Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Sunday that Covid-19 testing at two of the city’s largest sites will end today. In conjunction with the county, vaccine distribution will begin by the end of the week.
A statement from the mayor’s office said local leaders decided to shift away from testing at Dodger Stadium and the Veterans Affairs Lot 15 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Brentwood so that public health officials could immediately focus personnel, equipment and other resources on vaccination distribution. Those facilities account for 1/3 of the testing that takes place in Los Angeles, according to county health officials.
“From early on in this pandemic, Dodger Stadium has been home base for our testing infrastructure, a vital part of our effort to track the spread of COVID-19, try to get ahead of outbreaks, and save lives,” Garcetti said.
“Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the city, county and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.”
This shift in resources will “temporarily reduce testing capacity in L.A. County, but it will more than triple the number of daily vaccines available to be dispersed to Angelenos,” according to the mayor’s statement. “The city remains committed to providing free testing to residents, with or without symptoms, at eight permanent sites and six mobile sites across L.A.
“In the weeks ahead, the number of tests offered will increase through existing locations, additional mobile teams and an expanded site at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. Anyone seeking a test can find more information at coronavirus.lacity.org/testing or may contact their health care provider.”
But the decision comes as Los Angeles experiences what has long been feared: A Christmas surge in cases on top of a Thanksgiving surge on top of a fall surge.
L.A.’s track record in expanding testing for its 10 million residents has been spotty at best. Offering more testing in the West Valley while reducing it at the region’s largest most central site may also create hurdles to serving some of L.A.’s hardest-hit communities.
This, in the midst of what may be the largest surge of the pandemic.
“If you look over the last 4 days, we’ve seen a greatly elevated number,” acknowledged L.A. Public Health Chief Science Officer Dr. Paul Simon on Friday. “It’s just a clear indication of what was happening 2-4 weeks ago over the holidays.”
“This very clearly is the latest surge for the winter holidays and New Year’s,” said Simon. “And it’s likely to continue over the next week or two. We do expect these numbers continue to be high over the next couple weeks.”
Given Garcetti’s words about how vital testing is, one wonders why increasing vaccinations seems to be — in the short term — a zero sum game with testing.
The county’s own test reporting shows a rise in demand for testing over the past 10 days, and testing appointments thorough partners Curative and CoreLA is mostly full through the end of the week.
The change comes as California Governor Gavin Newsom pledged to vaccinate 1 million people in 10 days. That window closes on Sunday.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis applauded the decision.
“I want to thank Mayor Eric Garcetti, the entire city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers organization for their partnership in getting us to this point,” Solis said.
“For eight months, Dodger Stadium served as a lifeline for so many Angelenos — providing free access to testing. In this moment of darkness where cases, hospitalizations and deaths are skyrocketing, this bold step of offering both Covid-19 testing and vaccines in the heart of Los Angeles, reflects the dual nature of this moment — it is dark, but simultaneously hopeful,” she said. “Robust COVID-19 testing is the linchpin to getting out of this current and unprecedented surge and the vaccine is fulcrum to ending the pandemic once and for all.”
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services also announced it will discontinue the use of Curative Covid-19 PCR tests at its pop-up testing sites this week following a federal warning about the potential for false-negative results, but the tests will still be used at Los Angeles city testing sites.
The county announced the change Sunday night, saying the decision was made in response to a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration alert regarding the possibility of false negative results.
Curative, a diagnostics company based in San Dimas, provided a limited number of tests at county-supported pop-up testing sites beginning in mid- December. Between Dec. 13 and Jan. 2, a total of 24,241 Curative tests were administered, making up about 10% of all COVID-19 tests at county-supported test sites during that time.
The Curative tests will be replaced with Fulgent Genetics tests. Los Angeles County health officials said on Monday that the county had stopped using Curative in June.
The FDA warning stressed that the Curative test must be administered in accordance with its authorized use — which limits it to use on people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Testing in Los Angeles is open to people regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.
Mayor Eric Garcetti last week defended the use of the Curative tests at city-operated testing sites, saying administering them on asymptomatic people has allowed the city catch the virus in 92,000 people who would have gone undetected otherwise. He said the city has no plans to drop the Curative tests.
The Dodger Stadium site will soon be able to vaccinate up to 12,000 people per day when it is fully up and running.
More than one million Angelenos have been tested for COVID-19 at Dodger Stadium since it opened in May 2020, and no existing testing appointments are affected by this week’s operational changes. Vaccinations at the site will be distributed in accordance with CDC, state and county guidance to eligible populations.
City News Service contributed to this report.