Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday defended the decision to expand coronavirus testing to those without symptoms and assured residents that those most at risk of contracting the illness will still be prioritized.
The mayor said around 10,000 people were tested at city sites Thursday, triple the number of those usually tested and that’s “evidence people want to get tested.”
The mayor caused confusion Wednesday when he announced that the city will be opening up testing to all county residents, saying that L.A. will be the first major U.S. city to offer the tests to asymptomatic residents.
County officials on Thursday later clarified that coronavirus testing at L.A. County-run sites will still be limited, only providing access to symptomatic people, essential workers and other vulnerable populations. But county residents without symptoms can sign up for an appointment online and they will be redirected to get tested at L.A. city-run testing sites.
With testing supplies still in short supply nationwide and the state’s nursing facilities hit hard by the pandemic, county officials said it’s still necessary to limit testing to those with COVID-19 symptoms and people who are over 65 years old, who have chronic health conditions, live in congregate settings or are essential workers.
This is in line with the state’s testing guidelines, which on Wednesday were modified to include all essential workers, with or without symptoms, and then expanded Thursday to include any resident with symptoms.
Garcetti on Thursday explained that city sites will continue to prioritize the vulnerable and the symptomatic, allotting a specific amount of test kits to be used for high-priority groups, and another for asymptomatic people.
“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,” Garcetti said.
During a news conference earlier Thursday, the county’s director of health services Dr. Christina Ghaly said 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.”
The mayor later defended the decision to test asymptomatic people and explained that the city’s testing sites have had kits that were left over at the end of each day.
“I’m never going to let tests go to waste,” he said.
Garcetti said the city’s testing sites have the capacity to conduct 18,000 tests each day, and have access to hundreds of thousands of test kits.
He stressed that ramping up testing is important for getting a clearer picture of how widespread the virus is. Health experts have said that people could test positive and infect others without showing any symptoms of the respiratory illness.
“We know this is a silent killer,” the mayor said of the virus. “It spreads without us seeing or feeling it and If we’re gonna save lives and open up our economy, we need to know where this virus is.”
Asked about whether the mayor consulted with county health officials about expanding testing, Garcetti said he was in contact with Public Health and “had positive feedback.”
There were a total of 23,182 confirmed coronavirus cases in the county with 1,111 deaths as of Thursday, according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.
Ferrer said that 145,991 people had been tested for the virus across the county as of Thursday.
Increased testing has been one of the benchmarks for lifting state and local stay-at-home orders.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that the state should be testing between 60,000 to 80,000 people for the coronavirus each day.
“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 requires targeted management of cases,” Ghaly said.