SEATTLE — People are raising the alarm about possible fake COVID-19 testing sites in western Washington run by a company called Center for Covid Control.
The company's testing site in Lakewood was shut down Wednesday over concern it was operating improperly.
"Our Code Enforcement paid them a visit this morning, there was a line around the corner, and when we took a look there was no business license," said city of Lakewood Communications Manager Jim Kopriva.
Kopriva said the site voluntarily closed. The city has filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, issued a stop-work order for the site and alerted surrounding cities and health departments. Kopriva said Lakewood plans to perform a “thorough investigation” of the testing site.
"When a business is collecting thousands of residents' personal information and conducting sensitive medical testing at the height of a pandemic, and they don't have a $73 license, that raises some red flags at the city," said Kopriva.
The attorney general said it's also received two consumer complaints regarding the Center for Covid Control's testing sites in University Place.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said it's aware of at least 10 testing sites operated by the Center for Covid Control. The DOH said the sites aren't licensed by the state.
"We believe the company is not testing in Washington State, only collecting samples,” said Katie Pope, a spokesperson with the DOH. “We cannot verify appropriate handling of test specimens, proper storage of protected health information, or results.”
The sites can be found in several Washington counties, including Snohomish, King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Yakima counties, and claim to offer free, no appointment necessary COVID-19 tests. Center for Covid Control has not responded to KING 5's request for comment.
"It was such an odd experience. My mind was going like, ‘OK, how's this going to pan out?'" said Anthony, who used one of the testing sites in Queen Anne and asked KING 5 not to include his last name for privacy reasons.
Anthony got tested in December. He said the site had one employee, who he described as verbally aggressive and not wearing any protective gear.
"No gloves, no visor, no mask, like all the things you'd expect of a pandemic and other testing sites, this place did not have. It was just a guy," said Anthony.
The Center for Covid Control's website says it's based outside Chicago and has partnered with a CDC-approved lab to offer COVID-19 testing at more than 300 locations nationwide. However, complaints online have people questioning whether the sites are legit.
KING 5 attempted to visit two different sites in the Seattle area Wednesday afternoon. Both were closed, despite the company's website saying they would be open until 6 p.m. Several people walked up to both locations hoping to get a test.
Anthony said he reached out to the company about his experience and hasn't received a response. He's worried about the personal information he shared, including a photo of his license and insurance card.
"I don't know what this whole thing was,” said Anthony. “Were they after my personal information? Were they just, you know, scamming the government? I have no idea. I can't really comment on that, but it was a pretty unsettling experience.”
On Thursday, the Center for Covid Control shared a release with KING 5 saying that the omicron surge had strained its testing sites and staffing resources at certain locations, adding that it has affected "our usual customer services standards and diagnostic goals."
The company is pausing the collection of patient specimens beginning Friday, Jan. 14, and plans to reopen on Saturday, Jan. 22.
"CCC will use this operational pause 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 said in its release.
The DOH recommends people looking for a COVID-19 test choose a testing location posted on the DOH website or check with their local health jurisdiction or county health department for information about additional locations.