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Is a pop-up coronavirus testing site legitimate? Here are ways to tell

San Diego County Chief Medical Officer Eric McDonald (left)
San Diego County Chief Medical Officer Eric McDonald (pictured at left with county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher) cautions that some coronavirus testing sites may be operating scams.
(Ariana Drehsler)

Asking certain questions could reveal whether an operation is for real.

As lines grow longer at area coronavirus testing sites, San Diego County health officials are warning that some pop-up operations may be unlicensed and out to scam people.

So how do you tell which are legitimate?

Some La Jolla residents have raised questions recently about a small tent offering free testing on Girard Avenue at the corner of Torrey Pines Road.

The tent, which began operating in October, is sponsored by Pacific Beach-based DBL Solutions, though some who received tests at the site were wary when told their results were coming from ImmunoGenomics.

DBL, which operates seven other test locations in the county, says it provides a PCR saliva test, paid for through the federal CARES Act, that is sent to ImmunoGenomics, a Texas-based lab that is included on the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force laboratory list.

A tent at Girard Avenue and Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla offers free COVID-19 coronavirus testing.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Some clients also expressed concern that it was taking longer than the promised two or three days to receive their test results.

A recording at DBL’s phone number indicated that results are taking longer to process than expected because many of the company’s employees are infected with COVID-19, leaving it understaffed.

County Chief Medical Officer Eric McDonald said a fairly easy way to see whether a pop-up testing station is legitimate is to “ask some very basic questions, like what test do you use, what laboratory are you sending it to, what is your health care credential to do this test? It usually requires a license to have a professional gather that kind of specimen.”

If the location doesn’t have answers to those questions, walk away, he said.

Another tip is to walk away from a site that asks for a Social Security number or a home address, which McDonald said could indicate a scam to collect personal information.

A fake site may be out to collect someone’s money by providing bogus tests or may be providing the tests for free and bilking insurance companies for reimbursements, he said.

Such a scam isn’t unique to San Diego County and isn’t the first of its kind during the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General updated its alert on COVID-19 fraud schemes last week. Scams can include fake testing kits sold door to door and surveys that trick people into revealing personal information.

Fraud related to COVID-19 can be reported at (800) HHS-TIPS (447-8477) or oig.hhs.gov/fraud/report-fraud.

McDonald said the county has reported what appear to be fake testing sites to the California Department of Public Health Laboratory Field Services branch.

The Department of Public Health said people can report issues about testing sites to cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OSPHLD/LFS/Pages/Complaints.aspx.

To check to see if a lab is licensed in California, visit cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OSPHLD/LFS/Pages/FacilitiesVerification.aspx.

McDonald said unlicensed sites could be reported to the code enforcement office of whatever city they are in, but that might not be an easy solution.

Cities may not have the authority to run off a testing site if it is set up on a sidewalk or at another public place because of a state law passed in 2018 that encourages street vending as a new class of small business. The law, created as Senate Bill 946, allows cities to regulate street vendors if they create an ordinance that focuses on health and safety.

San Diego has not yet passed an ordinance to regulate street vendors. ◆