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Coronavirus tests for all? L.A. County clarifies how residents can get tested

COVID-19 testing
Public health workers in San Bernardino County offer drive-up testing for COVID-19 on April 14.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County health officials said Thursday that low-risk, asymptomatic residents will not be able to get coronavirus tests at county-operated testing sites, breaking from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement that the city would offer tests for all who want one.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services, said the county would prioritize testing for people with symptoms of COVID-19, including newly recognized symptoms such as sore throat and sudden loss of taste or smell.

The county also will emphasize testing for people working in essential services, including healthcare workers; those who work in food service and utilities; and residents of institutional living facilities, such as nursing homes.

Meanwhile, city-operated test sites will allow anyone to get a test — even those without symptoms and not in those targeted groups. Ghaly said individuals can sign up at the newly launched testing portal and will be routed to the appropriate test sites.

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Asked if the county and city were offering mixed messages on testing, Ghaly said the two entities were working closely together on a “rapidly evolving topic.”

“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.”

Ghaly noted that “testing supply chain and capacity is still limited across the country.” Eventually, when the supply is no longer constrained and the stay-at-home orders begin to be relaxed, the county could move to expand its criteria for those who should be tested, she said.

On Thursday evening, during his nightly news conference, Garcetti was asked if he was worried that differing test policies between the city and county might cause confusion. He said he was not, and he called the two policies “absolutely complementary.”

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“Testing more people gives us more ability to open sooner,” Garcetti said, referring to the eventual lifting of coronavirus health restrictions.

During the first day of the city’s new testing policy, Garcetti said traffic at city testing sites had “tripled.” He also said he was not worried about how the new policy might be affected by the supply of testing equipment.

“There are hundreds of thousands of tests we have access to, so I’m not concerned about that supply,” Garcetti said.

Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.


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