Demand for coronavirus testing is likely to continue to exceed the availability of the appointment over the next few weeks in Los Angeles County, even as officials step in to expand capacity amid record highs.
No appointments are available for the rest of the week throughout the country, including at locations run by the city, county and state, as well as at private clinics and pharmacies that are usually included in the directory on LA County’s scheduling website, says Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s head of health services.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the county website had no opportunity to schedule a test, and the map of locations showed only those run by the county or city.
The county will usually open meetings for the coming week the weekend before. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said the scheduling will be opened Thursday for new Saturday meetings at the city̵
Ghaly said tests have been in capacity in recent weeks due to closures during the Fourth of July weekend – including a four-day halt for services on the city’s massive Dodger Stadium site – and a peak in people seeking a test.
“There is a broad desire for individuals to be tested to know if they can have COVID, to know if they may have been exposed,” she said in a newsletter on Wednesday afternoon.
Test access is not limited by a shortage of test kits, according to Ghaly – although she said the supply chain may become increasingly limited as other states expand their capacity.
At the same time, more people are being treated for COVID-19 at LA County hospitals than at any other point in the pandemic. And the average daily increase in cases has jumped from 1,300 in early June to 2,400 a week, says Barbara Ferrer, the country’s director of public health.
“This daily average paints a very clear picture of what has happened over the past few weeks, which is a significant increase in community transfer,” she said.
Officials are working to meet demand by adding new appointments, both through increased staffing and increased hours. And plans are in the works to open around eight more county-tested sites in the next two or three weeks, Ghaly said.
The county plans to place the new sites in poorer areas and communities of color, which continue to experience higher mortality and lower access to testing.
“The data is alarming,” Ferrer said. “The fact that we have not been able to narrow this gap is worrying and that means we must redouble all efforts to make sure access to testing is there.”
Health officials also continue their efforts to move testing to more primary care offices and clinics, partly to have private insurance that covers the cost of more screenings. California ordered all public and commercial insurance plans to cover the entire test cost in March.
Funding from the state and federal government will be critical in the coming weeks as the county struggles with supply chain and compensation issues, Ghaly said.
The Director of Health said Angelenos can help reduce the burden on the tests by only looking for a time if they have respiratory symptoms, live or work at high risk or if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. This differs from guidance the city has adopted in its locations, where anyone can be tested, even if they are asymptomatic and have no known exposure.
“When we face what’s ahead, it’s important for us to consider testing the role in the fight against COVID and really thinking about who needs to be tested,” she said.
Ghaly admitted that patients with coronaviruses are most infectious before they get symptoms, and some spread the virus even though they have never had symptoms.
But she said widespread testing among the public is “really not feasible or realistic” because of the current laboratory capabilities of USA Plus, current testing has its limits. For example, the virus can develop hours after someone has tested, and they can be infected despite having a negative result.
“This is not a sustainable test method,” she said.
Ghaly said a 15-minute antigen test approved on Monday by the US Food and Drug Administration is “promising,” but there are still questions about its reliability and supply chain availability.
A negative COVID-19 test should not change how you interact with people outside your household, she added.
“I cannot assure you that you will not be positive tomorrow or the day after that, given that a negative test should never be used as a free pass to participate in social activities that are not otherwise recommended,” she said. “And it is not a ticket that would allow others to believe that they are confident of interacting with you. It’s not certain. “
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