By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
With the number of deaths and new cases from the COVID-19 coronavirus continuing to tell a devastating story, focus is turning to testing, which is seen as the next frontier for combating the disease in the United States.
In addition to the testing sites established throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties, some privately operated urgent care facilities are now able to provide drive-up COVID-19 tests and are also gearing up for the next tier of defense: antibody tests.
For those who live in communities with significant Japanese American populations like Little Tokyo, Torrance, and L.A.’s Westside, urgent care facilities could serve as a practical alternative to long waits at the city’s 13 testing sites operated by the Los Angeles Fire and Personnel departments in partnership with the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
Urgent Med Network, which currently operates 10 urgent care centers throughout Southern California, including Little Tokyo and Culver City, this week received test kits for both coronavirus and for the presence of antibodies. These tests are offered under the Federal Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization.
Dr. Morris Kokahb, Urgent Med medical director, reports that tests can be administered curbside by driving up to the facility or walking in. Results are often available in minutes. In addition, virtual office visits can be conducted via Skype, Zoom or other online services or by phone. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that those seeking tests contact their primary medical provider first.
“Seven days after developing symptoms, patients often start to go downhill. That’s why early testing is important,” Dr. Kokahb emphasized.
The purpose of the antibody test is to tell if an individual has ever been infected with COVID-19. It can give health officials a better idea of how widespread this new coronavirus is. Our body produces antibodies when it fights an infection. The antibody test isn’t checking for the virus itself. Instead, it looks to see whether your immune system — your body’s defense against illness — has responded to the infection.
Downtown Urgent Care in Little Tokyo’s Teramachi residential complex and Culver City Urgent Care both offer drive-up COVID-19 and antibody testing and do not have symptom or age requirements. Testing is offered free to Medicare and Medi-Cal patients, and most major insurance covers the $70 cost for the COVID-19 test. The cost of the antibody test, which is around $125 in most cases, may not be covered at this time.
In Torrance, Make You Well Urgent Care provides drive-up COVID-19 tests with no requirements that patients exhibit symptoms. Appointments are required and, again, contacting your primary medical care provider is imperative. The facility does not yet offer antibody tests but expects to have them in the coming weeks.
According to the CDC website, testing differs by location. “If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, call your medical provider first.” Information is also available from state or local health department websites.
The City of L.A., in partnership with the county and CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), is providing free COVID-19 testing to L.A. residents. Currently, testing is only for people with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness or breath. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms can now book a same-day or next-day appointment.
The city is also prioritizing nursing home/skilled nursing facility testing for the employees, caretakers, and residents of facilities that house the elderly, chronically ill, or debilitated.
Meanwhile, L.A. County is continuing to ramp up its network of testing sites. Visit http://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing or dial 2-1-1 for assistance with making an appointment or for the latest information on drive-up, mobile testing sites.
Sites were opened recently at the Pomona Fairplex (Gate 17, W. McKinley/Fairplex Drive), the South Bay Galleria (1815 Hawthorne Blvd., Redondo Beach), and the Antelope Valley Mall (1233 Rancho Vista Blvd., Palmdale). The testing is by appointment only; walk-up service is not available.
At this time, COVID-19 testing is limited to the most vulnerable L.A. County residents who are 65 and older and/or have been subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period or have underlying health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, or people who are immune-compromised, including as a result of cancer treatment.
Anyone interested in getting tested must first register on the screening website to determine if they are eligible to be tested. Go to http://coronavirus.lacity.org/Testing. The website (in real time) determines and confirms an individual’s testing eligibility.
All of the testing locations are “drive-up” — clients stay in their cars for tests (though pedestrian clients with appointments can be tested as well). The test is a self-administered oral swab, meaning clients must swab their own mouths/throats using instructions provided to them at the site. The testing process takes 5-10 minutes; however, waiting times may vary. More information and frequently asked questions are available at http://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing.