L.A. Becomes First Major City to Offer Free COVID-19 Testing, Done in Partnership With Sean Penn's Nonprofit

Eric Garcetti  - Getty - H 2020
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

The appointment-only tests are being offered through a partnership between the city, Los Angeles County and Sean Penn's CORE organization, which stepped up to help the city boost testing capabilities last month.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday announced that L.A. has become the first "major city in America" to expand COVID-19 testing capacity to cover all residents. 

The expansion — done in partnership with the County of Los Angeles and Sean Penn's disaster relief nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) — will see free testing offered to all 10 million L.A. County residents, "whether or not you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms." Prior to the news, testing had been limited to only those experiencing symptoms and those living in or working in institutional settings where outbreaks have been common. 

However, just hours after he made the initial announcement, L.A. County responded on Twitter saying that the county "has not issued any new testing guidelines." The post promised clarification to come during Thursday's daily press briefing at 1 p.m. 

Testing has become a focal point of efforts to relax safe-at-home restrictions while allowing businesses and the economy to reopen because it will provide health experts necessary data to monitor and curb potential outbreaks. It is seen as one of the primary tools officials and politicians will use in tandem with tracing and hospital capacity to determine restrictions moving forward in the crisis. 

Garcetti, during his nightly news briefing, directed Angelenos to a sign-up website that offered additional details including that priority is still being given for the same or next day testing "to people with symptoms, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath," as well as to front line workers. However, those without symptoms can still get tested. 

Penn joined Garcetti for an April 16 press conference in L.A. during which he announced that his CORE partners had shifted focus from weather and natural disaster tragedies to help in the battle to fight the novel coronavirus and were focusing on expanding the city's limited testing capabilities by staffing multiple drive-up locations across the city. At the time of the briefing, his team had 70 or so staffers at four locations. 

Per the latest figures from L.A. County, 139,000 residents have thus far been tested at 35 sites, with 22,485 testing positive for a 14 percent positive rate. So far, there have been 1,056 deaths related to the pandemic, accounting for far more than half of the state's death count of 1,809.

April 29, 9:16 p.m. Updated to include statement and tweet from L.A. County.