“As long as this disease spreads, we have to continue to scale, and as long as this disease takes lives, we must test,” Garcetti said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “We know that coronavirus is a silent killer that moves quietly through the population, and many of the people who transmit the disease, this is why it is so deadly, don’t know that they have it.”
Los Angeles County reported 1,541 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, the largest increase of infections reported in a single day since the outbreak began, according to the Los Angeles Times. The county now has more than 22,400 reported cases with just over 1,000 deaths.
Though Garcetti encouraged all residents in the area to make appointments to get tested, county officials clarified Thursday that county-operated testing centers will not be offering tests to low-risk, asymptomatic individuals.
“Given the reality that testing supply chain and capacity is still limited across the country, Los Angeles County must focus on access for testing for those with symptoms and for those who belong to certain vulnerable or at-risk populations,” Christina Ghaly, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said at a news conference.
But Ghaly said county testing guidelines have been expanded to include people experiencing symptoms beyond fever, cough and shortness of breath. Certain asymptomatic individuals such as essential workers, those who are elderly or have chronic underlying health conditions and people living in institutional facilities will also have access to tests, she said.
“We think that this is the best approach moving forward,” Ghaly said. “We also believe that this is what is most supported in terms of the clinical evidence about who would benefit from a test and also helps us retain our focus where we feel like it should be right now.”
Meanwhile, Garcetti stressed during his announcement Wednesday that people showing symptoms will still be prioritized at city-run sites. The city has the capacity to test 18,000 people a day, Garcetti said, noting that Los Angeles is one of the first major cities in the United States to roll out such an effort. Earlier this month, Houston launched a similar plan that allows any city resident access to one free test.
“Don’t wait, don’t wonder and don’t risk infecting others,” Garcetti said. “This is a really important step to prepare for other steps forward in the weeks to come.”
Announcing that L.A. is now the first major city in America to offer free COVID-19 testing to all residents. While priority will still be given to those with symptoms, individuals without symptoms can also be tested. Sign up at https://t.co/rHWABmXUEl. pic.twitter.com/TYqo6Bzwxe— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) April 30, 2020
Garcetti’s announcement comes just days after President Trump unveiled what the White House called a “blueprint” for expanding testing capacity nationwide that largely places the responsibility on states to create their own plans and rapid-response programs, The Washington Post reported. The White House’s guidance follows mounting pressure from health experts and local leaders who have called for a national testing strategy to be implemented as states have started to work toward easing restrictions amid the pandemic.
While California has not approached reopening as aggressively as other states, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) unveiled his four-phase plan Tuesday, which included the possibility that select businesses could be up and running again within weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Wednesday, Garcetti expressed confidence that there would be enough tests for anyone who wants one, despite the county being home to roughly 10 million people — a belief echoed by Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell, who is helping to lead the city’s outbreak response.
“We feel very comfortable with meeting the demand, and the truth is every time we announce a larger population is invited to test, we brace for being overrun and we haven’t been overrun yet,” Gorell told The Post. “We just have not met capacity.”
Since Los Angeles began testing last month, Gorell said the number of tests available has consistently been greater than the number of people requesting them.
Before Wednesday, Los Angeles was ordering 3,000 tests a day from a Food and Drug Administration-approved lab run by the company Curative Inc. in the neighboring city of San Dimas, which also processes the results, Gorell said. On an average day, only around 1,500 people would show up to get tested, he said.
“We have excess appointments and we have excess kits left over,” he said. “In the crisis we find ourselves in, we don’t want to be in that position. We want to use all of the capacity that we have.”
In preparation for a swell of people seeking tests, Gorell said the city is now upping its daily order to 10,000 kits. Testing sites — many of which are run by trained volunteers from Community Organized Relief Effort, a nonprofit founded by actor Sean Penn — are also prepared to handle any influx, he said.
“We’ll get a pretty good sense in the next couple of days as to what that demand is,” he said, adding that officials would like to see most, if not all, open appointments fill up.
Gorell said he anticipates the expansion in testing to play a major part in influencing how the city adjusts its coronavirus response moving forward.
Officials are hopeful test results that include those who don’t show symptoms will help them get a more accurate understanding of how the virus is spreading in the community and provide critical data that will inform future policies and guidelines. The new testing format may also lead to a larger number of residents being aware of their conditions, knowledge that could contribute to slowing community transmissions.
“It benefits everybody,” Gorell said.
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated, based on information from the mayor’s office, that Los Angeles is the first major U.S. city to offer free coronavirus testing to all residents. At least one other city, Houston, started providing free testing to all residents earlier this month.