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State approaching key testing benchmark

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – The state is nearing a vital benchmark on its road towards reopening.

The Evers administration announced Monday it is “prepared” to provide 85,000 tests per week for potential COVID-19 patients, a number that is a requisite to move forward in the Badger Bounce Back plan. That is about 12,000 tests per day. The latest data from the Department of Health Services shows the state currently is fast approaching that number with a current daily lab capacity of 11,347.

“We can work to ensure every Wisconsin resident or worker who needs a test, receives a test,” Governor Evers said during a media briefing.

The administration also announced increased efforts in managing community outbreaks, community testing sites throughout the state and providing free testing to the state’s 373 nursing homes and long-term care facilities with the goal of testing more than 10,000 residents and staff per week this month just at those facilities.

“With more testing, we expect to see an increase in positive cases which will allow us to do the necessary contact tracing to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Andrea Palm, the DHS Secretary-desginee said.

Along with testing, the health officials emphasize that effort needs to be paired up with tracing and tracking of COVID-19 infections. The Evers administration has set the goal of hiring and training 1,000 contact tracers as part of that effort. During Monday’s media briefing, Palm said the state has thus far hired and trained more than 250 contact tracers.

“The folks that we have trained and redeployed already are currently working in this sort of surge kind of capacity to help local communities who are experiencing a slowdown in their ability to do contact tracing in a timely way,” Palm said. “While we ramp the infrastructure, the technology, the rest of the system in order to do this in a sustained way as we turn the dial on Badger Bounce Back.”

The update comes as the administration’s extension of the Safer at Home order is set to go before the state Supreme Court this week.

Following Monday’s briefing, the governor met with legislative leaders from both parties. Both Evers and leaders from the Republican-controlled Legislature exchanged communications between their offices expressing interest in holding a meeting.

“The basic question to be answered is what is their plan?” Evers said when asked by CBS 58 what he hoped would come of the meeting. “Really interested in hearing what their plan is and seeing where there is common ground.”

In their lawsuit, Republicans argue that DHS Secretary-designee Palm is overstepping her authority. The GOP also want more say in the state’s response to the pandemic. The Evers administration argues Palm is acting within her powers and fear that a rules process that Republicans want to establish would slow down the state’s response to a pandemic that evolves rapidly.

In a statement released Monday evening, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) said the meeting, “was a good initial discussion” and that the idea of a regional approach to reopening the state was brought up. “What’s needed for Wisconsin right now is a bipartisan reopening strategy that is safe, gradual and regional. We shouldn’t have a Republican plan or a governor’s plan, we need a Wisconsin plan that the entire state can get behind,” Vos added.

Oral arguments in that case are set for Tuesday morning.

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