Gov. Evers seeking to use Alliant Energy Center as backup hospital site

MADISON (WKOW) -- Governor Tony Evers' office announced Sunday it is requesting federal approval to transform the Alliant Energy Center into a backup medical facility should Wisconsin experience a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Evers' office said it is applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approval of a plan to use the Coliseum as the state's second "Alternative Care Facility," the first being State Fair Park in West Allis, where construction has already begun.

"We're making the facility available," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. "If it is needed, it's obviously going to take a wide partnership between the state and local government and the healthcare providers who are in the business of running hospitals."

If FEMA approves the request, the Army Corps of Engineers would work with a primary contractor and a series of subcontractors to build a makeshift medical facility within the coliseum.

Parisi said it's his understanding the Alliant Energy Center would be able to hold about 300 patients, freeing up that space within other hospitals in the region for the exclusive treatment of COVID-19 patients, should it come to that.

"This drives home the reality of the situation we face," Parisi said. "This is serious, it's not something that's just happening in New York City, or Detroit, or Louisiana. The COVID-19 crisis is real and it's everywhere."

Parisi said he hopes transition of the Alliant Energy Center will only be a precaution, which he added is only more likely if people continue to practice social distancing.

"We still have the ability to make it our goal to commit to doing everything in our power to make it so that we never have to use the facility that is going to be stood up," Parisi said.

Testing rate slows - but there's a catch

Parisi said Sunday he's encouraged by a slow-down in the growth rate of coronavirus tests administered in the county. Local health officials have said for weeks that COVID-19 tests are only being given to patients whose treatment depends on knowing whether they have the novel coronavirus.

"We do see the growth slowing as far as the tests that are being conducted," Parisi said. "The caveat here and our biggest challenge is that widespread testing is still not available."

Parisi said local biotech companies are working to help provide the supplies needed to increase testing capabilities, particularly reagents, which are needed to extract DNA from test swabs.

As of Sunday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a total of 3,341 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The 128 new cases since Saturday marked the smallest single-day increase since March 30.

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