a lot of the credit. So do local and state leaders who ensured its funding continued. More than 150 people work at the facility — none of whom have contracted the virus there, as far as county officials know.
Madison-based Exact Sciences designed some of the tests. Promega helped expand capacity. Epic Systems of Verona implemented software to increase efficiency.
And don’t forget everyone who has used the site. Most of us patiently waited our turn for a shot or swab, and dutifully filled out paperwork online to speed the process. Dane County now has one of the best vaccination rates in the state.
Part 2 of “Madison Forward” is coming in this Sunday’s newspaper. It will look ahead to a robust recovery. Make sure to check it out.
And if you still need a vaccine or test, the Alliant Energy Center remains a convenient choice for COVID protection and peace of mind. Get an appointment online at go.madison.com/GetAShot. The noble effort at Alliant shows what our community can do when it pulls together and we commit to keeping one another safe.