ALMA, Wis. — Approximately 30 Citizen Soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard provided support to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in Alma with a community-based drive-through testing site May 1, as they worked together with local emergency management officials to increase the opportunity for testing in western Wisconsin.
The limited amount of tests prior to this week had made testing in the area largely unavailable for those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Buffalo County requested Guard assistance to provide testing for community members, and anyone who met the county’s criteria for testing was able to take advantage of the drive-thru testing, according to Maj. Roger Lovelace, the officer in charge of the specimen collection team, and a physician assistant with the Wisconsin National Guard.
The specimen collection team received its training from another Guard team that has helped refine the process for specimen collection in recent weeks since the Guard began supporting the mission. As the Wisconsin National Guard stands up additional specimen collection teams, those training teams move from team to team in the beginning, to train and validate each new team to make sure that they were doing the mission properly, said Lovelace.
Lovelace said a line began forming before the scheduled 11 a.m. start time Friday, so the team setup early and got started. Nearly 200 citizens took advantage of the testing by day’s end.
“The turnout was surprising, even when we were expecting a high turnout,” Lovelace said
“I think the soldiers were anxious to get on the mission to help out their fellow Wisconsinites,” he said. “And despite the little bit of rain we are getting, they are staying fairly positive. They are happy to be helping their fellow citizens, and that is what keeps them excited.”
Spc. Marissa Steffens, who has been in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for eight years serving as a light-wheeled mechanic said Citizens Soldiers are versatile and adaptable to fit the state’s needs.
“This is not typically what I am trained to do, but the Army has given us the ability to be here and provide COVID-19 testing,” she said.
“Our current testing site is about an hour away from where I grew up and have known my entire life, so people from my home town are coming through and getting tested,” Steffens said. “I know that we are taking these precautions seriously, and it’s nice to know we are offering something for people, making this available to them that wasn’t already available to them before. I’m coming up on the end of my contract and being able to participate in something like this before I exit the Army National Guard feels pretty special,” said Steffens.
Bruce Fuerbringer, the Buffalo County Emergency Management Director said the request for assistance for testing support was submitted Monday and was able to be quickly turned around for the Friday testing site. Emergency management at both the county and state level worked the logistical support for the National Guard and the county for the testing, he said.
“We were kind of hesitant, we weren’t sure how much turn-out a rural community would bring, but the turn-out this morning has been amazing,” he said. “This just goes to show that even in the rural setting where people think this isn’t a big deal, it is a big deal, as there is a concern. I think this is a huge service to the residents of these counties and others that came in to get it because it’s free and you don’t have to have a doctor’s orders to come and get it.”
Fuerbringer said testing was for those feeling symptomatic to come in and get checked, and many of those tested were displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
“This has been a real boon to this area and fighting the COVID situation, and we appreciate the state and the Guard’s support,” Fuerbringer said.