Sean Penn’s nonprofit boosts COVID-19 testing efforts in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — As the need for COVID-19 testing grows, the city of Los Angeles received an unexpected boost from actor Sean Penn and his nonprofit organization, Community Organized Relief Effort. The group, known as CORE, has been working with L.A. officials to run operations at some coronavirus drive-through testing facilities.

“We are accustomed to working in foreign places supporting other communities,” Penn said in an emailed statement. “In this situation, every single one of us responding, including myself, are also experiencing the impact of this crisis in our own personal lives.”

According to Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell, CORE’s efforts will allow more city and county residents to be tested while freeing up first responders, including firefighters, for other emergency services.

The city said that certain individuals are eligible for COVID-19 testing, including those with symptoms who are 65 and older, those with symptoms who have underlying chronic health conditions and those under quarantine because they’ve had confirmed coronavirus exposure.

Using the website, prospective patients can schedule an appointment through a portal and submit a questionnaire to establish COVID-19 test eligibility. If a person qualifies for an exam, he will be directed to a testing site.

Those who lack internet access can call 311 for more information.

Although seven of the county’s 12 drive-through facilities are in the city, testing is open to city and L.A. County residents.

Gorell said about 2,500 COVID-19 tests are conducted daily and that the goal is to eventually do 10,000 tests a day. He also said the city is working to find private labs able to complete test results within 48 hours.

Each drive-through site managed by CORE frees up first responders currently working at those locations.

Gorell said “dozens upon dozens of firefighters and emergency technicians” would be transitioned back to 911 calls and patient transporting.

“Having the first responders back in their field with their expertise is the most immediate and urgent goal, with the potential deluge of sick people in need over the next few weeks,” Penn said.

A good portion of CORE’s aid efforts in the decade since its inception has focused on international relief, including helping rebuild Haiti after a major earthquake in 2010.

Penn and CORE Chief Executive Ann Lee reached out last week to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his disaster response team, which put the group in touch with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Our organization is based in Los Angeles and this is happening right in our backyard,” Lee said. “We’re a relatively small organization, but … we often are the first on the ground.”

On Monday, CORE took over operations at an East Los Angeles site.

“In a lot of ways, our work here is similar to what we’ve done previously,” said Lee, who was living in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. “You’re identifying the most vulnerable and most impacted and least supported people.”

On Friday, CORE moved into the Westside. Ultimately, the group plans to expand into three more locations in the San Fernando Valley, South L.A. and one additional site on the Westside over the next two weeks.

While the city will pay for testing, CORE is incurring the costs of running sites, including providing personal protective equipment for all staffers and volunteers.


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