By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Less than 24 hours after Los Angeles became the first major U.S. city to offer free coronavirus tests for all, a website used for sign-ups strained under the demand on Thursday as appointments were completely booked for anyone not showing symptoms.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the free testing on Wednesday, saying tests were now available to anyone in the county of roughly 10 million people, although priority would be given to healthcare workers and people showing symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
“If you think you have COVID-19, if want the reassurance that you do not, if you’ve been around people that you have seen with symptoms, get a test,” Garcetti said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “You can’t put a price on the piece of mind of knowing that you can’t infect somebody around you.”
The tests were funded in part by CORE, a nonprofit organization co-founded by actor Sean Penn, using a $375,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Garcetti conceded that the number of test centers currently open may not initially be able to handle demand.
On Thursday the website used to schedule appointments showed there were none available for people not showing symptoms or for those who are not “front-line workers” who interact with the public.
Local media reported the website had crashed several times since its launch shortly after the mayor’s announcement.
As of Thursday afternoon Los Angeles County had recorded 1,057 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 22,500 positive cases.
The entire state of California remains under strict “stay-at-home” orders meant to slow the spread of coronavirus while some other states begin to reopen their economies.
Garcetti said on Wednesday that large-scale testing of Los Angeles County residents was an important step toward loosening those restrictions.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)