San Francisco subpoenas unauthorized COVID testing operator

San Francisco’s city attorney has issued subpoenas seeking records from an unauthorized COVID-19 test operator and laboratory suspected of trying to scam people out of money or personal information.

City Attorney David Chiu announced the legal action Thursday after the companies missed a Monday deadline to provide valid licenses.

"Protecting the integrity of our COVID testing operations is crucial as we grapple with a surge in COVID cases," Chiu said in a statement. "We cannot allow rogue actors to exploit this Omicron surge for profit. We will get to the bottom of this and ensure any bad actors are held accountable."

Chiu’s office began investigating Community Wellness America Inc. after receiving tips that it offered COVID tests at several pop-up sites earlier this month. The community blog Mission Local reported one test site attracted a line near Dolores Park as the fast-spreading omicron variant drove up demand for fast testing.

When asked to present paperwork, city officials said a representative for the San Diego-based company showed an expired federal license issued to Crestview Clinical Laboratory LLC, which purportedly processes the tests.

While the tests were free, investigators believe CWA was collecting sensitive personal information and had a profit motive, said Jen Kwart, a spokeswoman for Chiu’s office.

"They were asking people their Social Security numbers and immigration status, which are definitely red flags," Kwart said.

It was also unclear whether the people who performed the tests had adequate training and what they are doing with the information and samples they collected, she said.

Messages seeking comments from both companies have not been returned.

The California Department of Public Health investigated CWA after hearing about unauthorized testing sites in Marin, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. The department said the company does not have a California clinical laboratory license and therefore not allowed to perform lab testing, but it is allowed to collect specimens to be sent to a lab that meets federal and state regulations.

"CDPH has regulatory authority over clinical laboratory testing, but not over the business practices of laboratories or collection sites," the department said Thursday.

Public health officials in Washington state also issued a warning last April about CWA after its staff failed to use appropriate personal protective equipment at testing sites and failed to keep personal information secure.

The Seattle and King County public health agency said CWA staffers also falsely claimed to be "with public health" and indicated in fine print that people could be billed even though large signs promoted the tests as free.

California public health officials said they have received consumer complaints about pop-up testing sites throughout the state. These sites have generated questions and concerns about pricing, whether tests were administered properly or whether the results are reported at all.

The CDPH said it has ramped up access to testing during the surge and is urging Californians to look for legitimate testing sites on its website.

"An insured person can get a COVID-19 test at these sites at no cost. If you’re uninsured, the government pays for your test," the department said.