SEATTLE - The Center for Covid Control announced it is "pausing operations" at all of its 300 testing locations until Jan. 22 after widespread reports of consumer complaints and allegations of fake tests.
On Wednesday, FOX 13 News reported that the Better Business Bureau was investigating the Illinois-based COVID-19 testing company that is being inundated with negative reviews and complaints. The Washington Attorney General received at least two complaints.
Some of the complaints on the BBB's website accuse the company of scamming customers. Many of them say they've not received test results.
On Wednesday, the city of Lakewood shut down one of the center's testing sites after investigators found that it was operating without a business license.
"The Washington State Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General are both aware of national interest in the business," the city wrote in a press release. "The City has no present knowledge of impropriety at this location beyond operation without a business license."
"When you are conducting testing at the height of this pandemic, and you are collecting personal information on thousands of our residents, and you don't have a $73 business license, that was cause for concern," said Jim Kopriva with the City of Lakewood.
Workers at two of the clinics in Seattle refused to speak with FOX 13 News on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, the International District and Queen Anne locations were closed, and the Bellevue site was open for appointments only.
"I'm worried because I have to get a rapid test today," said Dan, who was hoping to get a test in Lakewood. "I was kind of sad because I thought they were open, I'd seen a line of people around here the other day … and now they (are) closed."
Later Thursday, the Center for Covid Control announced it was pausing further testing at all locations from Jan. 14 to Jan. 22.
"We’ve made this difficult decision to temporarily pause all operations, until we are confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality," said CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj.
CCC said it would use the time "for additional staff training in sample collection and handling, a refocus on customer service and communication practices, and ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines."
The company operates nearly a dozen testing sites in Washington state and 300 in the country.
CCC also cited the omicron variant as a "key contributing factor" to challenges faced by its 3,000 frontline workers.
"For this, we truly apologize and are committed to resolve these recent customer inconveniences and loss of confidence," said Siyaj.
Now people searching for a rapid test will have to go elsewhere.
"Well, I'm going to look for another one - a legitimate one - or call my doctor and see if I can get one scheduled with them," said Dan.
A Department of Health spokesperson said allegations of bogus COVID tests is a top priority for the department, saying The Center for Covid Control is not licensed by the Department of Health and believe the company is not testing in the state - only collecting samples and it cannot verify if the company is handling those specimens properly.
Complaints across America
In Oregon, one family raised a red flag about a testing site in the Portland area. They told KOIN-TV that the whole experience "seemed a bit sketchy." They said they were told to put their PCR tests into a bin that resembled a garbage bin. Their tests came back negative except for one that never returned a result. To be safe, they were tested again and found out that they were positive.
Another family in Florida told WINK-TV that they received their test results will still waiting in line to be tested.
KOIN also reports that the Department of Justice has opened a civil investigation into the company.
Three testing sites in Massachusetts were ordered to shut down for performing tests "without the required state approvals," according to USA Today.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General said there has been an increase in COVID-19 fraud complaints including many related to testing.
"We are seeing fraudulent activity around testing. It could be random pop-up sites, and it could be at-home test kits," Yvonne Gamble, the office’s acting director of communications, told USA Today. "Be vigilant. Be careful. Be mindful, and make sure whoever you are dealing with is an authorized provider and a place that you can trust."