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North Milwaukee COVID-19 testing site closure leaves Black community with few options

Activists organizing call-in to respond
By staff |
May 26, 2020
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Milwaukee COVID-19 testing site closure leaves Black community with few options

Milwaukee, WI - On May 7, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers declared a COVID-19 testing plan that would focus on reaching all Blacks, Latinos and indigenous people in Wisconsin. The sites would be administered by and staffed by members of the Wisconsin National Guard. The significance of these sites was that individuals would be able to receive testing regardless of symptoms, healthcare or appointment.

Beginning on May 11, the City of Milwaukee opened two testing centers: the Midtown Center site, located on the North Side, home to the vast majority of the city’s Black residents; and a second one at the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) building on the predominantly Latino South Side. Both groups in the city continue to see imbalances in case numbers of both deaths and infections due to the systemic racism in both political and medicinal structures in the city.

The original plan was to be able to service 500 people at each site, for a total of 1000 people per day. Both locations were quickly overwhelmed as people flocked to get themselves and their families tested. The plan was adjusted to account for 1000 tests at each individual location, for a total of 2000 tests per day.

Then, on May 23, Mayor Tom Barrett announced that the Midtown Center site was going to be closed after Memorial Day weekend. From May 11 to May 23, a total of 15,657 tests were administered. 7068 of those tests came from the Midtown Center site. The decision to keep the UMOS testing site may be in response to the growing cluster of cases on Milwaukee’s South Side, where more than 10% of Milwaukee’s new cases are originating.

In any case, the closing of the Midtown Center site, and the suggestion by the National Guard that its resources be moved to the predominantly white suburb of West Allis, is cause for concern.

“The COVID-19 crisis is a fight between our faulty past and the inequities it’s manifesting in the present,” said Lauryn Cross, a student at the UW-Milwaukee and youth activist. “The Black community, which makes up the majority of the essential worker pool, being exposed to the city’s history of environmental racism, surges in oppression from law enforcement, has its most vulnerable out in the open now.”

With no clear return date in sight for the Midtown Center testing site, and the city planning to reopen with “relaxed restrictions” for essential businesses, it’s almost inevitable that there will be a spike in cases.

In response to the shutdown, community activists are heeding the call put out by the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression for a day of action on May 30. On Friday, May 29, organizers are asking for people to call Mayor Tom Barrett’s office at 414-286-2200 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and tell him to reopen the COVID-19 testing site at Midtown Center. Anything less than the site reopening is a clear attack on the livelihoods of Milwaukee’s Black community.