L.A. mayor says city will expand COVID-19 testing capacity by 25% after weeks of appointment shortages

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Los Angeles plans to further ramp up its capacity for coronavirus testing next week, adding another 8,000 appointment slots in response to a surge in demand, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday.

That will amount to a 25% increase in the city testing capacity, which was already increased by nearly 50% a week ago. The expansion will be possible in part due to the reopening of a screening site at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West L.A., the mayor said in an evening briefing.

Previously, Angelenos could schedule same- or next-day COVID-19 diagnostic testing through the city and county websites. But the past few weeks, slots have run out by Wednesday or Thursday. County officials say it’s due a spike in demand as well as limited availability over the July 4th weekend, including a four-day closure at the massive Dodger Stadium site.

The city also set up a temporary “pop-up testing site” in South L.A., on Central Avenue at 59th Street, to help accommodate factory workers in the area. People can walk in without an appointment, and more than 400 tests were conducted there Friday, the mayor said.

“We’re going to keep popping those up any place the county shows us that there’s been surges or outbreaks of COVID-19 across the city,” he said.

Garcetti said L.A. will work to keep offering testing to everyone, regardless of whether they have symptoms or a known exposure to the disease. But he said more federal help is needed to pay for the tests.

“We shouldn’t have to stand up our own testing. We shouldn’t have to pay for our own testing,” he said. “And we’re fighting for that in the next coronavirus relief bill.”

Officials have encouraged Angelenos with insurance to seek testing through their primary care provider or a clinic. California ordered all public and commercial insurance plans to cover the entire cost of the tests in March.

While Garcetti has encouraged everyone to get a test, county officials say public testing sites should be used for those with symptoms, anyone who lives or works in a high-risk setting, and anyone who’s been exposed to someone who tested positive. Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, has said widespread testing among the general population is “really not feasible or realistic.”

“I can’t reassure you that you won’t be positive tomorrow or the day after that, given that a negative test should never be used as a free pass to engage in social activities that aren’t otherwise recommended,” she said Wednesday.

With a scorching weekend expected to draw people outside of their homes, Garcetti also reminded Angelenos to adhere to public health guidelines.

“Gatherings large and small are a major source of spread,” he said in a Friday evening coronavirus briefing. “Even though we know it’s going to be very hot this weekend, it’s not a green light for a pool party or barbecue.”

COVID-19’s spread has been surging in L.A. County, which reported more than 2,600 infections and 51 virus-related deaths Friday, for a total of nearly 127,400 cases and 3,783 fatalities. The county remains the epicenter of California’s outbreak and has seen record-high case increases the past two weeks.

Earlier this week, the county’s public health director said coronavirus hospitalizations were at an all-time high, which could result in a spike in fatalities. And authorities have warned infections are surging among younger people.

Garcetti has encouraged Angelenos to remain home despite the reopening of many businesses and other public spaces, including beaches. On Wednesday, he said the city may reinstate stay-home orders if statistics continue to worsen.

Despite concerns surrounding people gathering indoors, Garcetti said the city would open its cooling centers this weekend as a heat wave is expected to push temperatures into the triple digits in some areas.

“Everyone who comes will be screened, required to wear a face mask and must follow strict physical distancing orders,” he said.

Cooling centers will also be open countywide.

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