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Rain, holiday closures hit COVID-19 testing sites across L.A. County amid surge

Cars in a line.
People seeking coronavirus tests line up at a Curative site in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Just ahead of the holiday weekend and amid a surge of new coronavirus cases, a winter storm in Los Angeles County is forcing some coronavirus testing and vaccine sites to head indoors or close because of the rain.

Los Angeles County reported 6,500 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, a staggering jump from the previous week and solidifying the dominance of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Now, the stormy weather is complicating the logistics of testing residents across the region, with some outdoor operations forced to relocate or wait to reopen until after the holiday weekend.

L.A. County does not intend to close any testing sites because of the rain. The Department of Health Services is planning to expand testing hours at sites throughout the county. There has been an uptick in people getting tested, either as a precaution ahead of the holidays or due to the surge in new cases.

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“It’s important to note that we welcome the increase in testing,” the department said in an email. “LA County residents are doing the right thing by getting tested as a precaution before gathering, getting tested if they have been exposed, and getting tested at the first sign of symptoms.”

The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, closed its outdoor testing and vaccine sites Thursday and will reopen next week. The Pacific Coast Campus, Long Beach City College and Veterans Memorial Stadium sites were closed because of the weather, the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services announced. The outdoor testing site at Houghton Park will be moved indoors. Testing will be available Thursday and Friday, but the vaccination site will be closed Friday for Christmas Eve.

Still, some testing sites continued to administer nasal swabs on Thursday, even in the rain.

Joann Tusia, 71, leaned on a walker outside the Curative testing site in the Highland Park neighborhood while her daughter Zoe Keijser, 29, held an umbrella over her mother’s head.

There were no more appointments available for the day, and most people lining up were hoping to get a walk-up test at the site.

Tusia wanted to get tested as a precaution, because she recently underwent hip surgery and spent time in a hospital. Keijser recently traveled and wanted to make sure she was clear to enjoy the holidays with her family.

The storm, which could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain, prompts flood watches and an evacuation warning. In Millbrae, two bodies are found in a trapped car.

“I’m grateful for these testing sites and to have them open,” Tusia said as the rain fell midmorning. “Hearing about breakthrough infections with people who are vaccinated is some cause for concern. But we’re here, and it’s not that big of an inconvenience.”

Maria Dones, 46, works with elderly patients as a healthcare worker. She gets tested regularly for her job, and while she is aware that the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, she doesn’t think it’s cause for alarm.

“Compared to the other surge we had when the pandemic first started, and then last winter, this is nothing,” Dones said while waiting in line to get tested. “It’s a pat on the back, given that we have vaccines and new medications coming out to fight the virus.”

Adrienne Johnson, 38, works as a stage manager and wanted to get tested as a precaution ahead of the holidays. She’s expecting family to visit and finds herself wondering whether congestion or other symptoms are signs of the virus.

“If I test positive, then I’ll be stuck in my bedroom for the holidays,” Johnson said.

People wait in a line.
People line up for a coronavirus test at Union Station on Dec. 21.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Testing sites throughout Los Angeles County will be closed Saturday — Christmas Day — including the walk-up kiosk at Union Station. Dodger Stadium, one of the few major testing hubs operated by the city, is once again a drive-through testing site for residents who need to get tested from inside their car.

The surge in new cases this week signals a difficult holiday season for Angelenos, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

“If our case numbers continue to increase at a rapid pace over this week and next, we could be looking at case numbers we have never seen before,” Ferrer said Wednesday.

The massive jump in cases, Ferrer said, reflects increased circulation of the Omicron variant, which has spread rapidly since its presence was first confirmed in California three weeks ago.

“The reality is that the vast majority of folks testing positive today are infected with Omicron, a more easily transmitted strain of the virus,” Ferrer said.

She added, though, that it’s unvaccinated residents who remain particularly exposed to the worst effects of COVID-19. From Dec. 5 to 11, unvaccinated Angelenos were five times likelier to get infected, 21 times more likely to require hospitalization and 18 times likelier to die.

L.A. County runs a program that offers rooms in hotels and other facilities where people who test positive for COVID-19 can isolate themselves.

Former emergency room physician Howard Friedman, 71, thinks he might have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus. He balanced his umbrella over his shoulder while waiting in line at the Curative site in Highland Park and trying to make an appointment on his phone for a test.

“I’ve been feeling congested lately and want to make sure,” Friedman said. “If it comes back positive, then we’ll just have to cancel our holiday plans.”

Malina Stearns, 35, had been to a concert where several people tested positive for the virus. Standing in a black hooded coat Thursday morning under a steady drizzle, Stearns said she’d been feeling sick.

The tests at the Curative site were PCR tests, which have a typical turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours, rather than antigen tests, which provide almost immediate results, although not with the same degree of accuracy.

“I’m just praying I don’t have COVID so I can see my family,” Stearns said as she waited in line.

Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.


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