Lab county coronavirus lab testing

Lab testing at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Two months after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a coordinated effort to establish wide-scale use of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests, local health officials are poised to announce details of a pilot program next week that will employ an FDA-approved test and assess the feasibility of its widespread use.

"There's a lot of work that goes into developing plans and implementing these sorts of studies, and we are very excited about the partnership with the city of L.A. and USC that we have made considerable progress over the last two months," Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, told reporters in an online briefing Thursday.

"We will be having a press event nest week to share an update on where we're at and hope to begin implementing at least the first phase of these studies very quickly," he said.

Garcetti announced in August a collaboration with nationwide medical experts, bioscience firms and government leaders in an effort to develop rapid, low-cost at-home testing methods to dramatically increase the region's coronavirus testing capacity. Although the mayor has repeatedly said the effort would likely make use of "paper-strip" tests, Simon said the program will actually use a swab test.

"We're going to be using one ... of the products that have received an emergency-use authorization by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)," Simon said. "It is a rapid test, easy to use."

He said additional details would be announced next week, but noted that while there have been "promising" developments surrounding paper-strip testing, "at least for our study we didn't feel comfortable using that."

Garcetti said during a recent news conference that he hoped to initially roll out the rapid testing program for first responders and firefighters, and possibly in a school setting. It was unclear how wide-spread the program might be initially. In August, he said he envisioned being able to eventually conduct as many as 1 million tests a week.

Although more rapid, wide-spread testing is considered a critical tool in tracking the virus and helping combat it, Simon noted that testing "is not a panacea."

"Sometimes people think if we can just get cheap, easy-to-use tests for everybody that we've solved the problem," he said. "But in reality, testing is just one component of a whole range of things we need to do before a vaccine is available. Probably even after a vaccine is available we'll need to pay attention to the physical distancing recommendations and the face masks."

The county on Thursday reported a staggering 3,600 new coronavirus cases, but the large number was attributed to the resolution of a technical glitch that delayed a large number of test results over the past several days. County health officials estimated that about 2,000 of the newly announced cases were the result of the backlog.

"So today, I think, reflects sort of the catch-up," Simon said. "If you look over the last one to two weeks, we've been averaging somewhere around 1,000 cases, maybe a little bit over 1,000 cases a day."

In addition to the county cases, Long Beach health officials reported 65 new coronavirus cases Thursday, while Pasadena added eight. The new cases lifted the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 294,138.

The county also announced 18 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, pushing the overall total to 6,956.

As of Thursday, there were 777 people hospitalized due to the virus, up from 758 on Wednesday, 730 on Tuesday, 722 on Monday and 752 on Sunday.

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