Long Beach is ‘weeks, not months, away’ from some reopenings as testing ramps up

Mayor Robert Garcia on Monday said the city is “weeks, not months, away from some meaningful changes” to the city’s stay-at-home orders, which are currently in place through at least May 15.

But that more optimistic outlook hinges on another announcement made at the city’s press briefing Monday: New testing centers for COVID-19 will open at Long Beach City College’s East Long Beach campus and a yet-undisclosed location in North Long Beach by the end of the week, bringing the city’s daily testing capacity to roughly 1,000 per day.

Long Beach “has one of the most robust testing systems in the state of California, certainly for a city of our size,” Garcia said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that one of the key conditions for reopening the state was building up its testing capacity; the governor set a goal of performing around 60,000 tests per day across the state by early May.

In Long Beach, new cases have begun to “plateau somewhat,” and hospitalizations have remained steady—between about 40 or 50 at any given time—for the past few weeks, according to Garcia and Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer.

To prep for possible changes to the health orders, Garcia said a task force will be looking for feedback about reopening safely, particularly from small businesses: “You have the best ideas,” he said.

The mayor said the task force will focus on the big picture as well as particular industries, such as personal grooming operations like nail salons and barbers, as well as fitness, recreation and outdoor activities.

The mayor said the city is likely “still a ways away from large gyms opening up,” but perhaps smaller classes or one-on-one training may be allowed. He also said it is unlikely that team sports will restart, but that perhaps individual-focused sports can come back. Likewise, large retailers will likely have to wait, but “low-density retailers” may soon be able to reopen.

A survey will be released Tuesday for residents and businesses to provide feedback on efforts to reopen, Garcia said.

Testing

A new testing site for COVID-19 will open at LBCC’s campus in East Long Beach that will be able to perform about 100 tests per day, according to Garcia. The city is collaborating with the state to open a second testing site in North Long Beach; the location will be announced in coming days.

The latter site is due to the fact that the African American community has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the governor wants to open more testing sites in areas with a large black population. The North Long Beach site will also have the capacity to conduct 100 tests per day, the mayor said.

Black residents make up 13% of Long Beach’s population, but they account for about 21% of hospitalizations for coronavirus, according to city numbers released earlier.

The two new sites are in addition to four testing sites that opened at Jordan and Cabrillo high schools, St. Mary Medical Center and LBCC’s Pacific Coast Campus.

Garcia also announced that beginning Tuesday, residents who are symptomatic or otherwise meet the criteria to be tested will be able to get a test by walking up to the four locations, rather than going through the drive-thru, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. However, they should still make an appointment through the city’s website.

Roughly 7,800 total tests have been performed in Long Beach, both by the city and in private labs.

Cases

Long Beach reported Monday it had 582 positive cases of the virus, and the city’s death toll stands at 31. The majority of deaths have been associated with long-term care facilities—25 deaths out of 31 total—as well as about 30% of the total positive cases so far.

The numbers show that Broadway by the Sea, 2725 E. Broadway, had by far the highest number of cases with 43 residents and 27 staffers testing positive.

On Friday, the mayor announced that all staff and residents at long-term care facilities could be tested, regardless of whether they have symptoms of the illness. The city may also extend testing to first responders who interact with the public.

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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.
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