'Unusual' Coronavirus Testing Sites Prompt Warning In King County

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(Al Bello/Getty Images, File)

SEATTLE — Public Health - Seattle & King County issued a public alert Thursday, after a growing number of reports about unauthorized mobile COVID-19 test operations that may provide inaccurate results or compromise personal data.

"Recently, Public Health – Seattle & King County became aware of a small number of unusual COVID testing operations in King County that the public should avoid," officials wrote Thursday. "Their practices raise several concerns, including providing potentially inaccurate results."

Public health said "unusual operations" they investigated in Seattle and Auburn were not authorized or endorsed by state or county health authorities. In Seattle, public health staff found testing tables at Green Lake, Gas Works Park, Ballard and Capitol Hill had several concerning practices:

  • Testing staff are not using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect customers. At a testing operation following public health recommendations, you will see staff wearing masks, face shields and gloves. People will be in line at least six feet apart.
  • Inappropriate PPE use can cause potential contamination in the testing process and inaccurate results.
  • Personal information collected from individuals is held insecurely.
  • Testing staff falsely claimed to be "with public health."
  • Tests are promoted as free (on signs in large red letters), but paperwork fine print indicates that people could potentially be billed.

According to Public Health - Seattle & King County, the Seattle sites appear to be attached to Community Wellness America, which uses a California lab to process tests. Officials said the group has sent no information or test results to county or state health authorities, even after several weeks in operation.

Public health officials shared a photo of one "unusual COVID-19 testing operation" on Seattle's Capitol Hill. (Public Health - Seattle & King County)

In Auburn, a resident reported two people going door-to-door offering in-home testing, and falsely represented themselves as representatives of the Washington State Department of Health and Gov. Jay Inslee. The resident said the pair claimed to be nurses but refused to show identification. Public health officials said neither the county nor the state visits homes without an appointment.

In Seattle, officials said their concerns were communicated directly with Community Wellness America to no avail. Since public health does not have "local regulatory authority" over them, the county filed formal complaints with the Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State Attorney General's Office to determine the next steps.

Public Health - Seattle & King County encourages anyone in need of a COVID-19 test to seek one through one of the many reputable sources available across the region, especially as case and hospitalization rates continue to rise.

"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 King County. "This is important to both identify illness early so that people can get the care that they need and to prevent spread to family, friends and others. 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."

Anyone who received a COVID-19 test from an operation that seemed suspicious is encouraged to get re-rested, as the results may be inaccurate. Tests can be found through many health care providers and at dozens of free testing locations operating in King County.

Residents who believe they are the victim of health care fraud is encouraged to contact:

Read more about the alert on the Public Health Insider blog.

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