LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County health officials are poised to announce details of a pilot program next week that will employ an FDA-approved rapid, at-home COVID-19 test and assess the feasibility of its widespread use.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into developing plans and implementing these sorts of studies, and… we have made considerable progress over the last two months,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, told reporters in an online briefing Thursday.
“We will be having a press event next week to share an update on where we’re at and hope to begin implementing at least the first phase of these studies very quickly,” Simon said. He said the program will actually use a swab test.
“We’re going to be using one … of the products that have received an emergency-use authorization by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” Simon said. “It is a rapid test, easy to use.”
He said additional details would be announced next week, but noted that while there have been “promising” developments surrounding paper-strip testing, “at least for our study we didn’t feel comfortable using that.”
Although more rapid, wide-spread testing is considered a critical tool in tracking the virus and helping combat it, Simon noted that testing “is not a panacea.”
“Sometimes people think if we can just get cheap, easy-to-use tests for everybody that we’ve solved the problem,” he said. “But in reality, testing is just one component of a whole range of things we need to do before a vaccine is available. Probably even after a vaccine is available we’ll need to pay attention to the physical distancing recommendations and the face masks.”
The county on Thursday reported a staggering 3,600 new coronavirus cases, but the large number was attributed to the resolution of a technical glitch that delayed a large number of test results over the past several days. County health officials estimated that about 2,000 of the newly announced cases were the result of the backlog.
Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have confirmed 4,626 coronavirus cases and 78 deaths in Palmdale; 4,023 cases and 68 deaths in Lancaster; 206 cases and 10 deaths in Quartz Hill; 291 cases and four deaths in Lake Los Angeles; 210 cases and one death in the Littlerock/Pearblossom, Juniper Hills areas; and 187 cases and four deaths in Sun Village. View the latest detailed report here.
“So today, I think, reflects sort of the catch-up,” Simon said. “If you look over the last one to two weeks, we’ve been averaging somewhere around 1,000 cases, maybe a little bit over 1,000 cases a day.”
The new cases lifted the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 294,138. The county also announced 18 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, pushing the overall total to 6,956.
As of Thursday, there were 777 people hospitalized due to the virus, up from 758 on Wednesday, 730 on Tuesday, 722 on Monday and 752 on Sunday.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday there have been “concerning” upticks in cases in recent weeks, delaying a move to a less-restrictive tier of the state’s economic reopening roadmap.
But despite those concerns and the county’s continued banishment to the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s matrix, health officials said more restrictions on business operations will be lifted this week, including:
— removal of the one-day-advance-reservation requirement for customers of wineries and craft breweries;
— removal of the requirement that winery customers purchase food with alcohol; and
— authorization for family entertainment centers to reopen outdoors.
The county is also expanding a program that allows schools to resume in-person instruction for high-need and English-learning students. That program currently allows schools to bring such students back to campus, up to 10% of a school’s overall enrollment. That limit is now being increased to 25%, Barger said, “so more students and youth can have access to their teachers and the on-site support systems that are so critical for their growth and for their education.”
Public health director Barbara Ferrer said that as of this week, 986 schools are taking part in that program, with nearly 35,000 students now receiving in-person instruction and nearly 20,000 teachers and staff back on campuses.
Four school campuses this week also were approved for waivers allowing them to resume in-person instruction for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Ferrer said a total of 110 schools have applied for those waivers so far, and more applications are being processed by the county and state.
Those changes in the county’s health officer order are expected to be finalized Friday.
The county is still reviewing a recent adjustment by the state allowing all personal-care businesses — such as tattoo parlors and massage therapy operations — to reopen, and it was unclear if those businesses will be included in the Friday revision.