Andrew Raposa stood in line outside Union Station in Los Angeles on a recent Wednesday with a handful of friends waiting to be tested for the coronavirus at a unique walk-up kiosk.
Unlike most of the testing sites throughout the county, this one operated by Curative in partnership with the city and county, did not require a car and it was located in a heavily trafficked area. That’s one of the reasons Raposa said he chose the spot as he lives in downtown L.A. and doesn’t own a car.
“We are going to go to a friend’s house for the weekend, so it’s something we wanted to do in order to be safe,” Raposa said.
Enabling convenient access to reliable coronavirus testing like at this kiosk, where tests can be taken frequently with results provided quickly, is one of the primary goals for public health officials eager along with everyone else to put the coronavirus pandemic behind them.
“If there could be more frequent at home testing cheap enough to be done on a more frequent basis we could more easily identify cases and help people know if they should stay home and avoid infecting others,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, L.A. County Health Officer.
The Curative testing kiosk at Union Station is one of the first of its kind operating in the country with just one other in Berkley and two others in Texas, though the company plans to expand, spreading hundreds of kiosks across the country especially in in Southern California and in places where people have less access, according Haley Albert, Curative’s director of mobile testing.
“Our hope is that people will seek out testing even when they think they don’t have to. We want to be sure we are normalizing testing and making it something as familiar or frequent as getting a cup of coffee,” Albert said.
The testing kiosk at Union Station is currently open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays with ability to test up to 500 people per day. Testing is by appointment only and it’s administered by an attendant, but there are no specific requirements such as exhibiting symptoms or having a known exposure.
Test results are turned around in 48 hours or less and cost is completely free to patients as tests are billed either to federal government or private insurance. The company also operates several mobile testing vans that move around to different hot spots.
“A lot of people are fatigued and tired of these unknowns, but the way to prevent the spread of the virus is by doing consistent, frequent testing,” Albert said. “We have to treat testing as a civic duty.”
L.A. County public health officials are eagerly awaiting less expensive, more convenient coronavirus tests they can offer to residents before eventually distributing a test that everyone can administer daily at home, said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“Once we get those tests it will be a game changer in L.A. County,” Ferrer said.
Testing along with improved therapeutics and vaccines were the three most important things to achieve in order to come out of the pandemic, according to Ferrer.
“Since we don’t have the timing of when we can get a rapid test that’s easily administered and less expensive or therapeutics or vaccinations to get to herd immunity, I can’t say what will happen over the next six months,” Ferrer said.
Ultimately, using COVID-19 testing the way Raposa and his friends used it this week represents what health officials envision for the future where testing is used a precautionary measure before possibly exposing others rather than a reactionary step after someone thinks they’ve been exposed.
“We have like our own bubble with friends,” Raposa said. “If we do hang out it’s just with them. We’re not hanging out with tons of people, in order for us to go on Friday to have dinner and stay the night. It makes everyone feel much more at ease and we’re not being irresponsible.”