L.A. is working with experts to accelerate research on rapid COVID-19 testing, Mayor Garcetti says

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Los Angeles has convened a national group of medical experts, bioscience firms and government leaders in an effort to accelerate research into rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday.

Such testing is still in development and has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but Garcetti said in an evening briefing that he hopes the working group will create momentum for the “innovative tool to radically increase virus detection.”

The city will research the cost of such testing and its ability to scale up volume, working with partners like USC, which will conduct studies on the tests’ efficacy.

The mayor said it could eventually help identify outbreaks more quickly and “get our children back to school, having daily tests for workers, teachers and students who could see the results and know if they are infectious.”

If necessary, L.A. will also dedicate funding toward manufacturing of the tests, Garcetti said. He added that while the diagnostic tests currently used at city screening centers cost up to $200, it’s estimated the at-home test strips can be manufactured for as little as $5 or $10.

It will likely be several weeks or months before at-home testing becomes a reality. But the mayor said it would dramatically ramp up the city’s testing capacity.

“We’ve done 1.1 million tests so far through city testing centers,” he said. “If we get this right, we could be doing as many as a million tests a week using paper strip testing, here in Los Angeles alone.”

It was the mayor’s first coronavirus briefing since last Wednesday, when he said he was authorizing water and power shutoffs at homes and other venues hosting large parties.

However, gatherings have continued, including one at a Harbor Gateway warehouse where five people were shot early Tuesday morning. But Garcetti said the L.A. Department of Water and Power has not cut utilities for any party violations.

The mayor said such enforcement was unnecessary because it was “a pretty quiet weekend,” and the city prefers to encourage compliance before taking punitive measures.

Last week, Garcetti had said LADWP services would be suspended when L.A. police respond to large gatherings “time and time again” at a property.

The mayor said it would be up to police officers to request the locations’ utilities be shut off within 48 hours. But the LAPD union pushed back against the plan, saying Garcetti should send his staff to deal with parties and let officers focus on violent crime.

County public health officials have said violations of their ban on parties are punishable with fines, prison time or both — but that largely hasn’t been enforced, either.

The health department is investigating claims that Los Angeles police officers and L.A. County sheriff’s deputies were among those who attended a large first responders’ party at a Hollywood bar late last month.

“If you’re so concerned, why don’t you call the police?” one man identified as an LAPD officer asked a CNN reporter observing the party.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 test results from the state’s massive data backlog are beginning to pour in, giving officials a clearer picture of the virus’ spread over the past few weeks.

Earlier Wednesday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said L.A. County’s hospitalizations have stabilized and the virus’ spread has slowed following a surge in mid-July.

But younger people — who are more likely to congregate with others outside their household — are still driving the spread in L.A. County, officials said.

As of Wednesday, the county had confirmed nearly 214,200 coronavirus cases resulting in 5,109 deaths.

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