Since the end of March, I’ve kept a close eye on coronavirus metrics at both a county and state level. I have used those numbers to help with my comfort level. I locked myself inside my house to follow the Safer at Home mandate. As numbers improved, I got comfortable enough to put on a mask and venture to some parks, get carry-out from local restaurants, and put some miles on my bike.
But with things going back in the wrong direction, safety and preventative measures need to be on the forefront of everyone’s minds to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. One way to keep our community safe and limit the spread is through testing. Since mid-May, the Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services has been doing free testing at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Because I’ve been out in public, attended some protests, and have a trip planned with a friend, I have so far been tested four times. This is in order to stay safe and do my part to limit the spread of this virus. But each time I’ve been tested and subsequently posted about it on social media, I’ve gotten quite a few questions from friends and colleagues.
Is it safe?
In my opinion, there is very minimal risk involved in getting tested at the Alliant Center. If you drive-up, you don’t leave your car the entire process and the staff conducting the tests wear full-body PPE.
What’s the process like?
You enter the parking lot from Rimrock Road and follow marked cones around to the back of the building. Before entering the pavilions for the test, you’ll be asked a couple short questions (see below). When it’s your turn, you will drive up to a group of 3-4 staff members all wearing full body PPE. You roll down your window, they ask you to verify your info, and one person will swab your nostrils through your car window. The test itself takes a few seconds, and then you’re free to drive out the other side of the building.
What if I don’t have a car? Can I bike or walk in?
Yes! If entering on foot or on bike, you can continue straight as you enter the parking lot by the parking attendant booths and follow the coned off path for walk-up testing up to the pavilions.
How long is the wait time?
For the first month or two, I’ve heard reports of anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. However, with an increase in people getting tested, the wait time has recently jumped to a three-hour wait for the busy times in the last couple of weeks. Plan ahead, and get there early for the shortest wait times.
When are they open?
Testing hours are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Right now the test site will be open until at least Aug. 31, although it will be closed this Saturday, July 4.
Does it cost money? Do I have to submit an insurance claim?
Testing at the Alliant Center is free. No proof of insurance is needed.
What is the test like? Is it a deep swab? Can I get the antibody test?
Staff will insert a cotton swab into each nostril, rotate for a few seconds, and you’re done! The swab does not go deep into your sinus cavity. It can be a little uncomfortable for the few seconds while the test is being conducted, but I was never in any pain. This test will tell you if you currently have COVID-19. If you want to know if you’ve had the virus already — i.e., your body has developed antibodies — you will need to make an appointment with your doctor for lab work.
What info do I need to bring? Do I need to show my ID?
Right before you get tested, you’ll be asked a few simple questions for verification purposes later when they call you back with results. You do not need to show an ID or any other identification card. You’ll be asked your name, birthdate, address, phone number, race, ethnicity and gender. They also ask if you’ve been in contact with anyone with COVID-19 and if you are experiencing any symptoms. The answers to these questions do not determine whether or not you can get tested. Everyone can get tested.
How long does it take to get my test results back?
In the case of the four tests I’ve had, they’ve called me with results within 3 to 4 days.
I’ve been in contact with a large group, or someone with COVID. How long should I wait to get tested?
I’ve seen recommendations that you should wait 4 to 5 days after contact before you go to get tested.
I don’t have any symptoms. Will they still let me get tested?
Yes! It has been shown that even asymptomatic carriers can still spread the virus. So even if you have mild or no symptoms, it is recommended that you still get tested to keep our community safe. Everyone age five and older is eligible to be tested at the Alliant Energy Center. If you’re between the ages of 5 and 17, I’m impressed that you’re reading this but you’ll need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to give consent to the test.
I’ve already been tested once. Can I go again?
Yes! There is no limit on the amount of times you get tested.
COVID-19 testing at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison is free. Testing hours are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The site will remain open until at least Aug. 31.