COVID-19 testing declines amid poor air quality, county officials say

County officials are seeing a decline in the number of people seeking tests for COVID-19, possibly due to poor air quality from fires around the Southern California area.

An average of about 11,200 people got tested per day over the week starting Sept. 5, down from more than 20,000 people being tested per week in early August. Long Beach also saw its testing decline to 550 people per day for the week of Sept. 7, down steadily from close to 1,000 people just a few weeks ago.

The downturn in testing came as the county closed some COVID-19 testing centers through the weekend due to concerns stemming from unhealthy air quality caused by the Bobcat Fire. Testing sites at East L.A. College in Monterey Park, the Pomona Fairplex and San Gabriel Valley Airport in El Monte were closed Saturday and Sunday, while the site at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita was closed Sunday.

“We encourage people to get tested if you’re having any symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19,” county health department director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.

Those who should get tested also include anyone who is working in essential services and may have been exposed, those who live in shared spaces with people who may be positive, and those who have been in a crowd or large gathering where people weren’t wearing face coverings, officials said.

Ferrer said the county is keeping a close eye on any potential impacts from Labor Day festivities a week ago. Typically it takes about two weeks to see any spikes in cases or hospitalizations after large events or holidays, as was seen after July 4 and Memorial Day holidays.

Officials, however, presented largely good news on Monday: The county is seeing the results of more stringent health orders as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline.

The county on Monday reported 24 deaths due to coronavirus, for a total of 6,231; the number of new cases was 733, for a total of 254,656.

Long Beach had not yet updated its dashboard on Monday, but as of Saturday reported 234 total deaths and 11,199 total cases.

The state on Tuesday will release weekly data on positivity rate and cases per 100,000 residents, the two indicators that are being used to determine whether more businesses can open.

Last week the county’s positivity rate was at 3.4%, below the 7% the state requires, but was at 9.6 cases per 100,000 residents—which is above the seven new cases per 100,000 that would allow the county to move to the next tier of openings if they meet the benchmarks for a period of two weeks.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.