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Newsletter: Antibody tests from almost anybody?

Phlebotomist Martun Srmikyan
Phlebotomist Martun Srmikyan administers a drive-through antibody test to Leslie Anne at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

You can get an antibody test not only from a doctor’s office but also from a botox clinic and wellness spas. Are they the real thing?

TOP STORIES

Antibody Tests From Almost Anybody?

Are you curious about whether you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus in the past? More and more people are turning to antibody tests looking for a sense of certainty. But experts, who say the tests play an important role for scientists trying to understand the spread of the disease, are urging caution about the false sense of security they may provide for individuals.

For starters, the tests don’t necessarily tell people whether they are immune to COVID-19, because scientists haven’t confirmed whether the antibodies prevent reinfection. Most of the more than 200 tests on the market haven’t been cleared by regulators, and many could be faulty or of unknown origin.

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For several weeks, the Food and Drug Administration had allowed manufacturers to market antibody tests without supplying evidence that they are accurate. There is no FDA-approved test for antibodies related to COVID-19. And only 12 tests have been granted emergency authorization, which meets a lower standard. Last week, the agency began requiring manufacturers to promptly send in data proving their products are effective and apply for emergency authorization.

In the meantime, entrepreneurs have jumped into the antibody testing game, including botox clinics and fancy spas once dedicated to beauty and wellness treatments.

More Testing Times

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Under fire for inadequate coronavirus testing across the U.S. and having downplayed its importance, President Trump insisted Monday that enough testing for active infections is available to allow more Americans to safely return to work, even as infections continue to rise or plateau in much of the country.

The president announced a plan to distribute $11 billion approved by Congress last month to support testing efforts by states, with an emphasis on residents and staff of nursing homes, which have suffered the brunt of deaths in the pandemic. “If someone wants to be tested right now, they will be able to be tested,” Trump claimed, a boast that is untrue in many communities.

Trump’s assurances have also been undercut as the White House, perhaps the world’s most secure workplace, scrambles to stem further infections in the West Wing. The infections have prompted three prominent members of the coronavirus task force to begin isolating themselves. They are scheduled to testify via video conference to a Senate committee today.

Still in the Danger Zone

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Amid a growing clamor to further reopen California’s economy, which has been devastated by the novel coronavirus, the state is facing one major obstacle that officials say has made swifter progress difficult: The number of COVID-19 deaths in California remains at a stubborn plateau.

Mirroring a trend seen nationally, California has not seen a dramatic and sustained decline in deaths over the past month, a Los Angeles Times analysis has found. During the seven-day period that ended Sunday, 503 people in California died from the virus — the second-highest weekly death toll in the course of the pandemic and a 1.6% increase from the previous week’s toll.

The average of about 500 fatalities each week has continued over the past month. COVID-19 cases shot up to a weekly record last week, with more than 13,000 new infections reported. Increased testing may partly explain the increase. Other indicators show that the coronavirus is exhibiting staying power. Hospitalizations have persisted statewide, fueled by the situation in Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley and San Diego County.

Unconventional Efforts in Sacramento

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Two unprecedented proposals to help Californians weather the fiscal storm unleashed by the coronavirus crisis are expected to be unveiled today by Democrats in the state Senate — one to help struggling renters, the other to create a $25-billion economic recovery fund by issuing long-term vouchers to those willing to prepay their future state income taxes.

Taken together, the ideas suggest lawmakers are willing to launch never-before-tried experiments to avoid the unpaid debts and deep cuts to government services that resulted from the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the governors of Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado have asked Congress for $1 trillion in COVID-19 pandemic relief for all states and local governments.

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New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., plans to start reopening its economy in some upstate regions Friday, but New York City is unlikely to see nonessential business resume until June at the earliest.

— The coronavirus outbreak has placed an additional burden on people with underlying health conditions, like chronic kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Outings for picking up medicine, getting blood drawn or dialysis treatment are now chances for exposure.

— Extensive racial and economic disparities are emerging among victims of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, and officials attribute the trend in part to systemic inequities and institutional racism.

— As schools in Los Angeles prepare to reopen in August, administrators face a new set of questions: whether half a million students and their families would be tested for COVID-19, if it’s even affordable.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In May 1971, a group of Chicano rights demonstrators marched from Calexico to Sacramento to “reconquer the rights and dignity of Chicanos,” they told The Times. The 25 marchers set out on May 5 and by May 12 had reached the Salton Sea, where Times staffers met them.

According to a story in the next day’s paper, the group was supported along their journey by churches and community groups, though they did experience “some racist catcalls from cars.” They picked up more farmworkers along the way and arrived in Sacramento in August, culminating with a 20-minute protest on the front lawn of Gov. Ronald Reagan’s home.

May 12, 1971: Chicanos marching along a desert road near the Salton Sea during a protest march from Calexico to Sacramento.
(Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— University of California President Janet Napolitano is recommending the suspension of the SAT and ACT tests as an admissions requirement until 2024 and possible elimination after that.

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— Sheriff Alex Villanueva says inmates in the L.A. County jails are trying to infect themselves with the coronavirus, according to a video and evidence gathered inside the facilities.

— On L.A.'s skid row, testing capacity is only part of the challenge. Outreach workers must build trust with homeless patients and address underlying health issues. And even if all goes well, what happens when infected patients disappear?

— For weeks, fosters and adoptions have surged at animal shelters. But as jobs evaporate, Los Angeles city officials are bracing for an influx of pets, predicting that people facing financial hardship may have to surrender their animals.

— More than a century after railroads, ranchers and hunters vanquished their ancestors, pronghorn antelope are returning to Death Valley. The big question for researchers: Why?

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NATION-WORLD

— The Supreme Court justices sounded split on whether to broadly deny civil rights protections to hundreds of thousands of teachers in religious schools, as they heard cases involving two who were fired from Catholic schools in Los Angeles.

Georgia’s attorney general has appointed a black district attorney to take over the case of a white father and son charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery, making her the third outside prosecutor in a slaying of a black man that’s prompted a national outcry.

— A four-hour subway shutdown may not seem like a drastic change, given all the transformations wrought by the pandemic. But in New York City, it means a tear in the fabric of the city.

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— The Galapagos Islands are so famously isolated that hospitals didn’t have a single intensive care unit bed. An accepted feature of life there now worsens the hardship of the pandemic.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— How the director of the “Becoming” documentary got inside Michelle Obama’s motorcade.

— Hollywood is honoring Jerry Stiller‘s life and legacy and offering love and condolences to his comedian Ben Stiller upon the death of his father at 92 this week.

— Going virtual has become the crucial new strategy for L.A. dance companies as they fight for survival in the face of a calendar of canceled rehearsals and shows.

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John Krasinski threw a Zoom wedding for a pair of fans for the latest episode of his hit web series “Some Good News,” reuniting with his cast mates from “The Office” to celebrate the nuptials.

BUSINESS

— Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk escalated his conflict with Alameda County officials by tweeting that the company’s Fremont factory had resumed manufacturing operations despite orders to remain closed. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he added.

— Could Las Vegas’ economy persevere with half-full casinos? A city ponders its future.

SPORTS

Major League Baseball owners have approved a proposal that envisions a 2020 season of about 82 games, starting in early July. The commissioner’s office is set to present that proposal to the players’ union today. But Gov. Newsom declined to promise that California’s five big league teams would be permitted to play at home.

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— Is an NFL season possible this year? Dr. Anthony Fauci says maybe: “The virus will make the decision for us.”

— Remember when Michael Jordan played minor league baseball? Sport writer Bill Shaikin revisits his legacy — and says Jordan was a better player than he got credit for.

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OPINION

— There’s too much at stake to sit out the 25th Congressional District race. Christy Smith deserves your vote, The Times’ editorial board writes.

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— Southern California doesn’t have decades to figure out water recycling. Drought looms, and we need it now, writes the editorial board.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— There’s nothing like widespread despair to inspire jokes. Here’s a comprehensive guide to coronavirus memes, featuring “Tiger King,” bad haircuts and sourdough. (Vox)

— “I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life,” musician Dave Grohl writes. “But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to.” (The Atlantic)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

Do you hate being stuck at home? Or are you one of the lucky ones thriving at home? “I feel like there wasn’t a world in which I was going to stop unless I was forced to,” says Shamin Walsh, a managing director in the venture capital world. During the stay-at-home order, the 35-year-old feels like she has more hours in the day. “It’s nice to be able to carve out your own time into increments,” she says. “Even eliminating that hour of commute time every day; it’s real time.”

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Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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