Attorney General Ellison files lawsuit against COVID testing sites for ‘deceptive conduct’

Photo by Feven Gerezgiher The Center for COVID Control testing site on Hiawatha Ave in Minneapolis closed early after the nationwide shutdown was announced. Residents and nearby businesses described lines spanning multiple storefronts along the strip mall.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday announced a lawsuit against two Illinois-based COVID testing companies, the Center for COVID Control and its associated Doctors Clinical Laboratory for “false and deceptive conduct.”

Many consumers reported that companies never sent test results, sent results much later than expected, or sent false or inaccurate results to consumers.

In some cases, the Center for COVID Control sent negative results to people who were never tested, according to the lawsuit.

“The Attorney General’s Office is here to help protect Minnesotans from COVID-19…but also from false and inaccurate information, which will exacerbate the crisis,” Ellison said during the virtual press conference.

Minnesota has more than 44,000 new positive cases of COVID-19 since the holiday weekend, Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said.

Not counting home tests, the daily test positivity rate is the highest since the start of the pandemic. Huff pointed out that people who know if they are HIV-positive “empower” them to take steps to limit the risk of transmission.

The Attorney General’s office is seeking an effective injunction from testing companies that already do not have a certificate of authorization to do business in Minnesota. He is also seeking compensation for Minnesota consumers who suffered direct losses.

The Center for COVID Control has decided to temporarily close its more than 300 testing sites across the country, eight of which exist in Minnesota, following increased media coverage and consumer criticism earlier this month.

“Unfortunately, due to our rapid growth and recent unprecedented demand for testing, we have not been able to meet all of our commitments,” founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj wrote in a press release on January 13. . The Center said it would use the week-long closure to train staff and “ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines”. It plans to reopen on Saturday, January 22.

Photo by Feven Gerezgiher The Center for COVID Control testing site on E. 7th Street in St. Paul on January 13.

“Hectic” test sites

“Free COVID testing center, no appointment or health insurance needed,” read the signs on the Center for COVID Control’s pop-up testing sites. Twin Cities locations are simply named “Free COVID Testing” on Google.

On Thursday evening, before the site closed, people – mostly people of color or with young children – crowded in a line outside the door of the small basement room serving as a testing site on the east side of St. Paul.

At the Hiawatha location, lines are often long with little social distancing, according to Ausdel Carrera, an employee at the nearby mall.

With testing appointments elsewhere filling up, the Hiawatha testing site seemed an attractive option for Minneapolis resident Julie F. (who asked that her last name be withheld). Yet when she arrived, she faced a queue on the sidewalk and an unclear process.

“It seemed like a very hectic time. It was probably one of the busiest days I have ever seen. The staff seemed kind of frantic trying to stay together,” she said. Julie added that customer service was slow to respond with her test result, which would arrive later than expected.

Above all, she is concerned about the use of her data. The testing company requires test takers to upload photos of their driver’s licenses to access the tests.

The attorney general’s lawsuit claims the Center for COVID Control billed reimbursements to private insurers and the federal government. According to the lawsuit, Doctors Clinical Laboratory billed the federal government $113 million.

Edward Hugener reported the Center for COVID Control to the Attorney General after he and his daughter received negative results without being tested. He noted a similar scenario to Julie F. upon arrival and, finding it “fishy”, opted for a test at the airport.

Hugener, however, had completed the online form at the Center for COVID Control and received notice of negative results even though he had not been tested there. The emailed results for her daughter also listed her as being tested at a time when she would have been in school.

An employee at the Center for COVID Control St. Paul testing site attested that there were no similar claims at her site where she worked last month. She attributes consumer complaints and frustrations about processing delays and errors to a company system reset.

However, the attorney general’s office said former employees contacted and described the Illinois lab as chaotic. As testing increased – with up to 10,000 samples arriving daily for two fridges – test samples were collected in garbage bags. They were stored in all the laboratories in a disorganized way, so that they could not be processed efficiently.

Consumers and ex-workers in Minnesota are encouraged by the Attorney General’s Office to report concerns to the Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, including inaccurate reporting or lack of test results by filing a complaint here or by calling the Attorney General’s office at 651-296-3353 (Metro) or 800-657-3787 (Greater Minnesota) or 800-627-3529 (Minnesota Relay).

To find reputable testing sites, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers go to locations directed by their doctor or consult the ​Minnesota COVID-19 Response Site.