F. Castro/SFVS

Esperanza Ramirez and her granddaughter Bethany Martinez, along with two other grandkids and Ramirez’ son made the trip from Lancaster to get tested after a person who visited them recently tested positive for coronavirus.

They came from Canoga Park, Sylmar, and even Lancaster. Young and old, those who have had contact with a coronavirus-positive individual and others who simply wanted to make sure they were free of the virus ahead of the approaching holiday season.

Hundreds of people showed up since early morning and throughout the day on Tuesday, Nov. 24, the first day that a Valley Testing Super Site began operating at San Fernando Recreation Park.

The park is located about four miles from the drive-thru site at Hansen Dam, and health officials hope the new site will provide testing for Angelenos in the area who do not have access to a vehicle.

The new location comes in response to a “significant spike” in COVID-19 cases in parts of the San Fernando Valley. The north and east regions of the Valley, which include Pacoima and Sylmar, have been particularly hard hit by surging numbers of confirmed cases.

Recreation Park will be the 10th location where symptomatic and non-symptomatic Los Angeles county residents can get a free coronavirus test, according to the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The city uses weekly case numbers, demand, positivity rates and testing site capability to determine where to open testing sites.

Up to 500 flu vaccines will also be available per day, and in the weeks ahead, the site will be added to the city’s ongoing rapid antigen testing pilot, which will deliver COVID-19 test results within minutes to the program’s participants.

“Testing remains an essential tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19, tracking the virus, and saving lives — and we will continue to deploy our vital testing resources where the data and science tell us they will do the most good,’’ Garcetti said in a statement on Nov. 20.

“Our new San Fernando Park site will deliver critical support to a community hit hard by this pandemic, and ensure Valley residents know their status and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them,” he said.

The site will be part of an ongoing collaboration between Garcetti’s office, its lab partner Curative, the non-profit Community Organized Relief Effort and the Los Angeles Fire Department.The partnership has created one of the nation’s largest municipal testing programs, and more than 2.24 million people have been tested.

“Curative is honored to be partnering with the city of Los Angeles for the San Fernando Park supersite that has COVID-19 testing capabilities on a scale never before seen in this county, providing Angelenos with all the resources they need to protect themselves and others during this current surge of infections,” said Fred Turner, CEO and co-founder of Curative.

Curative’s oral fluid swab tests provide results in about 24 to 48 hours, Turner said.

The walk-up site operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and up to 3,000 people per day can get tested.

Long Waits

On Nov. 24, long lines stretched for several blocks around the park as people waited to get their tests. Many had to wait upwards of an hour, and even more, before accessing the green areas where several tents were set up for the actual testing.

Among them were Niarize Jones from Sylmar with his partner Megan Duncan. Their appointment was for 9 a.m., but they waited for nearly two hours for the test.

Still, they were doing their “civic duty” and their part to keep relatives safe “before seeing family for Thanksgiving,” Jones said. It will be a small gathering, but they wanted to make sure they were not endangering others.

Jones—who sells cruise trips—is working from home. Duncan has been furloughed for several months. They try to keep themselves away from contagion, but they still just wanted to be safe before the get-together with Jones’ mom, who is asthmatic. For other relatives with high-risk conditions, the couple has been doing “drive-by” flower drop offs.

It was their first time getting tested and despite their precautions, “with the rising number of cases it’s hard not to be concerned,” Jones said.

Wanting to keep his family safe is what led Jose Garcia to take a day off from work and drive from Canoga Park to San Fernando to get tested. His job is putting up awnings and Garcia said he works at different sites, with several co-workers. So he wants to make sure he’s not bringing the virus home.

“I want to make sure that we’re all OK,” Garcia said, adding that his children would also get tested at their school. “I go in and out of the house for work and we’re all exposed because of that.” 

For Esperanza Ramirez, the concern was more prescient. A relative who recently visited her Lancaster home has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I started feeling flu-like symptoms, which are like COVID, and I said, ‘we need to get tested,’” she said.

Ramirez, 49, was also worried because she has heart problems. Her son and three young grandkids—who live in the same house with her and also had contact with the coronavirus-positive relative—also got tested.

“The whole family got tested because we want to make sure we’re OK,” Ramirez said.

Rising Numbers

Data released on Tuesday amplified the latest concerns. Los Angeles county reported 3,692 new confirmed coronavirus cases, while Long Beach added 296 and Pasadena reported 49 more. The overall number of cases in the county stood at 374,479.

There were 1,575 people hospitalized due to coronavirus as of Tuesday, according to health officials. That’s up from 888 just two weeks ago.

Officials have been pleading with people to take precautions, avoid large gatherings and celebrate holidays on their own after a recent spike in cases. Travelers coming through Los Angeles International and Van Nuys airports and Union Station were required to sign a form acknowledging California’s recommended 14-day self-quarantine in response to rising coronavirus rates, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 25.

The county and state recommendations are not mandates, as officials noted the difficulty in enforcing such a requirement. The state quarantine recommendation applies to anyone “arriving from another state or country,” meaning out-of-state visitors and residents who travel out of the state and return.

 According to the governor’s office, the advisory recommends that “individuals limit their interactions to their immediate household.”

Essential travel was defined as “travel for work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care and safety and security.”

The form is available at travel.lacity.org. 

The county also ordered new restrictions that would not permit in-person dining in restaurants for three weeks. It is scheduled to take effect at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

The California Restaurant Association filed suit against the county on Tuesday to try overturn the ban. LA Superior Court Judge James Chalfant rejected the request for a temporary restraining order against the county. The lawsuit, however, can proceed.

The walk-up location at San Fernando Park operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. City officials say more than 38,000 people a day collectively can be tested across the different sites. Information on the city’s testing program is available at corona-virus.la/covid-19-testing.