On January 31, 2022, the state of Washington filed a lawsuit against COVID-19 testing facility Center for COVID Control for faking test results and delaying test results. According to the lawsuit documents, the company stored COVID-19 tests in garbage bags rather than properly refrigerating them and reported false results to patients and otherwise endangered public safety.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, named the company’s founders, Akbar Syed and Aleya Siyaj, as well as Doctors Clinical Laboratory. Established in Illinois during the COVID-19 crisis, the firm quickly expanded to more than 300 nationwide locations. According to records obtained by the Attorney General’s Office of Washington state in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raid, the company collected test samples for both rapid testing and regular testing but improperly stored them. In some cases, it is unknown if they tested the swabs.
The lawsuit documents include personal testimony from patients and employees. In one case, a patient who traveled to a Washington facility for a rapid test, which guaranteed results in two hours, had to provide two samples after the company misplaced the first test sample. Told that the second sample had also been misplaced, she then received an email that stated her test results were negative. Already symptomatic, she took another COVID-19 screening at a testing site offered by the Washington Department of Health. It showed her as positive for COVID-19.
Employees of the company and former employees who quit when told to lie to patients and doctors about the status of test samples and results schedules. When the company fell behind on testing the samples, it told its call center employees to lie to callers either telling them that their results were inconclusive, and they needed to submit a second test sample or that their results would be available in 24 hours – whether or not the company had information on the sample.
The Washington state lawsuit also accuses the Center for COVID Control of defrauding the government. The company billed the US government for $124 million to date, for tests on uninsured patients. It also reported insured patients as uninsured. Some patients under Medicare coverage were told to report that they were uninsured. Once it fell egregiously behind on its testing, the company switched to a streamlined intake form that auto-filled “uninsured” as the insurance default.
The company had only obtained a business license for its Yakima, Washington facility in that state. Other locations temporarily closed, such as the Lakewood location, which its city officials closed in January. The lawsuit requests that the King County Superior Court penalize the firm for up to $12,500 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act, and permanently close all of its facilities.
According to Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, “Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it provided false negative results… [They] threatened the health and safety of our communities.”