SOLON SPRINGS, Wis. — A steady line of cars was waiting during the first hour of drive-thru COVID-19 testing Wednesday morning at the Solon Springs Community Center.

A little over an hour into the nine-hour testing day, traffic dropped to a lull. Around 2 p.m. the National Guard had tested about 90 people, a little under half of its goal of completing 250 tests, said Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi.

"I really want people to know it's worth the beautiful drive to Solon Springs to have this free test done and the information will be used to determine if we can start opening up," Ronchi said Wednesday afternoon.

Around 6 p.m., traffic going through the testing site was still quiet and by the end of the event 180 people had been tested.

Anyone who was a Wisconsin resident experiencing at least mild COVID-19 symptoms was strongly encouraged to get tested, Ronchi said. Even Minnesota residents who work in Wisconsin were welcome to get tested.

The COVID-19 testing site in Solon Springs (News Tribune Graphics)
The COVID-19 testing site in Solon Springs (News Tribune Graphics)

By the early afternoon, Ronchi said only a few people who lived in Minnesota but didn't work in Wisconsin were turned away and stressed that people who are only experiencing mild symptoms, including fatigue, shouldn't feel like they're taking a test away from someone who is more ill.

"There is no shortage of tests right now like there used to be," Ronchi said. "We really want to get a lot of people tested."

The testing data will be used as a "snapshot in time" of what the virus is doing in the community. So far, none of the 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Douglas County have been residents in the Solon Springs area.

Acknowledging that some Solon Springs residents are upset about the testing happening in their community, Ronchi addressed a few common misconceptions about the event, including that it might bring harm to the community and that it's only for Solon Springs residents.

"It's unfortunate that people are spreading misinformation because it's only going to harm the county in preventing us from getting the information we need to be able to move forward," Ronchi said. "It's important to make sure there's resources in rural areas, so having a good turnout justifies bringing services to rural areas."

Instead of using the long nasopharyngeal swabs used to collect secretions from the back of the upper part of the throat behind the neck, the National Guard used shorter swabs to collect secretions from right inside the nose. Ronchi said the shorter, "less invasive" swabs are what the National Guard is able to use at the testing events.

Between paperwork and the test itself, the entire process takes about five minutes. Twenty-seven National Guard members, who had previously conducted similar testing operations for Gov. Tony Evers in Turtle Lake and Siren, were on site to help conduct the tests. People getting tested went through the process without having to touch or sign anything.

Participants can expect to receive a call with their test results in two or three days.

JT's One Stop, a Solon Springs gas station along Highway 53, closed its shop Wednesday due to the COVID-19 testing site going on. The county did not feel the move was necessary.

"We already know this virus is in the community, so holding a testing event is not going to change that," Ronchi said. "But people have to do what's right for them."

Washburn and Bayfield county health officers were also present at the testing event, as was the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

On Friday, May 1, Evers announced the community testing events, the first of which took place that same day in Buffalo County. The events are intended to target places with a known lack of access to resources or where additional testing is needed due to high rates of COVID-19.

Another drive-thru COVID-19 testing event will take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday in Ashland. Testing will be done in the Lake Superior Primary and Elementary School driveway, 1101 Binsfield Road, by partners Ashland County Public Health and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

This story was updated at 9:01 p.m. to correct the current number of positive COVID-19 cases in Douglas County. It was originally posted at 4:19 p.m.