Long testing lines block Milwaukee traffic as skyrocketing demand continues ahead of New Year's

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Jingle bells are bringing long lines to all three community testing sites in Milwaukee.

Officials with the Milwaukee Health Department said between 1,800 and 2,000 people got tested each day last week, and that skyrocketing demand continued on Monday, Dec. 27.

The Menomonee River valley site has the most cars come through each day, but there were also long lines Monday at the Southside and Northwest health centers.

As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly through our community, health officials are asking people to get tested if they were exposed or are showing symptoms.

People waiting in line at the Southside Health Center told CBS 58 they waited two hours on Monday morning.

"Pre-registering helps, but everyone wants to get tested because of the holidays," said Elizabeth Sanders, who brought her grandson to get tested.

They said they hope their results will be worth the time spent in line.

"We didn't get together with our family this year and we missed it, and we want to make sure we can do it for New Year's," said Richard Evenson, who got tested at the Southside Health Center.

The Milwaukee Health Department is adding a resolution to everyone's list this year.

"My recommendation to people is: Do everything you can to not get infected with this virus," said Nick Tomaro, emergency preparedness and environmental health director for the Milwaukee Health Department.

He recommends getting a rapid test the day before and the day of your family gatherings. Health officials are thanking people in Milwaukee for bearing with the long lines.

"We're working as efficiently as we can," Tomaro said. "We've staffed up and really moved vaccinators into testing today because that's the high demand. But just knowing (in) the neighborhoods at a certain point, the police department does have to shut off lines just for traffic safety."

CBS 58 asked Tomaro if there are plans to open up a larger testing site like the one that used to be at American Family Field.

He responded, "Good question. I think we feel good about the Menomonee Valley site. Obviously, I know there's some traffic control logistics. But right now, we'll look at opening more lanes there, we need to have higher throughput there."

To help the sites move more quickly, Tomaro recommends pre-registering online.

Testing is free for anyone 12 months and older regardless of symptoms. All COVID-19 testing sites are closed Dec. 31 through Jan. 2 in observance of the holidays.

Here are the hours:

Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Road
Drive-thru garage – Enter at Mill Road Library, 6431 N. 76th St.
• Monday & Friday: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
• Tuesday & Thursday: 12 - 6 p.m.
• Saturday: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd St.
Drive-thru heated tent in North parking lot - Enter on 24th St.
• Monday & Friday: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
• Tuesday & Thursday: 12 - 6 p.m.
• Saturday: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Menomonee Valley Site, 2401 W. St. Paul Ave.
Drive-thru garage
• Monday, Wednesday, Fridays: 12 - 6 p.m.
• Tuesday & Thursday: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

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