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L.A. County launches COVID-19 testing program where residents can pick up kits

People wait in line for a COVID-19 test at a walk-up site at El Sereno Middle School on Jan. 4.
People wait in line for a COVID-19 test at a walk-up site at El Sereno Middle School on Jan. 4. L.A. County health officials launched a new program for residents, in which they can pick up a PCR test kit, complete the test and return it for processing.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

On the heels of another record-breaking day of reported coronavirus infections, Los Angeles County health officials on Monday launched a new testing program for residents unable to make highly sought-after appointments.

The new program allows residents to pick up a PCR test kit, complete the test and return it to designated sites for processing, according to the L.A. County Department of Health Services. County health officials said the program is expected to provide more than 6,000 tests a day.

The latest initiative — dubbed the “Pick-Up Testing Program” — arrives less than a week after county health officials paused an at-home testing program because of what Health Services described as a “backlog in the logistics of processing these kits.” KTLA-TV reported the stoppage was the result of an unusually high number of lab workers calling in sick amid a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the Omicron variant.

Health Services officials believe the pickup testing program will avoid “logistical delays” that may occur with the at-home service, which allowed L.A. County residents to receive and send tests by mail and is expected to return later this week.

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“They can then go and get tested at home, or in their car, and return the completed testing kit back to the location,” officials said in an email to The Times.

Los Angeles County has reported more than 225,000 new coronavirus cases over the last week, including its three highest single-day totals of the entire pandemic. County health officials announced the latest record, 45,584, on Sunday. California has surpassed an astounding 6 million cases, the latest milestone in the pandemic that arrived nearly two years ago.

The arrival of Omicron has pushed daily caseloads to their highest levels and sent a stream of new coronavirus-positive people to the hospital.

Soaring cases have spurred increased demand for testing, leading to long lines and frustration as testing sites struggle to accommodate the surge. County officials said the pickup program will allow them to “expand testing capacity as demand grows across the county.”

“We look forward to reducing the waiting time to get tested for individuals unable to book an appointment,” Paula Siler, the director of Community Mobile Testing Operations at Health Services, said in a statement.

When both the pickup program and mail-in testing service are fully operational, “we will have successfully added over 10,000 additional daily COVID tests available to the residents of L.A. County,” Siler said. That’s including roughly 4,000 tests a day provided through the mail-in program, which will be available only intermittently, and on top of testing provided by appointment throughout the county, officials said.

Health officials halted L.A. County’s home COVID testing program this week because of a “backlog in the logistics” of processing test kits, which had been limited to 4,000 a day.

No appointment is necessary for the pickup tests, which are offered at 13 sites across L.A. County. Kits are free for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who think they were exposed to the virus. Results are available within 24 to 48 hours.

County health officials said the kits are not intended for those who need to test to return to school, work or participate in another activity, citing the need “to preserve limited resources.”

People who fall under one of those categories “should seek testing via their employer, school district or the entity requiring the testing,” county health officials said.

At the end of last week, there were about 260 coronavirus testing locations in the county’s online database. Of those, about 66 are operated by the county and seven by the state, while the remaining sites are operated by testing partners.

All testing locations on the county website — including partner sites — offer coronavirustests at no out-of-pocket cost, regardless of insurance coverage or immigration status, county officials said.

However, some sites are operated by private companies, private healthcare systems and local municipalities, “and some of these privately operated sites do charge for their testing services,” Health Services said.


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