L.A. County shifts from oral to nasal swabs, offers new coronavirus testing guidelines

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Nasal swab test kits and medical gloves are seen at a COVID-19 testing station in Compton on April 28, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Nasal swab test kits and medical gloves are seen at a COVID-19 testing station in Compton on April 28, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Los Angeles County will be switching from oral coronavirus testing swabs to nasal ones in an effort to get better test results, officials announced Friday.

Tests will still be self administered and those being tested will be asked to collect a sample from the front of their nose, not the back, explained Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director.

“While oral approach was effective, multiple studies have shown that a switch to the nasal swab is better and leads to a better specimen collection … and will lead to fewer false negative test results,” Ghaly said. “This is key in our long term testing strategy as we work to limit the spread among various communities.”

The county also issued a new testing guidance Friday, encouraging those who have COVID-19 symptoms to be tested so they can be appropriately isolated and their close contacts can be traced.

Officials also hope to get close contacts of positive cases tested.

Continued testing is still being done in high-risk congregate care settings like skilled nursing facilities and homeless shelters.

Testing is still a priority for people who are hospitalized, health care workers and first responders, and it is strongly encouraged for people over the age of 65 and those with underlying conditions.

Ghaly indicated, however, that asymptomatic people “do not generally need to be tested.”

“Routine testing of the people without symptoms is not recommended unless they are identified as a close contact to someone with COVID-19,” officials stressed in the new guidance, which will be implemented in “the coming weeks,” according to Ghaly.

Half of the COVID-19 testing sites operated by the city and county were closed this week amid ongoing protests decrying the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

While they reopened Friday, experts say large, close gatherings are likely to contribute to the spread of the respiratory illness.

Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, urged those participating in demonstrations to wear face masks, try to social distance as much as possible and self-quarantine for two weeks.

“If you test negative for COVID-19 right after being exposed, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear,” Ferrer said. “You could still become infected toward the end of the two-week window.”

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