la.-expands-coronavirus-testing-to-asymptomatic-construction-workers;-purchases-24-million-n95-masks

Los Angeles continues to expand coronavirus testing for asymptomatic essential workers, and Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that construction workers without symptoms can schedule an appointment starting Wednesday.

They’ll join health care professionals, first responders, grocery store and pharmacy workers, journalists and delivery and transportation drivers in the ranks of asymptomatic Angelenos eligible to get a test without symptoms of the respiratory disease. County officials are also in the process of testing all residents and staff at local nursing homes.

Appointments were first offered to essential workers without symptoms last week, but Garcetti says anyone suffering symptoms will still get top priority. Visit coronavirus.lacity.org/testing to view availability across the county’s 34 sites, which include drive-thru and walk-in locations.

The county now has the capacity to test 16,400 people a day, a number Garcetti said two weeks ago he “never would have imagined.”

The mayor said he hopes all L.A. residents are able to get a test “in the coming weeks,” but daily capacity will need to be double or triple what it is now.

With studies showing about 96% of Angelenos still haven’t been infected, expanded testing will be essential in reopening, he added.

L.A. works to secure more masks

Garcetti also announced a deal the city cut to purchase 24 million N95 masks from Honeywell in an effort to increase access for health care workers and first responders.

He said the masks will be distributed at a cost of 79 cents plus tax per unit. The first delivery of 100,000 will arrive in May.

“These will be life-savers, quite literally,” Garcetti said, emphasizing that the N95s are for first responders and health care workers only.

The cost appears much cheaper than a similar deal Gov. Gavin Newsom made. The governor is paying $1 billion to supply health workers with about 500 million masks over the next few months, according to the Associated Press.

L.A. is also working to provide more essential workers with non-medical masks under its L.A. Protects initiative, and 433 local garment companies have been approved to make them, Garcetti said.

The mayor added that the city is still working to convert manufacturing facilities for those that want to begin producing protective medical equipment.

Another 65,000 masks have been distributed to people living on Skid Row and the outreach staff working to protect them, according to Garcetti. Infections have been confirmed in more than 70 homeless individuals so far.

The outbreak has yet to peak, but officials are looking toward reopening

Garcetti began his briefing Tuesday by highlighting two grim statistics: the U.S. on Tuesday surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, while L.A. County reported 1,000 virus-related deaths.

L.A. County reached that number after reporting 59 more deaths Tuesday, the fourth highest daily number since public health officials began tracking the outbreak.

The county, with 20,976 confirmed cases, remains the epicenter of California’s outbreak. That’s about 47% of the 45,031 cases reported statewide, though Angelenos account for only a quarter of the state population.

Just over 300 new cases were reported Tuesday in the city of L.A. for a total of 9,697.

Although the virus is continuing to spread faster than it can be contained, state and county officials on Tuesday were optimistic about plans for reopening, with Gov. Gavin Newsom saying the easing of restrictions is “a few weeks away, not months away.”

L.A. County currently doesn’t have plans to extend its stay-at-home order past May 15, and it’s likely some things will begin to reopen by then. Though large events are still unlikely in the next few months, they could return before the end of the year, said county public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

Newsom also provided a more specific timeline for schools returning to session, saying although they won’t reopen this academic year, it’s possible the next one will start in late July or early August.

Still, officials urge caution, considering an average of about 850 new cases were reported each day in L.A. County over the past week.

All reopening plans will be contingent on four benchmarks the county laid out last week: more widespread testing and patient contact tracing; increased health care capacity; protections for at-risk groups; and continued physical distancing.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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