COVID-19 testing surge in Dane County ahead of Thanksgiving travels

Rapid tests also harder to come by

FITCHBURG, Wis. — There was still a steady stream of cars at Fitchburg Family Pharmacy at midday on Wednesday, creeping past the storefront for drive-through COVID-19 tests.

This Monday, pharmacist Matt Huppert said they ran about 350 PCR tests, and 250 on Tuesday. That shattered their previously-held record of 300 in a day set several months ago.

“We want to make sure people get that access,” Huppert explained.

It’s one of the easiest places in town to grab a test — you don’t need an appointment, just a QR code that takes a minute or so to grab from their website through Wisconsin’s Covid Connect site.

It’s a similar story at the Dane County testing facility on South Park Street, Public Health Madison & Dane County’s emergency preparedness coordinator Ken Van Horn explained.

“We’ve been booked to our maximum this week, which is just under 400 tests a day,” he said.

The rush started late last week, and for PHMDC, the turnaround is currently about 48 hours. People searching for something even faster, however, are more likely to run into barriers.

“Rapid testing is kind of hard to come by right now. I know some of the larger pharmacies are and big box stores have rapid tests for sale,” Van Horn said. “We also offer rapid testing at our facility, but due to supply chain issues, it’s been a while since we had those tests — about a week.”

The pre-Thanksgiving surge could be partly to thank for that, he said. They’ll likely have rapid testing availability again next week. At Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, they aren’t yet offering rapid tests but did sell out of several home testing kits on Wednesday morning — after having them delivered last night.

“Rapid testing has been not as reliable as the PCR testing for quite a few factors,” Huppert said. That includes not always having a health care provider administering the test, but also lesser quality instruments analyzing the results, he added. They’ll order some soon for the pharmacy, but their focus is PCR.

But for anyone trying to seek out a test today or learning of a positive close contact and hoping for a last-minute fix, it’s already too late. Van Horn recommends people continue to wear masks to gatherings and to wait a few days if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive before getting their own test.

“It’s a little late to get tested today to make sure you’re going to protect someone tomorrow,” he explained.

The rush comes as COVID-19 cases creep up in Dane County, prompting PHMDC to extend the mask order through the new year rather than terminating it as first promised near the end of November. The county reported 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to PHMDC’s COVID dashboard. Dane County has seen a 14.4% increase in COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

“We had hoped to not issue any more face covering orders but in the last three weeks, our rate of disease in the community has nearly doubled, the rate among children is at an all-time high and in other parts of the state, cases are even higher,” PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said in a statement announcing the new mandate.

“With the holiday travel season upon us, this order provides more time for those who are newly eligible to get their first and second doses and for more adults to get booster doses.”