OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Suspicious COVID test sites are popping up across the Bay Area. The Alameda County Public Health Dept. is investigating complaints against one local site officials say is raising red flags in Oakland.
"I want to believe you're here for the right reasons but you're not giving me any proof," said ABC7's Stephanie Sierra to a woman collecting tests in the city's north side off College Avenue in front of Safeway.
Health officials said they've received complaints about suspicious COVID test sites asking all the wrong questions - including requests for your social security number, immigration status, and even asking for large amounts of money just to get a COVID test. But in this case, investigators caution silence alone can raise suspicion.
A young woman claims to be a volunteer advertising free COVID testing on the Nextdoor app at several locations across Alameda County -- including one off College Ave. in Oakland right outside Safeway.
"Let me be clear, we have received concerns about that location," said Vassilisa Kapila, the COVID testing lead for the Alameda County Public Health Department. Her team received three to four complaints about unauthorized COVID test sites across the county each week. She says this College Avenue site is raising eyebrows for not being transparent.
"They should be able to say who they're affiliated with and how they're operating," said Kapila.
The ABC7 News I-Team tried to verify that.
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"Ata? We have a question for you," Sierra asked after introducing herself as a reporter with ABC7.
Stephanie: "Ata, I'm asking you a question."
Young woman: "I don't consent to being filmed."
Stephanie: "You're on public property here."
"Can you explain to me where you're sending your samples?"
Again -- just silence.
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"Some of the common complaints we're getting right now is that it's a one-person operation, it's unmarked, it's unclear whether equipment and supplies are being managed the way they should be," said Kapila. "Then not really knowing who's behind it."
At first glance, a Hayward-based lab Predicine is advertised at the site. Predicine told the I-Team this site is run by one of their contractors Red Shelf - a company that collects COVID tests and receives a payment for each test processed. Some viewers who visited the site wrote on Nextdoor complaining they never got their results back.
The I-Team reached out to Red Shelf for further comment last Friday and again this week but didn't get a response.
Predicine declined our requests for an interview but did send us the following statement:
"Predicine provides COVID-19 collection and testing services either directly or through our qualified contractors. Predicine provides comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each step of the testing process to maintain quality and consistency. We adhere to all regulatory requirements, including Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and College of American Pathologists (CAP). Copies of Predicine's CLIA and other licenses are provided to each of our collection contractors."
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Alameda County health officials told the I-Team, upon request, legitimate pop-up sites should be able to provide the name and federal CLIA certification number of the lab used to process their tests.
Stephanie: "Ata, can you provide the CLIA certification number?"
We asked again several times, but the young woman manning the booth just remained silent staring at her phone.
Stephanie: "Why are you being silent if you have nothing to hide?"
"That's a red flag," said Kapila, adding simple details about the lab should be provided.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said unauthorized or non-compliant test sites are becoming a statewide problem. The I-Team asked Bonta about the refusal to give out the CLIA certification at the Oakland test site.
"Would you consider that a red flag?" Sierra asked.
"Yes," Bonta said.
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Though it's unclear whether Alameda County Public Health Officials will take any action with this site, others have been cited for not following protocols or worse.
"Some of these sites are testing individuals and taking their money in exchange, but never providing a testing result or providing a fake testing result," Bonta said adding others are taking personal identifying information and using that for identity theft. "If your antenna is up, be careful because there are scammers out there. This is real - a real threat."
The Oakland pop-up test site has previously been kicked off Safeway's property after customers complained and store management told the I-Team the site wasn't cleared to operate on their property. Yet, the site just moved a few yards to the left and continued collecting samples.
"Are you concerned this site is still operating?" Sierra asked.
"We are definitely concerned," Kapila said. "If it continues not to be in alignment with testing site guidance."
Bonta said depending on the facts in each case, there could be significant penalties for people violating testing protocols. This includes criminal and civil fraud charges and potentially even identity theft which can be punishable as a felony.
Alameda County health officials told the I-Team they're still working to decide which agency will regulate the College Avenue test site in Oakland. In the meantime, health officials caution consumers to stay alert if sites can't or won't provide basic information about the lab and how your personal information will be used.
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