Covid testing company with 300 pop-up sites across U.S. faces multiple probes

A company that operates more than 300 pop-up testing sites for Covid-19 across the country is under investigation in multiple states and by a federal agency after withdrawing scores of consumer complaints ranging from late test results to concerns about no tests at all.

The Illinois-based Covid Control Center was founded in December 2020 by Alia Seig, 29, whose previous experience includes starting an axe-throwing parlor and donut shop, according to government business records and her LinkedIn page.

In recent weeks, the Oregon Department of Justice and the Illinois Attorney General have opened civil investigations into the company. Massachusetts and Rhode Island issued cease-and-desist letters to the company, and local regulators in Washington and California closed many of its sites for operating without a license.

An inspection by the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid closed several sites operating without a license in Massachusetts.

“We take any allegations of fraud or misconduct by COVID-19 testing sites seriously,” said Dr. Lee Fleischer, chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“CMS is actively investigating the many complaints about the many labs and test sites associated with this particular company.”

The Covid Control Center announced Thursday that it has paused operations for a week and plans to reopen on January 22.

“Due to our rapid growth and unprecedented recent demand for testing, we have been unable to meet all of our commitments,” the company said in a statement posted on its website. It said it would use the pause “to train additional staff in sample collection and handling, refocus on customer service and communication practices, and ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines.”

The company indicated that its testing volume has recently increased tenfold, to 80,000 tests per day, and that a key factor in its “current customer service challenges” is Omicron’s rapid deployment among its 3,000 frontline employees.

An internal memo, first obtained by USA Today, noted “increased media scrutiny of our collection site operations” over the past week, which, along with consumer complaints, has led to “the emergence of various government health departments and even [the Oregon] The Department of Justice takes a great interest in our company.”

In response to a request for comment by NBC News, a spokesperson for the center, Ross Keane, said the company was “in the midst of bringing in new talent and an ethics officer.”

After running a test at one of the company’s Oregon sites in September, Kelly Fisher called the state’s attorney general, saying she was concerned she had been “the victim of a scam” because the site “looked very suspicious” and was not listed on the state’s Covid testing resources page.

She said they asked her to provide a copy of her driver’s license and insurance information and did not submit the results within the promised time frame. The state attorney general received 10 similar complaints against the company this week alone.

“I trust that any entity that was involved in this operation was doing so in good faith,” Fisher said in an interview with NBC News. “Since then, I’ve only taken the test in my medical provider’s office.”

People stand in line for free Covid-19 testing at a temporary site set up by the Center for Covid Control in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 3, 2022.Sam Wasson / Sipa USA via AP

The Covid Control Center is one of several testing companies that have come under scrutiny from local and state agencies.

With the demand for Covid-19 testing at unprecedented levels due to the spread of the Omicron variant, officials have warned of unauthorized pop-up testing sites and fraud. Lawmakers and attorneys general in multiple states — including California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas — have said they will investigate and submit regulatory bills that oversee these processes.

In New York alone, the attorney general has already registered 179 complaints and opened investigations into companies charging fees for testing, sending letters directing others to stop promising misleading result times and issuing consumer guidance on how to spot fraud test sites.

The rise in unauthorized pop-up testing sites is the latest example of the Covid-19-related fraud that regulators have struggled to combat throughout the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 650,000 reports of Covid-related fraud, identity theft and other scams, which have cost Americans more than $636 million.

Sample collection

The Center for Control of Covid has grown to more than 300 locations and 3,000 employees in just over a year, according to its website. It describes itself as one of the largest national providers of Covid-19 testing and one of the first to offer spot testing.

Consumers have filed complaints against the company with prosecutors’ offices in at least three states. The Better Business Bureau, which gave the company an “F” rating, said it sent the company eight unanswered complaints.

Spokeswoman Sandra Joel said complaints lodged through the BBB range from “not receiving test results to not receiving a refund after paying for the test.”

The center for the control of the Covid virus is automatically managed by Siaj and her husband, Ali Syed, according to a person close to the company. The person described the focus as a “sampling-collecting marketing and management company”.

“This is the husband and wife of a young entrepreneur who has investors and partners,” that person said. “They identified a market need and capitalized on it.”

The center’s website states that it “has partnered with a licensed, CDC-accredited, and registered laboratory with Clinical Laboratory Improvement Modifications (CLIA)”.

That lab, called the Clinical Physicians’ Lab, appears in a CDC-approved lab search at two addresses, one of which is the same as the Rolling Meadows, Illinois address listed at the Covid Control Commercial Registration Center. The laboratory has been operating since 2001, according to work records.

Calls made Thursday to the phone number listed on the Doctors Clinical Lab website were sent to an outgoing message saying, “Thank you for calling the Covid Control Center.”

But a spokesperson for the Covid Monitoring Center said there was “no common ownership or common commercial affiliation between the two entities”.

A spokesperson for CMS, which oversees the lab certification process, said the agency is investigating the clinicians’ lab. It has “identified non-compliance and is awaiting a response from the laboratory for the stated deficiencies.”

State and federal agencies have warned consumers about testing providers not listed on government-operated or affiliated websites, saying that some pop-up sites may steal personal information and money.

Consumers should beware of sites that ask for a lot of personal information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers. They may not provide a test result or a false negative result.

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