CHICAGO — A national coronavirus testing company under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and which has drawn criticism from customers in several states announced Thursday a “one-week pause on all operations.”
The pause was to take effect Friday through January 21 at all Center for COVID Control testing sites. The Illinois-based company’s website says it has more than 300 US locations across multiple states. Two of them, Massachusetts and Washington, took action this week to close several of the company’s testing centers in their communities.
In an internal company memo to “all site owners and managers” and obtained by USA TODAY, the Center for COVID Control cited “increased media scrutiny of the operations of our collection sites” over the course of last week. The company says it handles 80,000 test requests per day.
“This, coupled with various customer complaints, has led various state health departments and even the Department of Justice to take a keen interest in our business,” the notice reads.
What is the COVID Control Center? Dodgy sites highlight nation’s thirst for rapid testing
The company officially confirmed the week-long pause in a press release, saying “unusually high patient demand has strained staff resources.”
“The Center for Covid Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and compliant manner. Unfortunately, due to our rapid growth and recent unprecedented demand for testing, we have no been unable to meet all of our commitments,” Aleya Siyaj, the company’s founder and CEO, said in the statement.
Company spokesman Russ Keene confirmed the authenticity of the internal memo sent to employees.
News of the week-long hiatus comes after the Oregon Department of Justice this week opened a civil investigation into the Center for COVID Control on suspicion of violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act, said spokesperson Kristina Edmunson.
At least two people filed complaints about the sites with the Oregon Department of Justice late last year, Edmunson said. Since USA TODAY reported on the company last week, ten more people have filed complaints, Edmunson said.
In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent cease-and-desist letters to three Center for COVID Control sites on Wednesday, the gate said. -word Ann Scales.
“Residents are asked not to come to the Center for COVID Control for a COVID-19 test,” Scales said.
The Needham, North Dartmouth and Worcester sites were conducting testing “without required state approvals” and were ordered to “immediately cease providing all services requiring a clinical laboratory license”, Scales said.
Illinois has received seven complaints about the sites, the Illinois attorney general’s office said. Washington state received two, according to the Washington state attorney general’s office.
On Wednesday, the city of Lakewood, Wash., shut down a Center for COVID Control testing site operating without a business license and notified local and state officials, according to a news release.
“The city currently has no knowledge of any irregularities at this location beyond operating without a commercial license,” the statement said. “The Washington State Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office are both aware of the national interest in the company.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of regional offices with the nonprofit Better Business Bureau is also looking into the business.
“The Center for Covid Control has the lowest rating the BBB can give to a business as well as the lowest customer review rating,” said Thomas Johnson, spokesperson for the Chicago and North American BBB. ‘Illinois, at USA TODAY.
COVID Control Center:Company under investigation by Oregon DOJ, Better Business Bureau
According to Johnson, people reporting to the BBB say they didn’t receive test results, received incorrect test results, or paid money for expedited results that weren’t delivered. They allege the company “requests a lot of personal information” and fails to respond to customers who have questions about their test results, Johnson said.
Dozens of people across the country, including those tested and current and former employees, have contacted USA TODAY to express concerns about the company’s practices.
In the internal notice to employees, the Center for COVID Control said customer complaints were “hyperbolized.”
“While many of the accusations against us may be overstated, there are certainly areas where we need to improve. We need to do better to ensure our sites are compliant, our staff properly trained and most importantly, we need to ensure we conduct and report every test accurately,” the memo reads.
The company said the daily number of tests it collects has increased “over the past few weeks” from 8,000 per day to more than 80,000 per day, “which is equivalent to most individual testing sites. registering an overwhelming 10-fold increase in the number of patients”.
“During the ‘pause’ period, we must work together to complete all compliance training, update all of our documentation, obtain site-specific CLIA waivers and more,” the memo reads. “It won’t be a holiday for any of us.”
The company was to host a one-hour webinar on Thursday afternoon.
“Enforcing this ‘pause’ is something that must be done to protect the interest of all of us – it is essential for our mutual survival,” the memo reads.
A Twitter account linked to the company’s website was suspended on Wednesday. Twitter representatives contacted on Wednesday and Thursday did not immediately explain why.
Christina Weber, 31, of Minneapolis, told USA TODAY that she reported a Center for COVID Control testing site to local authorities and was later contacted by an investigator from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, who told her. informed that she was not the first to report a complaint with the site.
The office was unable to confirm or deny any complaints or investigations under the Minnesota government’s data practices law, said John Stiles, deputy chief of staff of the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
In Florida, a family who filled out an online form for the Center for COVID Control received their test results while still in line to take the test, WINK-TV reported. USA TODAY could not immediately verify the report.
The Center for COVID Control’s primary and mailing address is in Rolling Meadows, Illinois – a one-story commercial office building approximately 15 miles northwest of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The company “primarily uses ‘Doctors Clinical Laboratory’ as a clinical testing provider partner,” the press release said. The lab is registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration as an independent lab and is listed at the same Rolling Meadows address. A phone number listed on a website for the lab directs callers to a recorded message for the Center for COVID Control.
According to the company, the Center for COVID Control was established in 2020 and operates physical testing sites and drive-through sites. The company says it employs more than 3,000 Americans.
The company describes itself as “one of the first testing centers that required no appointments and accepted all walk-in patients, as well as most insured and uninsured patients.”
Have you had any issues with the Center for COVID Control? Contact reporter Grace Hauck at [email protected]