The following article was originally published April 9, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by LAist Staff
It's happening: You're starting to feel sick. Maybe you have a fever, or a cough, or you can't smell breakfast. Could it be COVID-19? Where can you get a test? Can you even get a test?
Things are changing day by day, but here's what we know as of April 9, 2020.
FIRST OF ALL, HOW DO YOU FEEL?
The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary wildly, and some people don't present any symptoms at all.
But common symptoms can include a low-grade fever, tiredness and dry cough. Others can include nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. (You may have also heard about lack of smell or taste being a potential symptom, but neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization include that in their list of COVID-19 symptoms, and it's not part of officials' criteria for testing.)
Severe symptoms can include a high fever, severe cough, shortness of breath, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, and bluish lips or face. If you experience severe symptoms, do not wait for a test. Get immediate medical attention.
If you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread, call your health care provider.
HOW TO YOU GET A CORONAVIRUS TEST
Unfortunately, you can't just show up to a clinic or drive-through site. You have to get approved for a test first.
There are a few ways to do that:
- Get a directive from a health care provider. The L.A. County Department of Public Health is asking people NOT to call 911 and NOT go to the emergency room unless you're seriously ill and need emergency care. If you don't have a health care provider, call 211 and they'll direct you to a nearby clinician. It's important to call ahead so that appropriate precautions can be taken to keep from spreading the virus.
- Apply online if you live anywhere in L.A. County. You can get screened via the online portal here. Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can apply for a test, but it doesn't necessarily mean everyone will get one.
Initially, these tests were limited to people most at risk — i.e., people age 65 or older, or those with underlying chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma or people who are immunocompromised — but the restrictions have since been relaxed. Residents in highest-risk categories with symptoms are still eligible for same-day or next-day testing.
You'll be asked some questions on the eligibility form, and then you'll be asked for your contact information for next steps.
DO YOU HAVE TO PAY TO GET TESTED?
No. California health officials are waiving all co-pays for COVID-19 testing, no matter which insurance plan you're on or whether you have health insurance. The federal government has also promised to help reimburse hospitals for caring for uninsured COVID-19 patients.
If you don't have insurance, you can still get it: State health officials extended the health insurance enrollment period to June 30, and enrollment for Medi-Cal is open year round. In L.A. County, the no-cost health care plan My Health LA is also available.
You can also be tested for free regardless of your immigration status. And the federal government has said that getting tested or treated for coronavirus will not count toward the public charge test for getting a green card.
WHERE TO GO FOR THE TEST
More and more drive-through testing sites and clinics are opening up.
But again, don't just show up! You have to get approved first.
Here's a map provided by L.A. County where you can locate one near you.
HOW DOES THE TEST WORK?
At some testing sites, a health professional will administer a nasal swab. At other places, you'll be given a testing kit for an oral swab that you can administer yourself. Here's a handy instructional video courtesy of L.A. officials.
ARE THERE ENOUGH TESTS FOR EVERYBODY?
Testing capacity is still very limited across the county, but it's been growing as government officials and health providers work out deals to secure more kits and testing locations.
On March 23, L.A. City Councilman David Ryu said the city and county had struck a deal with South Korean company Seegene Technologies, Inc. for 20,000 new tests, with a commitment to provide 100,000 new tests per week for the L.A. area. Seegene also agreed to run 30,000 tests per day via their national network of laboratories.
As of April 6, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said a total of 21,000 tests have been completed at drive-thru centers across the county, in addition to 31,000 tests that were administered by hospitals and health care providers. He also said the county was expecting to be able to complete 36,000 tests in the week alone.