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A month after vowing to test all nursing home residents and staff for the novel coronavirus, Los Angeles County health officials have completed the effort in only about a third of homes and have dramatically scaled back testing plans.

The abrupt change — which calls for testing only a small sample of residents in nursing homes that have not had an outbreak — is outlined in a letter county health officials sent to nursing homes last week, as the death toll continued to mount at facilities across the county.

Health officials defended the decision as the most efficient way to get a quick handle on what is happening in the homes. But some experts fear the move could allow the virus to continue to spread undetected, resulting in more fatalities among a vulnerable population that is already the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 death toll at county residential facilities topped 1,000 this week, with the vast majority at nursing homes.

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