PORTLAND, Ore. — Update: On Thursday, the Center for COVID Control announced it will "pause operations for additional staff training and education," in a press release.
The pause, which the company calls temporary, will halt operations at more than 300 locations nationwide starting Friday, January 14.
The announcement comes just two days after the Oregon Department of Justice confirmed to KGW that it had opened an investigation against the company, which operates three COVID testing sites in the Portland metro area.
Ten additional complaints against the company have been filed with the Oregon Attorney General's Office, spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson confirmed Thursday. That brings the total number of complaints submitted to the Oregon Attorney General's Office to 12.
The company said it's responding to "queries from several public health and regulatory agencies."
The windows are spray painted with graffiti, trash is scattered along the sidewalk and there’s a homeless encampment down the street. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of people have lined up daily outside this once abandoned storefront in Northeast Portland for a COVID test.
Why? There aren’t many other options.
“There is definitely a shortage right now, so everyone is looking high and low — anywhere they can get a test,” said one man waiting in line.
A surge in COVID cases has sent thousands of people in the Portland area scrambling to find quick, reliable COVID tests. With pharmacies and doctors’ offices out of appointments and short on supplies — the next option: pop-up testing sites.
“Walgreen’s is all booked up,” said Jose Inzunza, after pulling up to a pop-up testing site in Southeast Portland. A shed set-up a convenience store parking lot read “FREE COVID-19 TESTING”.
But should you trust these pop-up COVID testing sites?
A USA Today report raised questions about a string of testing centers which have popped up around the country, including three in the Portland area. The Center for Covid Control has sites in Tigard, a parking lot in Southeast Portland and a storefront in Northeast Portland.
Across the country, consumers have complained of long lines, disorganization and delayed or no test results at all.
As of Thursday, at least twelve people have filed complaints with the Oregon Attorney General’s Office, including one woman who wrote in September, “I have not received results and have grown concerned that I fell victim to a scam.” The Oregon Department of Justice is investigating, along with the Better Business Bureau.
“It’s not a scam, it is a legitimate business,” said Mohammad Waqas.
Waqas oversees the three Portland testing sites, which he said have been overwhelmed in the past few weeks because of Omicron.
“When this type of surge comes, people are going to have issues,” explained Waqas.
The site manager said the number of complaints is relatively small, considering 700 to 800 tests are being administered daily at these pop-up locations in Portland.
Currently, he said the Center for Covid Control sites are only offering rapid antigen tests, not the more accurate PCR.
Test takers scan a QR code with their phones, then fill out an online form with identifying information and a photo of their driver’s license.
“No social security number, nothing like that,” explained Waqas. “Just whatever is on your state ID — name, date of birth, address, email address, phone number.”
Test takers swab their nose, hand over the sample and wait for results.
The COVID tests are free to consumers, the local manager explained. Insurance companies and the government are billed later.
Business records show, Center for Covid Control registered with the state of Oregon three months ago. The parent company is based in Illinois.
In Oregon, all testing sites must be certified and report results to state health authorities. It is unclear if Center for Covid Control is certified to conduct testing in Oregon.
The Oregon Health Authority said it has received no test results from the company and forwarded concerns to federal regulators.
In an email Thursday morning, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that oversees clinical laboratory quality standards, confirmed that multiple state agencies have submitted complaints regarding the Center for COVID Control and temporary testing sites.
The Better Business Bureau suggests there are a few things to keep in mind when looking into testing sites:
1) GET A REFERRAL
Your doctor or state or local health department’s website can direct you to approved testing sites, often affiliated with trusted hospitals and providers.
2) CHECK ONLINE REVIEWS
Other consumers can be a good source of information.
3) EXAMINE THE SURROUNDINGS
Testing sites should be clean, organized and staffed by professionals.
4) WATCH OUT FOR EXORBITANT UPFRONT CASH FEES FOR TESTS
5) AVOID PROVIDING SENSTIVE PERSONAL OR FINANCIAL INFORMATION
Don’t share your social security number, credit card or bank account number. Keep in mind, some details like your home address or phone number may be necessary.
6) ASK QUESTIONS.
How much will COVID testing cost? And when will you get results? Is your test site or lab certified?