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Los Angeles is working to roll out a rapid antigen testing pilot program, which could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles by providing health officials faster results.

The city and county made the announcement this week.

“This could be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said, but he also said the pilot program needs to show successful results.

Antigens are toxins within the body, and the tests will try to identify someone’s health irregularities before they are further along in their symptoms. Test results are delivered within minutes instead of days or hours, officials said.

Garretti said the city would need millions of the tests to understand their effectiveness, and the state recently announced it would provide millions of the tests throughout California.

The tests will first be administered to local firefighters, and that data will be collected and then scanned by artificial intelligence software, with the hopes the spread of the virus could be better tracked, according to Dr. Neeraj Sood, the vice dean of research at USC.

Sood said health officials began giving the antigen tests to firefighters last week.

“We’re using two types of tests with the firefighters — we are using a self-test where the firefighters can … get results within 15 minutes, and we confirm the results with a (polymerise chain reaction) test,” Sood said.

The first phase will be completed in the next two weeks, Sood said.

The second phase will provide antigen tests to the city and county’s COVID-19 testing sites and will be distributed to schools once they’re allowed to reopen. The second phase will likely last a few months, Sood said.

Garcetti said the antigen testing could be widely available as early at the start of next year.

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Antigen tests administered through the pilot program are a nasal swab, but they don’t need to be inserted as far up someone’s orifices than the earlier COVID-19 tests, making it a more comfortable method, Garcetti said.

The mayor said these tests are also cheaper for the city and county to procure.

Detecting antigens in people who are asymptomatic could also be a significant way to stop the spread of the disease, as people who don’t experience symptoms may not know they are contagious.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service in early October announced a partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation to provide at least 120,000 diagnostic tests to pilot sites, including Los Angeles.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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