Local officials on watch for unauthorized COVID-19 test sites

Cheryl Clark

About Cheryl Clark

Cheryl Clark (@CherClarHealth) is AHCJ's core topic leader for patient safety, a MedPage Today contributor and inewsource.org investigative journalist. For most of 27 years, she covered medicine and science for the San Diego Union-Tribune. After taking a buyout in 2008, she became senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media.

Cars lined up Wednesday afternoon at the COVID Clinic testing site near Cardiff-by-the-Sea, before it was shuttered by San Diego County health officials.

Photo: Cheryl ClarkCars lined up Wednesday afternoon at the COVID Clinic testing site before it was shuttered by San Diego County health officials.

Cities, counties and states around the country are probably on heightened alert for unauthorized pop-up COVID-19 testing operations after San Diego County took steps to shut down one such clinic Wednesday, lest a bogus test give someone a false result and jeopardize public health.

For $75, COVID Clinic invited applicants to sign up for COVID-19 IgM and IgG serology antibody, or “finger poke” tests, with partial results in 15 minutes. Or for $125, one could get the nasopharyngeal viral PCR, with results available within two or three days. And for $175, a worried person could get both.  Another location in Huntington Beach, north of San Diego County, also offered the testing, but it could not be determined if that clinic has also been shut down.

After health officials repeatedly asked the operation to provide documentation about the tests, specifically the antibody test to make sure it had appropriate CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment) authorization and couldn’t get a response, the county took steps to shut it down.

The clinic had been set up in an affluent part of San Diego County between Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Rancho Santa Fe, and for the first part of the week, lines of cars spilled out into the street and crowded a parking lot of a community college.

The county sent a letter to MiraCosta College ordering the college to discontinue allowing the clinic to operate there.

“We have concerns that COVID Clinic’s testing process is not complying with State law and therefore may not be producing reliable and verifiable results,” the letter said. “Numerous people have paid for the tests at your campus and are presumably relying on the veracity of the tests. Public reliance on such test results, and the failure of COVID Clinic to report such tests, may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and due to the severity of the pandemic this places the public’s health at risk.”

The action was taken on behalf of the California Department of Public Health, the agency with enforcement powers because the department did not have inspectors available in San Diego County, said Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county’s epidemiology and immunology branch.

The information is necessary to assure that when the test result says that someone is positive for COVID-19, they are positive for COVID-19, and when it says they’re negative, they are negative, McDonald said.

California isn’t the only state dealing with potentially bogus COVID-19 testing sites. In Louisville, Ky., officials called labeled some operations as “scams.” Indiana’s attorney general also issued a warning about fake tests.

To read more about this story, visit MedPage Today.

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