Some pop-up COVID testing sites are under investigation.
Officials in multiple states have issued warnings regarding pop-up COVID-19 testing sites that are unregulated and potentially operating solely to profit from the pandemic. The government has issued $500 million to three labs now under investigation, and the available monies has sparked a sharp increase in sites and labs are completing more than 2 million tests per day, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Moreover, the government has made it quick and easy for sites offer point-of-care coronavirus tests, which don’t have to be sent to labs. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has allowed these sites to seek a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver and as long as this is applied for, they are allowed to operate.
“There are insatiable demands for testing and a lot of money floating around,” said Richard Scanlan, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. “Undoubtedly, people see that as an opportunity. You can apply for a CLIA certificate and then start testing before anybody ever walks into the laboratory. And that’s sort of the loophole that these people are exploiting.”
In January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) searched one such site, the Center for COVID Control in Chicago, which was led by an individual who posted on social media “COVID money” with photos of Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a $1.36 million mansion. The site works closely with Doctors Clinical Lab, which is also under investigation.
Two states have also filed lawsuits against the Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Lab, alleging they provided “inaccurate results, fraudulently reported negative results and listed people with private insurance as uninsured.”
Testing sites in tents were also found in Philadelphia. The tented testing site contracted with a lab that has been reimbursed more than $80 million through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s COVID-19 Uninsured Program, according to public data.
Of that site, Matt Rankin, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said, “Their materials were not professional, they were not following proper safety procedures, and they told us – falsely – that they were being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Our worry is that, given the false pretenses the tables we visited were operating under, and the fact that anyone can set up a tent and say they’re conducting COVID testing, people should take extra special care.”
During the course of their investigations into these sites, inspectors found multiple “deficiencies,” according to a lengthy report from the inspection agency. They also discovered that the Chicago location was asking for personal information from anyone who submitted to testing.
“They’re taking advantage of the situation and of people,” Sanchez said. “I was pretty angry because they collected a lot of personal information. I felt frustrated because I had wasted time and gas money. To me, it seemed like they put up this whole front.”
As the pandemic rages on, more of these sites are likely to be subject to investigation. Officials are asking people to be mindful of any red flags as they visit the sites and to be careful when asked for information that doesn’t seem relevant to testing.