Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that all city and county residents who want a coronavirus test can now get one for the first time since COVID-19 cases began appearing there in January.
The announcement, which makes Los Angeles one of the first major cities in the nation to offer free testing to all its residents, came on the same day that county health officials reported a surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases, which they attributed in part to more widespread testing.
The Los Angeles County Health Department confirmed another 1,541 cases — its largest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. It also reported 56 additional deaths because of the coronavirus.
Health officials say despite the uptick, the rate of hospitalization and death in the county has remained steady. Los Angeles County now has a total of nearly 22,500 confirmed cases — accounting for nearly half of California's more than 46,000.
Until now, because of a scarcity of test kits, only people showing symptoms of COVID-19, essential workers and those in institutional settings such as nursing homes could receive a test in Los Angeles.
Garcetti's announcement could be a significant milestone, because health officials say without widespread testing they are unable to accurately track the spread of the disease. That information could then be used to determine when it is safe to ease stay-at-home orders.
Now, any LA city or county resident who wants a test can make an appointment and get one at one of dozens of testing sites in the area, the mayor said at a news conference on Wednesday.
But he added that people showing symptoms would still be given priority for testing.
Garcetti said Los Angeles currently accounts for about 9% of all the tests nationwide.
NPR's Adrian Florido in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly called Los Angeles the first major city to offer free coronavirus testing to all residents. At least one other city, Houston, began free testing to all residents earlier this month.