22 May Schauer leads COVID-19 testing efforts at hygiene lab
As Wisconsin faces unique challenges prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a University of Wisconsin–Madison environmental engineering professor has helped a critical testing lab rise to the challenge.
James Schauer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW–Madison, is director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, which has played a leading role in the state’s testing efforts during the pandemic. A world-renowned expert on air pollution, he often travels internationally and was in Beijing during the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was, like COVID-19, caused by a coronavirus. That experience — marked by poor communication that caused him to learn after he returned to the United States that SARS was present in the region of China he visited — stuck with Schauer and raised alarm bells as COVID-19 began to spread.
WSLH served as a primary diagnostic lab for Wisconsin once the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a testing method. Schauer says the lab, with its 350 workers, quickly ramped testing capacity up to about 500 samples per day in coordination with hospitals and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. As of mid-May, Wisconsin’s testing capacity has ballooned to more than 13,500 daily tests at 51 labs across the state.