Only in L.A. would a wellness clinic that specializes in hormone replacement, IV hydration, and weight loss be on the front lines of COVID-19 antibody testing. Since April 12, rather than hooking up patients to vitamin C drips to boost immunity, the Hot Clinic has been performing finger-prick serology tests to see if certain Angelenos could have immunity to the coronavirus.
Working with the City of Burbank, a small medical crew transformed a church parking lot into a makeshift testing site complete with a check-in desk and an outdoor lab. Over the past two weekends, they’ve performed just over 200 tests.
“We currently have 600 people on our email wait list,” says Ed Zaghikian, the Hot Clinic’s operations manager. “It’s tough to keep up with the demand. The minute we get more tests and [personal protective equipment] we get people off that wait list.”
Instead of having patients come to the Encino clinic, Zaghikian quickly set up shop outside St. Leon Armenian Cathedral, where he is also part of the congregation. It’s an example of how quickly certain businesses are pivoting and keeping workers employed during the pandemic. “We’ve been able to avoid layoffs and hire more people to run the antibody testing,” explains Zaghikian. “We can hopefully help alleviate anxiety for a number of Angelenos by performing this service too.”
Some urgent care centers are offering similar tests, but the Hot Clinic’s drive-up testing site is an option for those who don’t want to walk inside a medical facility. Patients never get out of their cars—a technician simply administers the test and delivers verbal results within ten minutes. An official email with written results arrives the next day.
The test looks for antibodies in the blood to see if someone was previously infected with COVID-19, but they’ve generated controversy as experts question the accuracy of the tests currently flooding the market. So far, results from the weekend clinics reveal less than 5 percent of patients test positive for the presence of antibodies.
A 50-something Malibu woman drove to Burbank recently to find out if the illness she had in February could have been the coronavirus. Last Saturday, she was one of the first people to arrive at the drive-through site in Burbank to take a serology test. While it’s designed to detect current or past exposure to the virus, most are simply hoping to confirm that the bug they had a while back was COVID19. “I just wanted to know if I had possible immunity but my test came back negative,” she says. “I was sure it would be positive and then I wouldn’t be as scared.”
The Hot Clinic charges $95 to perform the test, which comes from Phamatech, a lab and diagnostics company based out of San Diego. Other medical facilities throughout Los Angeles are using the same or similar kits. Prices vary, with some charging as much as $250.
Every day, more and more patients get on the Hot Clinic’s waiting list, seeking answers in a time of uncertainty. To meet the demand, Zaghikian is extending hours and moving beyond a weekends-only schedule. He also wants to get people in quickly—particularly if they belong to certain groups.
“We are treating everyone the same no matter who they are unless they are an elderly person or a medical profession,” he says of the process. “If they fit into either of those categories we will get them tested immediately.”