As cases surge, Long Beach residents face long waits for COVID-19 tests

If you need to get a free COVID-19 test, your wait for a city appointment is likely at least two weeks out, if you can schedule one at all. That’s because people are clamoring to get tested after coronavirus cases have spiked.

For the last few weeks the city has been testing more than 1,000 people each day at its five testing locations, spokeswoman Chelsey Finegan said, noting that the state guidelines say they should be offering 750 tests per day. Many residents say despite that, they are not able to even schedule an appointment and if they are, the closest available test is two weeks away.

Coronavirus cases have surged statewide in recent weeks, jumping by 709 positive cases last week and up by 622 cases as of Wednesday in Long Beach.

City officials have opened more testing slots for the coming weeks and note that this week’s tests are especially limited due to Fourth of July testing site closures. Finegan said the city is increasing its capacity to 1,400 tests each day this week and next week to try to accommodate for the closures.

Residents can still try to “walk up” without an appointment, but Long Beach’s health director Kelly Colopy noted earlier in the week that the testing sites are not always able to see everyone that way.

Mayor Robert Garcia noted in a Thursday press conference that if residents are symptomatic and need to get tested, they can walk up to any of the sites except the Jordan Plus site. He also said the Long Beach City College Pacific Coast Campus often has same-day appointments available.

Further exasperating the situation are some hiccups with appointments at the Jordan High School testing site. Resident Patricia Powers says she was among a group of people scheduled to be tested at the site on Saturday afternoon. After getting an email from the city the night before informing her the test was moved to Veteran’s Stadium because of construction at the school, she and her partner arrived to find the stadium lot empty of health workers.

“People were very unhappy,” Powers said. “It was really, just very frustrating, because we did everything asked of us.”

As a healthcare worker for a surgery practice, Powers comes in contact with sick people all the time and wanted to be sure she wasn’t carrying the virus. She and the entire group hadn’t gotten any information from the city, but one person said they may have moved the testing to the PCC campus, so they went there to also find empty testing stations.

Finegan said the incident was a result of a miscommunication on the temporary closure of the Jordan testing site that day.

“The City is not in danger of running out of tests and have not run out of test kits at any site,” Finegan said. “Test teams do have to travel between sites during the day and are not able to stay far beyond scheduled hours. This is why it is so important for everyone to ensure they are scheduling an appointment in advance.”

Meanwhile, access to tests in local emergency rooms is sporadic, according to Dr. Mauricio Heilbron, a trauma surgeon at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

“I don’t know why the government is saying we can get tested whenever we want when we’re struggling to get them here in our hospital,” Heilbron said during a live chat with the Post on Wednesday. “… Access to the tests is all over the map: you can drive up to the Dodgers stadium and get them, but we cant get them in our ER?”

Or, if ER’s have them, they’re out of the quick result tests and have to use the two-day tests, he said. Or some doctor’s offices have them but not others.

He also noted that too many people are getting tested just because they feel they need to know if they have coronavirus, and not because they know they have been exposed or are symptomatic.

Los Angeles County officials also said all their testing sites are at capacity and urged residents to get tested at their own doctor’s offices if they have one and have symptoms. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s health director, also reminded people to take universal precautions.

“No matter what, you need to act as if you could infect another person and they could infect you,” Ferrer said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add new information about walk-up appointments.

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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