Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson (left) and Mayor Cavalier Johnson discuss the increase in COVID-19 testing following the holidays. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

This time of year, it’s not unusual to wait in line, but recently, the never-ending queues aren’t lines of shoppers, but individuals waiting to get tested for COVID-19.

The City of Milwaukee’s positive COVID-19 rate is currently above 20%, and elected officials attribute holiday gatherings to the increase in positive cases.

“A fifth of everyone who is able to take the time to get tested is positive,” Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said during a press conference.

Kirsten Johnson and Mayor Cavalier Johnson took a tour of the Northwest Health Center COVID-19 Vaccination site, 6431 N. 76th St., on Tuesday, Dec. 28. The site offers COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

“The demand for vaccines is low and the demand for testing is high and I wish it were the exact opposite,” Kirsten Johnson said.

As of Monday, Dec. 27, the Milwaukee Health Department’s COVID-19 test sites administered 1,875 tests. There demand for testing has increased from 500 to 1,000 tests compared to previous weeks.

Children ages 5 and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine and adults can receive a booster shot. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

“We’ve said time and time again, that the most effective tool we have to fight COVID-19 is vaccination,” Cavalier Johnson said.

In the City of Milwaukee, 60.8% of adults 16 and older are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, Dec. 21. In comparison, 65.9% of adults 16 and older have received their first dose, 32.4% are fully vaccinated and have received their booster.

The vaccination rate among children ages 5 to 11 is at 7% with 13% having received their first dose as of Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Vaccination decreases the chance of hospitalization and passing the virus on, he said. He noted that individuals who have been fully vaccinated should get their booster and encourage others to get vaccinated. Cavalier Johnson added that individuals should know their status before attending gatherings.

Kirsten Johnson echoed this message.

Nick Tomaro, public health emergency response planning coordinator for the Milwaukee Health Department, leads a tour of the Northwest Health Center COVID-19 testing and vaccination site, 6431 N. 76th St. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

“The messages are, please get vaccinated; if you’ve been vaccinated, get your booster; and if you have family members who are eligible, please encourage them to get vaccinated.

When you’re gathering with friends and family test to make sure your negative before gathering and then mask indoors.”

The community transmission rate is high, she said, adding that the many people are getting the virus from in-person gatherings.

The City of Milwaukee currently has a mask advisory in place. While the commissioner expressed her desire for a mask mandate, she noted that there are challenges regarding enforcement and legal and statutory authority as health officials.

She added that she’d prefer a mask mandate that covers more than the City of Milwaukee. The borders between communities are fluid, she said, which creates its own set of challenges considering that individuals can cross the street and remove their mask beyond Milwaukee.

For now, the city will continue to offer COVID-19 testing at various sites, as it has done since the start. The City of Milwaukee has enough testing supplies and testing is open to everyone, it is not restricted to Milwaukee residents, Kirsten Johnson said.

The Northwest Health Center offers COVID-19 testing and a walk-up vaccine clinic. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

And while at home test results don’t impact the city’s data, Kirsten Johnson said individuals do not need to take a PCR test if their home test is positive.

“If you test positive with a rapid test at home, you do not need to come and get in this long line to have it confirmed with a PCR test,” she said. “You can assume that it is positive, and you should follow the precautions.”

As the lines for testing continue, so does the fight against COVID-19.

“In order for us to fight COVID-19 and ultimately defeat it, it’s going to take all of us to be active partners in this,” Cavalier Johnson said. “It’s not just going to be a mandate that comes from the city, it’s going to be the actions that people take in their home.”

Visit for information on testing sites and vaccination sites.