Drive-thru and walk-up coronavirus testing sites in Los Angeles will continue using the same diagnostic tests after federal regulators earlier in the week issued a warning about their rate of false results, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
The Curative oral swab tests used at L.A. city testing sites carry a risk of false negatives, especially when it’s used on people not experiencing symptoms, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a safety communication Monday.
The FDA says the tests could lead to infected people having a false sense of security, increasing the risk of spread. People who don’t believe they’re sick could also be delayed in seeking treatment.
But in a COVID-19 briefing Thursday evening, Garcetti said he still trusts the tests “deeply.”
The mayor said the tests have identified infections in 92,000 asymptomatic people — a third of all positive cases.
“Nearly 100,000 people would have gone undiagnosed that we were able to catch because of this test, and it has helped us predict those surges in hospitalizations and deaths as a result,” he said. “To me, that proof is in the pudding.”
The FDA originally granted emergency authorization to the Curative tests in April. However, the company and the FDA do not recommend the tests be given to asymptomatic people, and they must be administered under the guidance of a trained medical professional.
“When the test is not performed in accordance with its authorization or as described in the authorized labeling, there is a greater risk that the results of the test may not be accurate,” the FDA wrote in its message.
Los Angeles County testing sites had originally used the Curative oral-swab tests but in June switched to only using nasal tests, citing a concern with false negatives.
But Garcetti said the FDA’s message was “a very vague warning didn’t have data behind it,” and he doesn’t see a reason to stop using the tests since they have led to positive results in some asymptomatic people.
“It’s not like there’s some other tests the FDA says is better or that’s working better on asymptomatic,” he said. “This is something that has saved lives, will continue to save lives. And if we move away from it, I worry we would have a lot fewer people diagnosed and even more spread.”
The mayor also promised to “double down” on educating the public about how to take the tests, since they’re not administered under the direct guidance of a health care worker.
People getting tested at the massive Dodger Stadium site can watch a video from their car showing the correct method of administering the test. They’re then given a bag through their car window, and complete the test themselves independently.
But the trained professionals who could help administer the tests are already on the front lines, Garcetti said.
The countywide testing positive rate remains above 20%, which means about 1 in every 5 people tested for the virus are determined infected. But some worry the actual rate could be even higher in light of the FDA warning.
With L.A. County continuing to add new coronavirus cases at an alarming rate following weeks of holiday gatherings, more people are landing in county hospitals with severe symptoms. The county is now averaging 200 deaths a day, according to the Department of Public Health.
In recent weeks, Garcetti had used the briefing to plead with Angelenos to forego holiday celebrations with hospitals overwhelmed as the county experiences uncontrolled spread.
More than 8,000 people were battling the disease in hospitals countywide Thursday, a new high.