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L.A. County: Not Everyone Needs to Get Tested Right Now

April 30, 2020 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
A testing site in Inglewood. Image: City of Inglewood

Confused about who can access COVID-19 testing or if you should get tested right now? You’re not alone. But maybe today’s briefing from Los Angeles County will help. Department of Health Services director Dr. Christina Ghaly detailed the county’s COVID-19 testing practices and why they differ from those in the city of Los Angeles. We’re going to break that all down below. 

Yesterday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that anyone can get a test for COVID-19, with or without symptoms. That’s true at city-run testing sites. However, county-run testing sites still have a list of criteria you must meet. Ghaly noted that the online registration link for both county- and city-run sites will be the same. You’ll be routed accordingly after you fill in your information. Please note that city-run testing sites will still prioritize those with symptoms.

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Why is there a discrepancy between the county’s criteria and Los Angeles’s new lack of criteria?

How the state, county, and city handle testing—and pretty much everything else relating to the pandemic—will continually evolve. But for right now, the county is aligning with state guidelines from the California Department of Public Health. Dr. Ghaly said she believes cities have the right to proceed in the way they feel is best, but it’s also important for the county “to be able to explain why the testing criteria is what is it, why we’ve arrived at this specific criteria, and what’s behind some of the thinking from a clinical perspective.”

She said there is “no scientific evidence that would clinically indicate to test low-risk asymptomatic individuals outside of certain scenarios.” Those scenarios include those who live in institutional settings, such as nursing homes; essential and frontline workers, and those most at-risk for serious illness or complications.

“I understand that testing can provide individuals with a sense of security and that it can make people feel more conformable knowing whether or not [they’re] infected on a certain day,” Dr. Ghaly said. “But I want to caution everyone from holding on too tightly to that security because medically, it is fleeting. A negative test one day does not mean you won’t get infected the next or the one after that. The same public health measures that are in place will apply to you regardless.”

Those public health measures include all the ones we already know, such as staying home as much as possible, and social distancing and wearing a cloth face covering when we’re not at home.

As testing capacity across the state increases and as Stay at Home orders are relaxed, Ghaly said we may see the county alter its own guidelines.

So, what are the county guidelines? You are eligible for testing at county-run sites if you are:

  • Experiencing symptoms
  • Over 65 years old
  • Someone with an underlying health condition
  • A healthcare professional or first responder
  • Critical government personnel
  • An essential worker, such as grocery store, pharmacy, food service, or utility employees
  • A commercial, rideshare, or public transit driver
  • A credentialed member of the media

Recently, the CDC announced some new symptoms to look out for, bringing the total to nine. They include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • A new loss of taste or smell

If you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, you can contact your healthcare provider or call 211 to be connected to a healthcare provider near you. When you call 211, they’ll ask for your ZIP code. If you choose to provide your email address, they’ll send a list of providers to your email. If you don’t want to share your email address or don’t have one, they can tell you about local providers over the phone.

If you don’t have symptoms, but feel you need a test for any other reason, you can try to register for a test at a city-run site. Yesterday, Garcetti suggested you might want a test if you feel like you recently came into contact with someone who had symptoms. Whatever your reason, you can do that here.

You can listen to the county’s entire briefing from today below:

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