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Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, county health officials and private labs are ramping up COVID-19 testing capacity as people anxious to visit family flock to centers and cases rise.
Los Angeles County has recently added some 6,000 appointments to testing locations across the region and expanded testing hours. This week, LAX started offering COVID tests to fliers for $150, just ahead of what is normally one of the busiest travel seasons.
It comes as coronavirus cases have surged back to alarming levels and demand for testing rises. Wait times at county testing stations are now running 10 to 20 minutes, and they could grow in the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving as more seek testing.
Experts warn that a test doesn't guarantee that travelers won't bring the virus to Thanksgiving dinner.
"There isn't a testing strategy that makes Thanksgiving 'safe'," said Omai Garner, director of clinical microbiology at UCLA, who oversees testing for UCLA Health. "Thanksgiving should only be celebrated within households that have been pods through the pandemic."
The rise in cases led Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday to impose a "limited stay-at-home order" between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m for a month starting Saturday.
Still, as coronavirus cases swell across the country, lines at testing centers are getting longer. And private labs are preparing for the holiday season.
Curative Inc., which has administered two million tests in L.A., saw a 35% increase in testing this week. In that time alone, the startup ran 25,000 COVID tests. And other labs are opening up more sites.
Spokesman Ken Sanderman said the company is gearing up for more by expanding hours of operation at some testing sites including Dodger Stadium. That location will stay open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"We are anticipating a surge in patients coming to get tested through the rest of the year with the holiday seasons and rates rising, and have prepared in anticipation," Sanderman said.
Other labs, like Santa Monica-based Quantgene, are opening new test sites almost weekly. The startup that once supplied mostly production studios opened its second walk-in site — this one in Culver City — on Tuesday.
Spokeswoman Rachel Strohmeyer said the company is looking into opening more locations in East L.A. More clients are scheduling appointments to get nasal swab tests before travel, a trend "we only expect to continue," she said.
This week, the CDC warned Americans against traveling for Thanksgiving and urged them to celebrate at home instead. California has sent more counties back into the most restrictive category in the state's reopening scheme. Over 94% of the state's population rests in that purple tier, including L.A. County.
The county is strongly encouraging residents to "not use testing as a permission slip to engage in unsafe activities," according to an emailed statement from the L.A. County Office of Emergency Management.