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At-home COVID testing just got harder: L.A. County pauses program amid backlog

Natalie Delgado waits in line for coronavirus testing on Dec. 29 in Los Angeles
Natalie Delgado, right, of Los Angeles waits in line for coronavirus testing at Kedren Community Health Center on Dec. 29.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

As the highly infectious Omicron variant fuels a surge in coronavirus cases — as well as demand for testing — Los Angeles County health officials have paused a home testing program for residents as they contend with an accumulation of kits.

The program shipped free at-home nasal swab tests to residents experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or those who’ve had a known exposure, according to the L.A. County Department of Health Services.

Health officials temporarily halted the program Wednesday, citing “a current backlog in the logistics of processing these kits,” the health services department said in an email.

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A cap of 4,000 home test kits a day was implemented to “ensure the kits are sent, received and processed in a timely manner,” the department said.

Californians kicked off 2022 with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. It’s resulted in long testing lines and quarantines for some who tested positive.

It’s not clear when the program will resume, but department officials said an announcement would be posted on the website as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, Health Services said it will provide details next week about a new program it expects to launch.

The new program would permit L.A. County residents to pick up and drop off tests at designated locations, which “will allow us to increase capacity and further address the current demand,” Health Services said in a statement.

Under the current program, Fulgent Genetics sends testing kits to those who qualify via FedEx, along with a prepaid overnight shipping envelope. Residents are instructed to collect a sample from their nose, package it and either schedule a pickup from FedEx or return it at a FedEx express drop box. Results are sent within 48 hours.

The original program is billed as “holiday” testing in the Health Service’s website address, and what began as a temporary service in 2020 was relaunched over the recent holiday season to meet a surge in demand, according to reporting by KTLA-TV.

A surge of coronavirus cases tied to the Omicron variant ahead of Christmas weekend has prompted a crush of demand for over-the-counter antigen tests.

As Omicron spreads, there has been an increased demand for testing.

With many schools reopening after the holiday break, there’s also an urgent need to get test results quickly. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, has carried out the country’s largest weekly testing program.

Robert Olivares, 36, woke up his two kids at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, after rising an hour earlier, to rush the 8- and 11-year-olds to a testing site before crowds gathered at the Glendale Unified School District headquarters.

It was “very annoying, and frustrating, but ultimately it’s not just my family and I going through it. It’s every family,” Olivares said. “It hearkens to the saying when the pandemic began: ‘We are all in this together.’”

Around 5:30 p.m. the previous day, they arrived at the same site to find a line around the block, estimating there were easily 250 people. They gave up and tried their luck with the L.A. city and county sites, but found there was no availability until Wednesday. Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens didn’t offer much better: The earliest they could book was Tuesday.

That was a problem because Glendale Unified is requiring all students and staff to be tested by Monday, Olivares said.

Though it was an inconvenience to wake his kids that early while they’re on vacation, it paid off. They were done within 40 minutes. By 8 a.m., the lot was full, and the line was once again wrapping the block.

Several California colleges and universities have pushed back the start of in-person classes to give students time to comply with testing and vaccination requirements. Cal State Long Beach on Thursday became the latest institution to join the growing list amid the worsening Omicron surge.

Many schools are struggling to find staff. Many students are staying home. Test kits from the state are too few and often too late.

In the last seven days, about 23% of the 464,849 tests conducted in L.A. County have returned a positive result, according to The Times tracker. Roughly 1 in every 6 people in the county has tested positive, or about 1,77 million in total.

Over the past week, the county has averaged 20,495 new cases and 13.7 new deaths per day. On Tuesday, 19,050 new cases and 25 deaths were reported.

The crush has led to a shortage of at-home tests, prompting several sellers — including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Amazon — to limit the number of tests each customer can buy.

Long lines and frustration have also become the norm at many testing sites.

“Due to the national shortage of COVID tests, and the incredibly high demand for testing locally, long wait times are now unfortunately common,” Terry Kanakri, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region, said in a recent statement.

In an effort to meet increased demand, the YMCA is offering free PCR testing at 12 sites around Los Angeles County.

Appointments aren’t required, and results are available within 24 to 48 hours.

YMCA locations and testing times:

  • Anderson Munger Family YMCA
    4301 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, 90020
    Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Culver-Palms Family YMCA
    4500 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, 90230 (rear parking lot)
    Monday-Friday, 8 a.m-5 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon
  • East Valley Family YMCA
    5142 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood, 91601
    Monday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Gardena-Carson Family YMCA
    1000 W Artesia Blvd., Gardena, 90248
    Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Mid Valley Family YMCA
    6901 Lennox Ave., Van Nuys, 91405
    Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • San Pedro & Peninsula YMCA
    301 S Bandini St., San Pedro, 90731
    Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, 7 a.m.-11a.m.
  • Torrance-South Bay YMCA
    2900 W Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance, 90505
    Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 8a.m.-noon
  • Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA
    2900 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, 90023
    Tuesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Weingart YMCA Wellness & Aquatic Center
    9900 S Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 90044
    Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-noon and 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
  • Westchester Family YMCA
    8015 S Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester, 90045
    Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
    Wednesday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon
  • West Valley Family YMCA
    18810 Vanowen St., Reseda, 91335
    Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Wilmington YMCA
    1127 N. Avalon Blvd., Wilmington, 90744
    Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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