Seattle-area residents should avoid several coronavirus testing operations that have popped up around King County and that may not be holding patient data securely and may not be giving accurate test results, the public health department warned Thursday.
The small number of “unusual” testing sites have been reported in Green Lake Park, Gas Works Park, Ballard and in Capitol Hill, Public Health – Seattle & King County said. The agency has also received a report of a door-to-door operation in Auburn.
The sites in Seattle have been seen as pop-ups, little more than a folding table and signs, the health department said.
Public Health said they’ve observed staff at those sites offering tests without using personal protective equipment and storing patient personal information “insecurely.”
The sites are also promoting their tests as free, Public Health said, but fine print in their paperwork indicates that people could be billed. Testing staff have also claimed, falsely, to be “with public health,” the health department said.
What’s more, the testing lab that the pop-up sites use has not sent any positive test results to either the local or the state health departments, even after several weeks of operation, “raising concerns” they may not be properly testing the specimens they collect, Public Health said.
All the Seattle sites are operated by the same organization, Community Wellness America, Public Health said.
Steve Sterling, a San Diego-based acupuncture physician who is the CEO of Community Wellness America, said they’re operating testing sites in at least 11 states, including Washington, and conduct 3,000 to 5,000 tests a day.
He said they’d partnered with a petition signature-gathering firm to staff the testing sites.
“Since the election is over, these people have been out of work,” Sterling said. “It seemed like a no-brainer to see how we could repurpose people.”
He said all testing staff have received instructional training in patient privacy and in testing procedures.
He said tests come with no out-of-pocket expenses for patients, but they do collect insurance information.
“All the people I’ve been in contact with said we’ve been in good compliance and haven’t had any problems,” Sterling said.
In Auburn, Public Health received reports that two people were going door-to-door promoting testing services and falsely saying they were sent by the health department and the governor.
“They also claimed they were nurses but did not show ID when asked,” Public Health wrote.
Public Health – Seattle & King County said it does not have regulatory authority over the testing operations but they have made formal complaints with the state Department of Health and the state attorney general.
“Everyone should be aware that these testing operations found in Seattle and Auburn are not supported or endorsed by Public Health – Seattle & King County or the Washington State Department of Health,” Public Health wrote. “If you have received a COVID test from an operation with these concerning practices, the results may not be accurate, and you should consider getting retested, especially if you were known to be exposed or had symptoms.”
Free coronavirus testing sites continue to be widely available throughout King County.
“COVID-19 testing remains essential, and people who have symptoms or who have been exposed should get tested promptly,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We have many free testing options in King County that provide reliable results. People need to be aware of unusual testing offers that may not be trustworthy.”