East LA College coronavirus testing site

The Los Angeles County Fire Department set up a drive-up testing site at East Los Angeles College.

In a major policy shift, the City of Los Angeles will offer free COVID-19 testing to any city or county resident who wants it, regardless of whether they have symptoms, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday.

The change, however, applies only to the eight test sites within the City of Los Angeles. 

Except for front-line workers such as health care professionals and grocery employees, coronavirus testing in the county thus far has been limited to people displaying symptoms of the virus. But Garcetti said the city now has the testing capacity to provide tests for anyone who in the county who wants to get one.

"We have been opening up each night to more and more people, and still at the end of the day we have those tests that are left over," Garcetti said. "We had the confidence that we could move forward (with testing more people)."

The mayor said although Los Angeles could be the first major city in the United States to offer free COVID-19 testing to any of its residents, not all of the millions of people who live here will be able to rush to the testing centers overnight.

People must still apply online for an appointment by visiting coronavirus.lacity.org/testing. Priority will still be given to people showing symptoms and to first responders.

Update: Several readers have informed us that they have been unable to make appointments for those without symptoms. We are checking with the mayor's office about availability.

During his nightly briefing, Garcetti initially said that testing would be made available only to Los Angeles city residents, regardless of symptoms. His office later clarified that the testing is available to anyone in the county.

The city's COVID-19 testing website states that, in partnership with the County of Los Angeles and actor Sean Penn's Community Organized Relief Effort program, it is providing free COVID-19 testing to "all Los Angeles County residents."

About 1 million antibody tests are coming to the Los Angeles area, Garcetti said, but those tests don't show whether someone is currently infectious. The blood serum tests monitor a person's level of antibodies, which is the best indicator available as to whether someone had the virus but recovered from it.

Garcetti said although the antibody tests won't show if someone is immune, it's "good to know" whether people may have had the virus, with or without their knowledge, painting a more complete picture of how widespread the infections have been in the area.

People can still spread the virus to other people, even if they never developed any symptoms.

Garcetti said the city and county are increasing testing availability and educational outreach on COVID-19, including testing more than 600 homeless people living on Skid Row.

Mobile testing COVID-19 teams were increased from three to six on Monday in order to respond to cases at nursing homes and residential complexes for people 65 and older, who are most at-risk from symptoms of COVID-19

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