43,712 … 34,448 … 45,584. These are the numbers of new COVID-19 cases reported over the last three days (January 7, 8, and 9) in LA County. And with numbers like this – and the fact that LAUSD schools are scheduled to resume classes tomorrow, with all students and staff required to provide a negative test result before returning to campus – the name of the COVID game at the moment is testing, testing, and more testing.
A few weeks ago, to help get test kits to those who had been exposed to COVID-19 or were experiencing symptoms, LA County launched a program for residents to order PCR tests to be delivered to their homes. After a couple of weeks ago, though, a processing backlog forced the County to suspend that program. Today, however, LA County announced it has launched a new Pick-Up Testing Kit Program, through which people experiencing symptoms, or who think they have been exposed to COVID-19 can order free PCR test kits to pick up at various sites around the metro area.
People can perform the tests in their cars at the pick-up sites or at home, and then drop them off again at the pickup sites for processing, with results provided in 24-48 hours.
Also, says the County:
Pick-Up Testing Kits will be available without an appointment and until daily supplies are exhausted at designated locations. In alignment with all our LA County operated testing locations, the Pick-Up Testing Kits will also be concurrently testing for COVID-19 and Influenza (A and B).
Note: The Pick-Up Testing Kit is a PCR test that requires individuals to register, self-test and return completed test for results. These kits are not rapid test kits.
Pick-Up Testing Kits are provided at no cost to you if you meet the following criteria:
- Have symptoms of COVID-19, OR
- Think you were exposed to COVID-19.
The new Pick-Up Testing Kit program will operate at 13 testing sites across LA County. The two closest to us are:
- Poinsettia Recreation Center – 7341 Willoughby Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046, Tues-Sat, 8am-4pm
- Plummer Park – 7377 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046, Tues-Sat, 9am-5:30pm
How The “Pick-up Test Kit” Works:
Residents can pick up a test kit at selected sites, perform the test at home or in their car, and return the completed test with their sample to the same site.
Important: You will need an email account to register your test kit online and receive your results. Guardians or caregivers may order test kits for persons for whom they provide care.
- Register and activate your test kit utilizing the unique link provided on the outside instructions of your Testing Kit Packet.
- Follow instruction on proper sample collection from your nose.
- Drop of the sample at the test site where you picked up your kit.
You will receive your result within 24-48 hours after the lab receives your sample. Fulgent Genetics will send you an email to notify you when your results are ready to view.
After turning in your test kit, and while waiting for test results, the County also asks that you:
- Stay at home
- Avoid contact with others
- Wear a mask, and
- Wash your hands often
Also, please note that:
- The test kit is for immediate use only. Samples should be collected within 3-5 days of receiving the test kit.
- The tests are free, and no insurance is required…but if you do have insurance, the County will ask for information so it can get reimbursed for the cost of the test.
- The tests are for LA County residents who are experiencing COVID symptoms or believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The Pick-Up Testing Kits are NOT for those needing tests to return to school, work, or team sports. (Testing for those purposes should be done through individual schools, employers or other entities requiring the testing.)
Of course, more general testing can also be done at other kinds of public testing sites. But as the surge continues and more and more people need or want to get tested, it is getting harder to schedule COVID tests at various LA County testing sites. And it’s still very much hit-or-miss when trying to find home test kits in stock at local drug and grocery stores (everybody’s re-stocking as fast as they can…but they’re also selling out again just as fast).
So pop-up testing sites are definitely becoming a familiar site in almost every neighborhood. But there are differences among the various pop-up sites, with different kinds of tests, and varying turnaround times for results.
One of the most reliable pop-ups we’ve found is the one run by nurse Vanessa Greene, which has been moving back and forth between Larchmont Blvd. and the Ebell of Los Angeles. Greene will be back at the Ebell on Tuesday and Friday this week, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Her test uses a mouth and throat swab, and results are provided in about 24 hours. (Please note that you will need a smartphone or device to register at the test site…and although all tests are free, please bring your insurance information, if you have insurance.)
What Not to Do
As for other options, please note that one thing the County urges everyone to AVOID is going to emergency rooms for a COVID test, even if you are experiencing symptoms. As hospitalizations have increased over the last few weeks, with many staff members also now out sick, ERs have all they can handle without dealing with simple COVID test requests.
Good Source for Basic Testing Info
Even with all of this new information, however, we know you still have lots of questions. When should you get tested? What kind of test should you get? How often should you test, or re-test? And how should you interpret the results?
These questions (and more!) were answered quite well in a December 24 story in the New York Times, which we thought was worth sharing again, since it does a particularly good job of explaining the differences between PCR tests and rapid antigen tests, and how/when you should use each.
In a nutshell, according to the story, the difference between the two tests is “sort of like comparing an X-ray to an M.R.I. scan. Both tests are reliable, serve unique purposes and can be useful at different times. The advantage of an X-ray is that it’s cheap, fast and pretty good at spotting obvious problems. An M.R.I. takes much longer and costs a lot more but gives you a more precise look at what’s going on in the body.”
So rapid tests are probably the the first step if you have symptoms (false positives are rare) or if you need immediate results before visiting a certain person or venue. But you may also want to test again in a couple of days, or get a follow-up PCR test, just to be sure (especially if you’re having any kind of symptoms). And there’s a lot more to it, too…so definitely read the story for more information on the different types of tests, timing of tests, interpreting test results, and more.
Finally, although it might seem that almost everyone right now is either sick, has been sick, or is destined to get sick, that’s not really true, and the LA County Health Department still reminds everyone that the three best ways to protect yourself are: wear high-quality masks (ditch the old cloth masks now for surgical, KN 95 or N 95 masks with nose wires or other custom fit features), get vaccinated…and get boosted if your last vaccination was more than six months ago. Also, it’s definitely a good idea right now to avoid large gatherings (especially indoors), and try to make sure people you gather with are also vaccinated, boosted and masked.