LA to Start Offering Free Coronavirus Testing

Health workers in Los Angeles County collect residents’ blood samples at a drive-up testing site in early April as part of a study. (Courtesy of LA County Department of Public Health)

(CN) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday that LA will now offer free coronavirus testing for all residents, becoming the first major city in the United States to do so.

Garcetti made the announcement Wednesday evening during a press conference where he made clear that all residents of Los Angeles County, regardless of whether they are displaying coronavirus symptoms, would have the opportunity to immediately sign up for Covid-19 testing.

While this widespread testing would be available for everybody, however, the mayor added that those with symptoms will still take priority moving forward.

The mayor’s announcement comes as the city currently stands as one of the hardest hit in entire state, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases, making up roughly half of California’s overall coronavirus total.

Garcetti said that LA has the resources needed to enforce this new testing measure effectively and that residents are encouraged to get themselves tested as quickly and safely as possible.

“We have the capacity,” Garcetti said during the press conference. “So don’t wait, don’t wonder and don’t risk infecting others.”

Los Angeles is not the only California entity to enact more sweeping testing procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bolinas, California was the first town in the Golden State to offer more readily available tests to its residents, while the University of California, San Francisco recently announced a plan to test over 5,000 people in one of San Francisco’s closely-packed neighborhoods.

This is also not the first step LA has taken to greatly increase its testing capabilities. The city had already opened up at least 34 drive-thru locations that helped to provide testing to those who were already displaying symptoms or worked a job that put them at greater risk of contracting Covid-19.

Those sites can reportedly carry out up to 18,000 tests a day, with roughly 140,000 tests already conducted this past month alone.

Garcetti’s announcement comes at a time when the issue of coronavirus testing and its availability has become of paramount importance.

With more states looking to formulate plans on how and when they can safely reopen, many medical experts warn that the United States needs to continue improving its testing capacities in order to ensure such efforts are safe and controlled.

Ashish Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that collecting as much data as possible on who may have contracted the coronavirus is simply fundamental to understanding how to manage the economy and reopening efforts in the months to come.

“Identifying who’s infected, who’s not is like public health, disease control 101,” Jha said, according to an interview with The Guardian. “Without that, you’ve got nothing. If you can’t test people for the virus, you cannot figure out who’s infected, you can’t keep them away from susceptible people, you can’t run your economy.”

With Los Angeles set to rapidly expand its testing measures after Garcetti’s announcement, the city is potentially set to collect a vast amount of data on where the status of Covid-19 currently sits in California – data that California’s Governor Gavin Newsom says is badly needed.

Newsom recently announced a plan that could potentially see certain segments of California open up in specific, measured stages, but has made clear that such efforts and decisions would be driven by data.

“We are not going back to the way things were until we get to immunity or a vaccine,” Newsom said. “We will base reopening plans on facts and data, not on ideology. Not what we want. Not what we hope.”

Recent polling also shows that reopening efforts are directly tied to how much testing can be done on Americans who need it.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, also released Wednesday, reports that a vast majority of Americans say that it would be a bad idea to reopen certain locations without more testing. The poll showed that 91% of Americans think it would a poor choice to allow people to attend sporting events without more testing, while another 65% say that folks looking to return to work should not do so until more people have been accurately tested.

This increased testing efforts also seem to align with the goals of the federal government. Trump has recently expressed that he believes these kinds of testing goals are responsibilities best left to the states and that the federal government will aim to assist them in that goal.

“States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing — But we will work with the Governors and get it done,” Trump recently tweeted.

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