An L.A. Unified School District student drops a nasal swab from a COVID-19 test into a tube during a demonstration at San Fernando Middle School on Oct. 16, 2020. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist)

By Jessica P. Ogilvie/LAist

Updated Dec 24, 2021

Originally published Dec 20, 2021 2:50 PM

With the omicron and delta variants surging in L.A., the 2021 holidays are looking different than many of us hoped they would. However, experts largely agree that with testing and vaccines, we can still get together in small groups.

Still, many people in L.A. and around the country are reporting that it’s been challenging, at best, to get tested.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 testing in L.A., and how to get one. We’ll keep updating this post throughout the holidays.

Should I get tested before my holiday gathering or travel?

Yes. Dr. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at UCLA’s School of Public Health, said that getting tested before gathering with loved ones is an extra step folks can take to keep everyone safe.

“The tests are very good,” he said, “and it’s one more piece of information” for staying healthy.

This is in line with California state officials, who recommend that everyone, vaccinated or not, get tested one to three days before a family gathering or travel.

I have to work this week. Will I get paid time off for testing?

Yes, if you live in California. According to the state’s department of industrial relations, testing for COVID-19 falls under permanent paid sick leave:

“California’s permanent paid sick leave law gives workers sick time that can be used to … seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.”

How can I get a home testing kit?

As mentioned above, people across the country have reported a difficult time finding home testing kits. To circumvent the problem, L.A. County is relaunching a program that allows residents to order a home testing kit online and have it mailed to their home.

The Holiday Home Test Collection Program includes a nasal swab, a test tube to collect the swab and a bag to put the swab in. Recipients are then asked to mail a prepaid overnight envelope to the Fulgent Genetics lab, which is running the program with the county, and results will be available within 48 hours.

The program is available to L.A. County residents who have COVID-19 symptoms or think they were exposed to the virus. Request a testing kit here.

Where can I get tested for free in L.A.?

All L.A. County and city testing sites offer free coronavirus testing, whether you have insurance or not, and regardless of immigration status. President Biden, in a national address Tuesday about the latest surge, advised people to search “COVID test near me” in Google in order to see nearby options.

You can find a full list of county-run locations here, and a full list of city-run locations here.

Some sites allow walk-ins; you can search specifically for those locations.

The nonprofit CORE also announced on Dec. 23 that it will be ramping up the number of COVID testing sites in L.A. in response to the recent surge of cases. The organization, which offers walk-ups and appointments and does not require ID or insurance, will add two testing locations every week until they feel demand is met.

What kind of test will I get at city and county testing sites? 

You will get a polymerase chain reaction test, which you’ve probably heard called a PCR test. It’s considered very accurate, and it’s done with a swab of your nose, mouth or throat.

Most county-operated sites offer a nasal swab, and most city-operated sites offer a mouth swab, according to the county’s website.

When will I get my results? 

Typically between 24 and 48 hours. You’ll be notified by email, text, phone or mail.

Can I pay for faster results?

Yes, some locations offer faster results for a fee. Many of these sites are listed on the county and city appointment websites — check the information there carefully.

The FDA also has a list of approved at-home tests, and on Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that the government plans to buy a half-billion at-home COVID test kits and mail them to people who want them, with deliveries beginning in Jan. 2022. Additionally, the federal government will launch a website where people can order at-home tests to be delivered for free.

Have a Boyle Heights or East LA event? Post it on our free community calendar. Just click here and fill out the online form.

Should I limit the number of people at my gathering? 

Yes, if you want to decrease the likelihood of contagion.

“The things that will decrease risk are meeting outside, maintaining physical distancing, do not go if you are ill,” said Brewer. “If you’re not feeling well, please stay home, get vaccinated. If you haven’t been vaccinated, get boosted. If you have been boosted, wear your mask when you’re indoors, particularly in public spaces, try to maintain good hand hygiene. All those things are going to reduce your risk of transmission.”

According to the county’s health department, the safest option is still to gather in-person only with members of your household, and keep other family and friends virtual. If that’s not possible — or you’d prefer not to do that — the county still suggests keeping gatherings small, and outdoors. Officials haven’t recommended a specific number of guests, so you’ll need to use your own discretion.

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2021 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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