EVERETT — A popular downtown Everett coronavirus testing site and hundreds of others nationwide will temporarily shut down as the legitimacy of the company running them, the Center for COVID Control, has been called into question.
Everett spokesperson Julio Cortes said the testing site at 2606 Wetmore Ave. had been allowed to open before a business license was approved “due to the current health crisis and high demand for testing.”
Residents have been flocking to the site amid skyrocketing COVID cases and other testing sites being stretched thin. This month bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged north Everett as people waited in line to get tested on Wetmore.
A Lynnwood city spokesperson Thursday did not have an update on another Center for COVID Control site operating there.
City officials in at least three cities — Lakewood, University Place and Auburn — have shut down the company’s sites for operating without business licenses.
Lakewood city spokesperson Jim Kopriva said he was tipped off by social media posts that warned people to avoid the free, no-appointment test locations.
“A resident tagged me in a Reddit comment basically saying, in a nutshell, they felt weird about the business,” he told The Daily Herald. “So we took a look right away, like first thing in the morning, and we found they were operating without a business license.”
Kopriva said he submitted a complaint to the FBI.
“From our perspective, when a business is collecting sensitive personal information on thousands of residents and performing critical testing at the height of the pandemic, and they don’t have a $73 license, we’re awfully concerned about that,” Kopriva said.
The state Department of Health said Wednesday it couldn’t “verify appropriate handling of test specimens, proper storage of protected health information, or results” by the Center for COVID Control.
The company was also being investigated by the Oregon Department of Justice and the Better Business Bureau, according to news reports. The Center for COVID Control claimed to have over 275 testing sites across the nation.
Health officials in Massachusetts ordered the company to cease testing in the state Thursday.
One local TV news report said a Florida family offered up insurance information and more. As they were still waiting in line, and before they had been swabbed, the entire family and others got notices that their rapid test results were ready and had come back negative, according to WINK-TV in Fort Meyers, Florida.
According to WINK, a legitimate test showed at least one family member was actually positive.
The company’s Everett site didn’t appear on the Snohomish Health District’s official list of testing options, spokesperson Heather Thomas said, because it didn’t have a proper Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments waiver.
As news outlets across the country reported mounting complaints against the Center for COVID Control, the Illinois-based company announced Thursday it would close all of its locations for a week, citing “unprecedented recent demand for testing.”
A news release did not mention ongoing investigations or forced closures but did say the company was “responding to queries from several public health and regulatory agencies.”
The week-long pause, CEO Aleya Siyaj said in the news release, will allow the company to “re-commit to exceptional customer service, enhance quality assurance, and ensure we are exceeding regulatory sample collection and clinical guidelines.”
According to Siyaj’s LinkedIn profile, she ran an Illinois axe-throwing lounge for 2½ years and a donut cafe for another 2½ years before becoming the CEO of the Center for COVID Control. Her profile shows a marketing degree but no medical experience.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office confirmed it received complaints about the University Place testing location, although spokesperson Brionna Aho said the agency could not say whether an investigation was opened.
State health officials urged residents to use testing sites listed by the Department of Health or local health districts.
“People should be aware of potential COVID-19 scams, including for testing,” said health department spokesperson Katie Pope.
People can ask providers if they have an approved waiver. You can also report complaints to the state Department of Health or fraud concerns to the state Attorney General’s Office.