OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit against an Illinois-based COVID-19 testing company, accusing it of improperly handling tests and providing fake results.
The lawsuit announced on Jan. 31 and filed in King County Superior Court said the Center for COVID Control “failed to deliver prompt, valid, and accurate results,” made deceptive promises of results within 48 hours, and reportedly instructed its employees to “lie to patients on a daily basis,” The Seattle Times reported.
It describes how the company expanded to about 300 locations throughout the United States—including one in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District—and collected tens of thousands of tests a day.
“Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it provided false negative results,” Ferguson said in a statement. “These sham testing centers threatened the health and safety of our communities. They must be held accountable.”
The lawsuit also said the Center for COVID Control stored tests in garbage bags—rather than properly refrigerating them—backdated sample-collection dates so stale samples would still be processed and instructed its employees to lie when Washington residents asked about delayed results.
The Center for COVID Control did not respond to a request for comment from the newspaper or from The Associated Press. All of its locations are closed “until further notice,” according to its website.
The company said in a news release on the website that it was using “this operational pause to train additional staff.“
The Center for COVID Control sites had been operating in Washington state since October and was increasingly popular particularly after the rapid spread of the omicron variant prompted a rise in demand for tests.
Locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Auburn, Lynnwood, Everett, Port Orchard, and Yakima in Washington promised free test results within 15 minutes for a rapid test and within 48 hours for a more sensitive PCR test.
But recently, customers throughout the country have been complaining about the center’s delay or lack of results, leading health authorities in several states, including California and Illinois, to launch investigations.
City officials in Lakewood, Washington issued a stop-work order at their local site in mid-January after receiving complaints about the company and finding it was operating without a business license, “among other concerns,” the city said.
The company didn’t have a license to operate a business in any Washington cities except Yakima, according to the attorney general’s office.
Ferguson’s office plans to file a motion for preliminary injunction “soon to immediately stop the Center for COVID Control’s unlawful conduct,” his statement said.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the Center for COVID Control to pay civil penalties of up to $12,500 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act and relinquish any profits the company made from its “unlawful conduct,” in addition to permanently closing all locations, the statement said.