Should you get tested for COVID-19 if you plan to see family this week? That won’t make it safe

As cases of COVID-19 rise dramatically and residents mull Thanksgiving gatherings, health officials anticipate higher demand at local testing centers this week and have plans to add capacity if needed.

Hours at one location, Veterans Stadium at Long Beach City College, have been extended to 6 p.m. through at least Dec. 4 to accommodate more volume. The city also has the ability to add more car lanes to its mobile testing sites across the city, said Sandy Wedgeworth, public health emergency management director.

“We have been anticipating a surge at this time of year,” she said, “and we’re definitely prepared.”

After significant backlogs in testing when the virus first spiked in June and July, officials stopped releasing appointments more than three days in advance, and instead began adding up to 1,000 new appointments daily to ensure they would be available.

The city now has the ability to test up to 1,600 people per day at its drive-up clinics and mobile testing units. Testing results are still being released in roughly two days, as labs have also increased their capacity, Wedgeworth said.

There is currently no shortage of appointments, but officials say people should still follow health guidance on when to be tested.

Anyone who is symptomatic should get tested. Those who have been exposed to the virus should wait three to five days before being tested, and quarantine themselves for 14 days because symptoms could still develop in that time.

Getting tested as a way to feel confident in seeing family members or those who may be vulnerable is not recommended—unless you plan to completely isolate yourself a few days prior to the test and between the time you take the test and are around others.

A negative test result is simply a “point in time” measurement of the virus in your system, Wedgeworth said. It’s one tool that should be used in combination with other safety protocols, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings.

“It does no good to see that you’re negative one day, then go about your business,” Wedgeworth said. “It makes the whole thing irrelevant. You must comply with the second part of that and follow health guidelines.”

Regardless of whether you tested negative, health officials say any gathering should be limited to no more than three households—under 15 people total—hosted outdoors and ended after no more than two hours.

Here’s what the city recommends when it comes to getting tested:

Who should be tested?

City officials prioritize tests for those with symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive or for those who have been instructed by the health department to be tested.

How do you get a test?

Health officials are asking that if you have symptoms and you have a doctor, to call your health care provider to get a test.

If you do not have a health care provider or insurance, you can schedule a free appointment with specific CVS pharmacies or at one of the Long Beach testing sites.

If you can’t get an appointment and you have symptoms, you can visit the city’s Rapid Assessment Clinic where you’ll be evaluated and get a free COVID-19 test without an appointment if staff decide you meet the testing criteria. The RAC is at the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

When should you be tested?

If you are not experiencing symptoms, county health officials encourage residents to wait until three days after you believe you have been exposed.

Can I go out if I test negative?

County officials last week warned that a negative test, particularly after a known exposure, isn’t a license to be reckless. It can take up to 14 days from the time of exposure to test positive.

If you know you have been exposed to a positive case and test negative, you still need to isolate yourself for 14 days.

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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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