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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

COVID-19 surge testing free of cost on UW campuses

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has worked with 13 UW System campuses to implement “surge testing” sites following a donation of 250,000 BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests from health care company Abbott.

On Nov. 4, Tommy Thompson — Interim President of the UW System — discussed the possibility of a six-week rapid antigen testing trial run on UW campuses to the UW Board of Regents. This trial run would occur amid the recent surge of positive cases in Wisconsin.

“This is the Wisconsin Idea in action, and a recognition of our existing work to keep our students, faculty, and staff as safe as possible during the pandemic,” Thompson explained. “This surge testing plan is a terrific example of cooperation by federal, state and local governments to urgently respond to the outbreak and that UW System is pleased to lead.” 

The Board of Regents expressed approval of the initiative due to the 210 federally-funded employees that will supplement and assist the effort. 

“I think it could have been an overlooked statistic,” Regent President Andrew S. Petersen said. “That is a remarkable cost savings and community benefit that we will derive based on this partnership.”

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D. describe the urgency of identifying COVID-19 cases to UW System Director of Media Relations Mark Pitsch.

“Please also continue to do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by following the three Ws: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. We owe this to our community and our friends and family members to protect them,” Adams advises.

The test itself is not foolproof, which is why the state Department of Health is also giving the UW System campuses 10,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. These will work to confirm test results via nasal swab if a recipient of the rapid antigen test receives a negative result while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

At UW-Madison specifically, Abbott BinaxNOW testing became available on Nov. 12. Test recipients must be no younger than five years old; however, testing is not limited to the UW-Madison employee and student population. 

“This testing is intended for the general public, to augment testing being performed by Public Health Madison & Dane County,” said UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone in an email exchange. “UW students and employees should continue to access no-cost PCR testing on campus at sites run by UHS (Kohl Center, 21 N. Park and Porter Boathouse, in addition to testing in Housing), though they are not prohibited from getting Binax tests.”

“So far, about 10 percent of those accessing Binax tests have been UW students or employees,” McGlone said.

Rapid antigen testing is available at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium until Dec. 23. On average, about 500 tests have been provided at this testing facility each day.

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Test results have been made available within 15 minutes of receiving the BinaxNOW test. The BinaxNOW tests are free of cost. Madison residents can register at, which will also serve as a portal for rapid antigen test results.

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