Pop-up COVID testing locations run by a company called Center for COVID Control in Massachusetts and the country have come under scrutiny for their operating practices, and officials on Thursday ordered that the three in the state stop operating.
Tests for COVID can be hard to come by, which is why some people rely on pop-up, no appointment testing sites like the Center for COVID Control in Needham for a rapid or PCR test when they need one.
But over the past several weeks, the town of Needham said it received a handful of complaints about the testing site not providing test results, giving out incorrect diagnoses and allegedly being a scam to get peoples personal information. The town sent a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
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The office confirmed to NBC10 Boston it is reviewing complaints at all three of the company’s testing sites in the state: Needham, North Dartmouth and Worcester.
Amid the scrutiny, the Needham site had put up signs saying “No PCR” -- it appeared that Center for COVID Control was not doing PCR tests.
On Thursday, the facilities received a "cease and desist" letter from the state Department of Health, which states these sites are operating unlicensed.
All three Center for COVID Control sites in Massachusetts closed their doors Thursday.
The office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul also told NBC10 Boston it had received about 10 complaints about the Center for COVID Control.
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"As a result of complaints from residents as well as reported problems at pop-up testing locations connected to the Center for COVID Control, we have opened an investigation," Senior Press Secretary Annie Thompson of the attorney genral's office said in a statement. "We encourage individuals to report experiencing problems with the Center for COVID Control or other pop-up COVID-19 testing locations to file complaints on our website."
NBC10 Boston made several requests for comment from the Center for COVID Control, which sent a statement to NBC10 Boston that read, in part, "Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments."
The company said it was pausing operations nationwide for staff training and education, though the locations in Massachusetts now can't be open. It also said it was responding to authorities.
NBC10 Boston has reached out to the state Department of Public Health to see how a clinical business can open without a license.
"You'd hate to think that someone was not being ethical or providing inefficient or unreliable services, especially with something as sensitive and as important as COVID testing," Needham Director of Health and Human Services Tim McDonald said.
McDonald notified the testing site Thursday that it had been shut down.
"I handed a letter from the Office of General Counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health telling them to cease and desist, providing COVID tests at an unlicensed location," he told NBC10 Boston.
The city of Worcester said Thursday that its Center for COVID Control site had been operating without a permit, and that it had received complaints of people "not receiving test results, receiving test results while still waiting in line, and in some cases receiving incorrect results," according to a statement announcing it was issuing its own cease and desist letter.
Officials were already urging Massachusetts residents not to get tested at the Center for COVID Control. The state has a list of testing facilities and pharmacies selling rapid tests here.
Mamta Kudlugi came back to the pop-up site in Needham for a second time.
"I know this is a testing center, or so I thought," she said hesitantly. "It was dark, it was closed. So I was like, 'Oh, oh, what happened?'"
"It's been more than several weeks and no result," said Barry Pollack, who said he had a PCR test done before Christmas. "Everyone should find out whether they were charging the state, charging insurance companies, or charging both even for situations in which results were never produced."
Kudlugi came to the Needham testing site with her family nearly three weeks ago. They all got their results back, except for her husband's PCR test results. She returned Thursday for a rapid test after experiencing a sore throat.
"Certain people did not get the PCR, certain people got it, and why are there still people waiting for it?" she asked. "I mean, I would like to know why."
Across the country, Center for COVID Control testing sites are being investigated by the Better Business Bureau, the U.S. Department of Justice and various local licensing boards.
"To think that someone is either not providing results in a timely manner or is not running tests at all is pretty disturbing," said McDonald.