Fraud investigation targets company behind Yakima COVID testing site

Center for COVID Control removed Tuesday from Yakima Health District website

YAKIMA, Wash. — The company operating a COVID-19 testing site at a strip mall in Yakima is under investigation over claims of false negatives, missing or delayed test results and improper use of personal protective equipment by staff at locations across the country.

According to its website, Center for COVID Control provides free COVID-19 testing at more than 300 locations across 29 states, including nearly a dozen in Washington State.

Customers have flooded the company’s social media pages and its profile on the Better Business Bureau website with negative comments, calling the testing sites a “scam” or a “fraud.”

Complaints include getting results back with incorrect dates, being provided a negative test result before testing positive at a second location and being kept on hold on the phone for hours without answers. Commenters frequently mention concerns about having given away their personal information and the potential for fraud or identity theft.

Center for COVID Control representatives did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them Tuesday.

Yakima Health District Testing Screenshot

Yakima Health District removes Center for COVID Control from list of approved testing sites

The Yakima Health District maintains a list of approved COVID-19 testing sites and as of early Tuesday morning, had listed the Center for COVID Control at 1731 S. 1st St. Suite 200 in Yakima as one of their approved locations.

At least 50 people were lined up down the sidewalk outside the testing site in the afternoon waiting to be tested, in addition to patients already receiving their tests inside the center.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to YHD spokespeople Lilian Bravo and Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez via phone and email about the investigations launched into the company’s testing practices and asked whether they had received any complaints about the Yakima site.

RELATED: COVID-19 case rate quadruples in Yakima County

Bravo responded via email, noting that the health district was not aware of any investigations and asking for further information, which reporters provided. However, Bravo did not respond to subsequent attempts to contact her Tuesday.

Badillo-Sanchez later responded via email that she and Bravo would not be available for an interview and provided reporters with the general media contact information for the Center for COVID Control.

A few hours after KAPP-KVEW’s initial request to the health district for information, the local Center for COVID Control location had been removed from the list of approved testing sites.

Investigations launched into complaints about sites in Washington, Oregon

Consumer protection agencies, health officials and state authorities have launched multiple investigations into Center for COVID Control testing sites over the past few weeks, but several of the complaints made specifically involve locations in the Pacific Northwest.

The Illinois-based company registered with the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office on Oct. 27, 2021, which allowed them to open and operate testing sites in Washington state. The company now has testing sites in Auburn, Lakewood, Bellevue, University Place, Tacoma, Seattle, Port Orchard, Lynnwood, Everett and Yakima.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to Ishaq Khan — who is listed as the company’s governor on the secretary of state’s website — through the contact information provided in the documents, but received no response.

Two complaints have been filed with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office against the Center for COVID Control, both involving the testing site in University Place. Someone filed a complaint Dec. 9 about a missing COVID test and a second complaint filed Friday alleges improper use of personal protective equipment.

Specifically, the complainant reported witnessing one staff member wearing their mask improperly — pushed down under their nose — and another not changing gloves between administering tests.

Better Business Bureau PR and Communications Manager Logan Hickle said they are handling the investigation into the company out of Chicago, as it’s based in Illinois.

“That being said, we have received a complaint from a consumer in the Portland area, and another consumer filed a scam tracker report in the Portland area, linked to their listed Tigard, OR, location,” Hickle said.

No lab listed? Health officials say that’s a red flag

Yakima Valley College testing site supervisor Mike Vachon said one way to judge the credibility of a COVID-19 testing site is to determine which lab is analyzing the tests and whether it is approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, Vachon said the YVC testing site is run by Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital and the University of Washington. He said tests are analyzed at the UW lab, which has been approved by the CDC.

In this case, the Center for COVID Control website claims the company is “partnered with a CDC approved &  licensed laboratory” but does not disclose which lab it uses.

“I would be concerned, personally,” Vachon said. “And I would go to one of the community sites either in Sunnyside, the fairgrounds or here at YVC.”

Yakima Valley College Covid 19 Testing Site

Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

Testing important as Omicron variant spreads rapidly in Yakima

Health officials said it’s especially important now to get tested as soon as possible because the Omicron variant spreads more quickly and easily than other variants. The testing site at Yakima Valley College is administering upwards of 600 tests per day and a growing number of them are coming back positive.

In December, the site’s positivity rate decreased to under 10%, but within a few weeks of the first Omicron case being reported in Yakima, that number had quadrupled.

“For last week at this site, it was 42% and we expect it to continue to increase,” Vachon said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this week it was over 50%.”

Vachon said the site administers PCR tests, which he describes as the “gold standard of testing,” and that they have not had an issue with running out of tests. Once tests are administered, they’re then sent to the University of Washington lab for analysis, the results of which are then reported back to the site.

“Results are taking longer now because the lab is inundated with tests statewide, so expect a wait of up to three days for your test results to come back,” Vachon said.

Vachon said results were further delayed when heavy snow and bad weather closed the mountain passes for several days, preventing them from driving the tests directly to the university for analysis.

“We actually drove all of our specimens to Spokane and flew them from Spokane to SeaTac to make it to the lab, so there was a delay, but they did get over to the lab,” Vachon said.

Vachon also reiterated the latest masking guidance, urging people to wear a mask with good filtration.

“Cloth masks are no longer as useful they used to be, especially with this current Omicron variant,” Vachon said. “You need to be wearing a three layer surgical mask at least.”

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