First mass-testing site in Buffalo County an important step to understanding the spread in rural communities

ALMA, Wis. (WKBT)– The first mass-testing for COVID-19 to be publically offered in West Central Wisconsin was held in Buffalo County Friday. The testing marks an important step in understanding how more rural areas have been impacted by the coronavirus.

The city of Alma is no stranger to making history.

“To have it come to the rural communities of Pepin and Buffalo County, I think speaks to how the state feels everybody is important,” said Bruce Fuerbringer, director for Buffalo County Emergency Management.

Fuerbringer said health department officials from the two counties put in a joint application to the state to have the free public testing conducted by the National Guard. Personnel learned how to administer the test and other procedures to assist where needed.

“There’s actually a training team that is moving around and training all of the testing teams,” explained Maj. Roger Lovelace with the Wisconsin National Guard.

About 30 Guard Members assisted on-site at the County Highway Department location. They’re using a less invasive swab procedure to tell if someone is currently infected with the virus.

“They don’t have to go all the way back to the back of the nose. We can test just by swabbing the nostrils on either side,” Lovelace said.

Any Wisconsin resident five years or older with symptoms, older adults or other high-risk individuals were encouraged to be tested. However, they only had so many test kits this time around.

“We were only allotted 200 tests. As you can see, we’re going to go through all 200 today,” Fuerbringer said, referring a long line of cars waiting in line.

But, both counties have each conducted less than that since the pandemic hit the state. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Buffalo County has reported 192 negative tests and Pepin County has reported 119 negative tests.

Overall, there have only been four lab-confirmed cases in Buffalo County and zero cases in Pepin County.

“It is a rural area and folks may not have access to the type of testing that you do in a much more urban setting,” Fuerbringer said.

Life moves a little slower in communities like this. But it’s time to see if the virus is doing the same.

“Cause people react differently. They may have very mild symptoms or very severe symptoms. So this is an opportunity to see just to what extent it has spread,” Fuerbringer said.

They should know that soon. The results from this testing site should come back with 24 to 48 hours.

There will be two more drive-thru testing sites set for West Central Wisconsin counties in the coming weeks. More information on those dates can be found here.