‘All hands on deck’: PHMDC bringing COVID-19 testing back to Alliant Energy Center amid Omicron surge

MADISON, Wis. — The Alliant Energy Center has not been home to COVID-19 testing for more than six months, but as the Omicron variant sweeps the country, public health officials in Dane County are partnering with a private testing provider to reopen the arena for tests next week.

The clinic, which is set to open Monday, will have an initial testing capacity of 500-750 tests per day, five days a week. A week later, on January 17, capacity will increase to 1,000 tests per day and will expand to weekends “as soon as possible.” The clinic is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The clinic will be a walk-up rather than a drive-through, unlike the original testing site at Alliant. Testing is available by appointment only to cut down on patient wait times.

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“This addition will have a huge impact for folks who are anxious about getting a test right now,” Ken Van Horn, PHMDC’s testing director, said in a statement Thursday morning. “It will increase the total testing capacity in Dane County by 12.5% right away on week one, 25% on week two and 33% when weekends are added to the mix.”

Expanding testing options have been in high demand in recent weeks due to skyrocketing COVID-19 case rates in Dane County. Last week, Dane County set a record for single-day cases two days in a row.

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In an interview, Van Horn said the county has seen a “perfect storm of factors” contributing to the need for more testing, including the spread of Omicron and the widespread gatherings over the holidays.

“We started making plans to open large-scale testing somewhere,” he said. “We didn’t know if it would be Alliant, back when Omicron emerged right after Thanskgiving, and it takes a while to put together a large scale testing center; we have done it faster than we thought we could and faster than our initial plans called for.”

The arena will stay open for testing as long as it’s needed.

“We are happy to provide these additional testing resources, because as we know, testing is vital in helping prevent spread of COVID, especially during this time of high infection rates,” Janel Heinrich, PHMDC’s director, said in a statement. “Please, if you’re feeling unwell, stay home, get a test, and follow the latest guidance regarding quarantine and isolation.”

Earlier this week, public health officials announced expanded hours for this week only at their South Park Street clinic to help meet demand.

RELATED: PHMDC expanding testing hours at South Park Street clinic

“It was just a last-minute call to open up 12 hours a day continuously until Alliant Energy could open,” Van Horn said. “We basically asked for volunteers, anybody who had previously tested in the last two years, we asked if they would come forward and help us staff these shifts.

Twenty staff members stepped up, including Brittany Grogan, a data analyst for the agency.

“It’s all hands on deck this week,” she said. “My colleagues and I are doing what we can to serve our community through this hopefully temporary surge.”

More information about testing options and links to schedule a test is available on PHMDC’s website.