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Officials on Thursday said coronavirus testing at Los Angeles county-run sites will be limited to symptomatic people, essential workers and other vulnerable populations, but that asymptomatic people can be tested at city-run sites, clarifying remarks made by Mayor Eric Garcetti a day earlier.

While all county residents can make an appointment to get a COVID-19 test through the county’s appointment portal, those without symptoms will be routed to the city’s portal, which is now accepting asymptomatic people.

But testing at county sites outside the city of L.A. is limited to the following groups:

  • Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms (recently expanded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Some individuals without symptoms, including:
  • All essential workers (healthcare workers, first responders, utility workers, food supply workers, social service employees and others)
  • Those over 65 years old
  • Anyone with chronic health conditions like diabetes, chronic heart disease, cancer or others
  • Anyone living in institutional congregate living settings like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, shelters and others. Testing will be done at facilities whether or not an outbreak has occurred there.

Los Angeles County updated its testing guidelines in line with California’s which were modified to include all essential workers, with or without symptoms.

Testing those most vulnerable

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county’s Department of Health Services said Thursday that while asymptomatic people can spread the illness and that people can test positive while never having symptoms, testing should still be limited to those who are at high risk of contracting and becoming ill from COVID-19.

“Despite this, as of right now, there is no scientific evidence that would clinically indicate a need to test low-risk, asymptomatic individuals, outside of certain scenarios, such as people who reside in institutions, in congregate living settings, including people experiencing homelessness, those who can’t obey the stay-at-home orders,” Ghaly said.

Garcetti on Wednesday said that all county residents could get a free coronavirus test at city sites regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms. He noted that L.A. was the first major U.S. city to offer the tests to all asymptomatic residents.

The announcement made during the mayor’s daily crisis briefing, however, caused some confusion and prompted the county to tweet that officials countywide had not issued new testing guidelines and that a clarification would be made the following day.

‘People want to get tested’

During his briefing Thursday evening, Garcetti said that by the end of the day, he estimates that 10,000 people will have been tested at city sites, tripling the amount officials usually do in a day.

The mayor said the increase is due to testing being available more widely, and “evidence people want to get tested.”

He added that between city and county sites, an estimated 14,000 people will have been tested Thursday.

He further explained that the city on Thursday saved “too many” tests for those who were vulnerable and those with symptoms, who are still prioritized at city sites, and when tests for a asymptomatic people ran out, officials were still able use test kits on both groups.

“While last night I announced that all L.A. County residents are eligible to get tested at one of our city of Los Angeles testing sites, priority will be still given to our highest- risk individuals,” Garcetti said Thursday, further clarifying the confusion. “We’ll never let the opening up of new tests take away the priority of those who need it the most. But as long we have more tests available, we should never let any go unused each day.”

‘Medically, it is fleeting’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its list of COVID-19 symptoms earlier this week. They now include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, a headache, a sore throat, loss of taste or smell, a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Ghaly on Thursday acknowledged the appeal of wanting to be tested, but urged residents to continue abiding by social distancing guidelines and other measures meant to curb the spread of the virus, including frequent hand washing.

“I understand that testing can provide individuals with a sense of security … but I want to caution everyone on holding on too tightly to that security because, medically, it is fleeting,” Ghaly said. “A negative test one day, does not mean that you won’t get infected the next, or the one after that. The same public health measures that are in place will apply to you regardless.”

She explained that officials need to ensure the county has a sufficient number of tests to be able to respond to outbreaks.

Additionally, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that the state should be testing between 60,000 to 80,000 people for the coronavirus per day, that means the goal is to test 15,000 to 20,000 people every day in L.A. County.

“But the goal and purpose of testing in reopening is not to solely focus on the number of tests being performed, it is to focus on the value that the tests have in identifying and controlling outbreaks and that require targeted management of cases,” Ghaly said.

She stressed that testing capacity remains limited across the county and that officials must focus on testing those with symptoms and those who are vulnerable or at risk.

Coronavirus in L.A. County.

As of Thursday, there are a total of 23,182 coronavirus cases countywide, and the death toll reached 1,111, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

Recently, the county expanded testing to all who work and live at skilled nursing facilities and homeless shelters.

The county is investigating 307 institutional settings with at least one confirmed or suspected coronavirus case. The number has decreased as investigations are closed, and that occurs 14 days after the last positive case at an institution is identified, Ferrer explained

A total of 5,296 people at these settings have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 3,296 who are residents.

And 525 people who lived in institutional settings have died from COVID-19— that’s 47% of all the county’s deaths attributed to the virus. Ferrer said the majority of them lived in skilled nursing facilities.

There are now 172 cases of coronavirus among people who are homeless; 99 of those were residing in were in shelters, and a majority who tested positive were guests at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row.