San Mateo Co. ends operations with COVID testing company plagued with long delays

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A Bay Area-based COVID testing company, plagued with long delays, will no longer be operating at the San Mateo County Event Center, following an ABC7 News I-Team investigation.

County officials told the I-Team Virus Geeks will end its operations on Jan. 28 after thousands of residents waited nearly two weeks to get their COVID test results. Another company, Carbon Health, will open in the same space with a drive-through PCR test clinic.

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This all started with bio-health technology company Virus Geeks advertising to customers COVID test results would be sent back within 48 hours. But the reality? Thousands of Bay Area residents waited nearly two weeks.

"They have a right to be mad," said Lee. "I'm terribly sorry."

Overwhelmed with heightened testing demands from Omicron, Virus Geeks CEO Frank Lee told us last week his company relied on another Pleasanton-based lab, DiaCarta, to process the overflow. Lee said nearly 14,000 tests were left unprocessed in the company's facility for a week alleging the delays were due to the company only having one scientist working in the lab.

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DiaCarta's CEO Adam Zhang denied that.

Stephanie: "Could you confirm to me how many scientists were working in the lab?"
Adam Zhang: "We have three certified lab scientists."

Zhang disputes the bags amount to more than approximately 6,000 tests, but the company confirmed none of the tests pictured in the red bags were ever processed.

So what happened?

Adam Zhang: "We agreed to process 1,000 to 2,000 samples per day."
Stephanie: "How many samples did he send?"
Adam Zhang: "He sent more than 5,000 samples per day."

The company's Senior Vice President Ram Vairavan told the I-Team the company did process 13,570 PCR COVID tests and sent back the results to Virus Geeks. But Virus Geeks claimed the files were fragmented.

DiaCarta clarified the samples pictured in the red bags on the floor weren't there for seven days but stored in a refrigerator before the picture was taken. The company added they informed Virus Geeks to come get the unprocessed samples.

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"Just prior to them coming to pick up the samples from us, we took them out of the refrigerator and out to the loading dock, so that they could take it and load it into their cars," said Vairavan.

Stephanie: "Do you have a photo of the bags in the refrigerator?"
Adam Zhang: "Unfortunately, we didn't take that picture."

The I-Team spoke to Rabit Rexhepi, one of DiaCarta's clinical lab assistants, who said he carried the Virus Geeks bags from the refrigerator back to the loading zone on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16.

"When it's not finished, we put them in these big refrigerators as you can see," Rexhepi said showing us his routine via Zoom.

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According to federal guidelines, independent labs will be reimbursed up to $100 per PCR COVID test. Zhang said DiaCarta did not claim any insurance or reimbursement for the samples but told us Virus Geeks promised to pay them directly.

"We verbally agreed with Frank, that they pay us either $28 to $30 per test," Zhang said. "But, so far we have not received a penny from them."

Virus Geeks CEO Frank Lee refused to comment on whether he plans to pay DiaCarta for the thousands of samples the company says were processed. But Lee did provide us the following statement regarding the backlog caused by the Omicron surge:

"Unfortunately, the partner lab was unable to turn around tests results at the same speed that we had provided to our clients and patients over the last year. When we recognized the partner lab could not meet expectations, we mobilized the full force of our wider testing team, who are working around the clock to get test results to clients as quickly as possible. Each day we are getting ahead of this and we anticipate being back to our traditional 1-2-day turnaround very soon."

Stephanie: "What did you learn from all of this?"
Adam Zhang: "Yeah, this is a good lesson...in this pandemic, on one hand, everyone jumped to help but we probably not so careful to select a partner."

DiaCarta told the I-Team they only had a verbal agreement with Virus Geeks -- adding there was no formal contract.

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