By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As the start of Gov. Tony Evers’ mandated rapid COVID-19 testing draws near, some state employees are worried they could be caught in a bureaucratic Catch-22 meant to force them into getting a COVID vaccine they do not want.
The administration last month announced all unvaccinated executive branch employees, interns, volunteers and contract staff would be required to get weekly testing beginning Oct. 18. They have been forced to routinely provide their COVID vaccination status through a state employee portal.
Some state employees have had a difficult time finding a provider of rapid testing in their health care networks.
“We called our clinic this morning and were told they didn’t offer rapid testing and didn’t know who did,” one Madison-area state employee told Empower Wisconsin. “I went through the Walgreens process. After giving personal and health information on my minor son for 10 minutes, I was sent to the page with all their pharmacies that offer the rapid test and was denied an appointment from the Madison location.”
Evers has not gone full-on Biden — yet. He’s not mandating executive branch employees get the shot or lose their jobs — yet. But if unvaccinated employees are squeezed on the requisite testing, that could put them in a difficult position.
“If you can’t get the test, the choice is vax, quit or be fired,” one state worker said.
Then there are the problems with the limited accuracy of rapid COVID tests, particularly among people not displaying symptoms. The longer-run tests may be more accurate, but you have to wait days for the result.
Tatyana Warrick, communications director for the state Department of Administration, says testing guidelines have not yet gone into effect — a week-and-a-half before the imposed testing mandate begins.
“As with every previous pandemic-related workforce guidance, we have taken staff concerns into consideration and moved cautiously to provide ample time for employees to take necessary steps to protect themselves, their colleagues and members of the public,” the spokeswoman said.
DOA will be providing additional information to state employees regarding how and where they can get tested free of charge, Warwick said.
“Employees will only be liable for testing costs if they opt to go with a non-state-provided testing provider,” she added. Just who’s in that network is not clear.
“We appreciate state employees being proactive about following the latest workforce guidance and look forward to providing additional information as we get closer to implementation on October 18,” Warrick said.
She did not say whether employees who encounter difficulties getting tested in the weekly window will be disciplined, including losing their jobs.
As of the announced mandate on Sept. 14, nearly 70 percent of the state’s 30,000-plus executive branch employees had self-reported receiving at least one dose of vaccine.