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After outcry, L.A. reinstates COVID-19 testing upended by Union Station film shoot

A coronavirus testing center at Union Station that had been set to close for a movie shoot was open Tuesday morning.
A coronavirus testing center at Union Station that had been set to close for a movie shoot was open and accepting appointments Tuesday morning.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Following outcry over the cancellation of coronavirus testing at Union Station to make room for a movie shoot, the city scrambled to ensure that the facility was open and accepting patients Tuesday.

In a tweet sent Tuesday just after midnight, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti nixed the controversial decision to close the downtown testing site amid the worst coronavirus surge the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

The announcement came after more than 500 Angelenos were informed Monday afternoon that their next-day appointments had been canceled.

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A volunteer with the Koreatown-based homeless outreach and advocacy group Ktown for All was one of the people who received the cancellation email Monday from Curative, the largest public testing agency in the city.

The group shared that email, along with a message of outrage, on Twitter.

“In the middle of a horrible and terrifying COVID spike, LA just cancelled all of its Dec 1 appointments at Union Station (one of the only transit-accessible facilities) with less than 24hrs notice because of A FILM SHOOT!!,” the tweet read.

By Tuesday morning, it had received more than 3,000 likes.

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Ktown for All spokesman Devon Manney said the group decided to share the message because it was incensed by the decision, which came on the same day California broke its single-day record for coronavirus cases.

“It’s beyond frustrating and aggravating,” Manney said. “The city is ruining its own ability to be trusted with COVID info. It has for eight and nine months completely botched response after response because it prioritizes economic good over the lives of people who are calling out for any sort of assistance.”

The movie being filmed at Union Station, “He’s All That,” is a remake of the 1999 film “She’s All That” and features TikTok star Addison Rae. The Miramax production is slated to shoot inside the transportation hub with a crew of about 170 people, according to Philip Sokoloski, a spokesman for film permit agency FilmLA.

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Sokoloski said Tuesday that the cancellation was not made at the request of anyone connected to the film’s production.

“FilmLA did not, and never would, seek the closure of a city-operated COVID-19 testing center to accommodate filming,” he said. “Today, more than ever, is a time for filmmakers to keep the needs of the community in mind.”

After learning of the planned shutdown, the city immediately contacted the 504 people scheduled for a Dec. 1 test at Union Station to let them know their appointments would be honored at any of the other 14 city testing locations, including a site at the North Hollywood Metro station, said Andrea Garcia, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

But Manney said that offer was an affront to people who rely on public transit for access to testing facilities, including low-income communities and communities of color who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

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“It’s an unreal level of negligence and complete callousness to individuals that don’t have a car,” he said, noting that getting to the North Hollywood station from downtown by transit would require people to spend more money and ride for up to 45 minutes in an enclosed train.

“I think it’s an incredible disregard for people who use public transit,” he said.

One of 10 permanent testing sites operated by the city of Los Angeles, the Union Station site tests 350 to 400 people daily, or about 1.5% of the city’s total capacity. Downtown Los Angeles has one of the higher case rates in the city, according to The Times’ tracker.

It was initially unclear who made the decision to cancel testing at the station. Garcia said the property management company for Union Station had notified the mayor’s office Monday afternoon that the testing kiosk would need to be closed.

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“As soon as this was brought to our attention, we began efforts to reopen it,” she said Tuesday.

Ralph Barnes, vice president of Morlin Asset Management, which handles property and facility management for Union Station, said the cancellation was the result of a misunderstanding.

“We’re proud that Union Station has been and continues to serve as a valuable and readily accessible free resource for COVID testing for Angelenos,” Barnes said. “This was an unfortunate mix-up between everyone involved in making these tests possible, including the station, Curative and government officials, which led to the mistaken cancellation of today’s tests, which we’re happy to report was corrected last night.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Curative confirmed that the site was open for normal operation.

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“Curative has spoken to the mayor’s office and our Union Station testing site will be opened today, December 1st, to all patients who have signed up for an appointment as well as any walk-up appointments that the site allows for,” they said.

Garcia said that the testing site opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday, its regular time, and that everyone with appointments was notified by email of its opening that morning.

“We remain committed to providing free tests, with results provided within 24 to 48 hours, and are scheduled to test more than 38,000 Angelenos today,” she said.


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