COVID-19 testing company under scrutiny pauses operations in Jacksonville, other cities

The I-TEAM has been looking into this site since learning of issues at other locations

A COVID-19 testing company with a location in downtown Jacksonville has suspended operations.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A COVID-19 testing company with a location in downtown Jacksonville has suspended operations.

This comes after the News4JAX I-TEAM began asking questions about its operations.

Center for COVID Control says it has more than 300 testing sites across the country. The company said it’s pausing operations Friday with plans to reopen next Saturday. It said increased demand has affected its service.

But the center in downtown Jacksonville will have to reopen elsewhere, the I-TEAM learned Friday morning. The owner of the building on Bay Street where the site was renting an office informed News4JAX that the center’s lease had been terminated.

“I own the building where the COVID testing site is located as a tenant. We communicated to them last night that we were terminating our lease,” Kevin Gay told the I-TEAM via text message.

The I-TEAM has been looking into the downtown Jacksonville site since learning of issues at other locations and found there’s little oversight.

Complaints against Center for COVID Control have poured into Better Business Bureaus across the country. People have complained about not receiving test results from the pop-up testing sites. In Southwest Florida, people complained about having their test results emailed to them while they were still in line to take the test.

Dr. Saman Soleymani of Avecina Medical in Jacksonville said that in recent weeks, six to eight patients have come to his practice after complaining of the same thing, although he declined to say where they had been previously tested.

“We obviously saw them. They were symptomatic and they tested positive,” Soleymani said.

Gabriela Christensen-Sullins said she went to the Bay Street location after being exposed at work. She said she didn’t notice any red flags.

“There was a nurse there that was waiting, and she greeted me. She told me exactly what to fill out on my phone and stuff so nothing made me feel like, oh, this is kind of sketchy,” Christensen-Sullins said.

But now she’s questioning her results.

“I’m like, what’s going on for so many errors to be occurring?” she asked. “So yeah it is a little bit concerning.”

News4JAX went to check out the Center for COVID Control site, which had been located upstairs past a coffee shop on Bay Street. Reporter Anne Maxwell filled out insurance information and did the test. The results came back negative in about two hours, as promised.

But how do we know they’re accurate?

The federal lab ID number listed on patient results is associated with a lab in Illinois, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, which has the same registered address as Center for COVID Control.

But workers told us the tests are processed in-house by hand at the Jacksonville location.

The I-TEAM reached out to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration and was told COVID-19 testing sites need to be registered with a lab, but for some circumstances, testing sites are registered with a lab that’s out of state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some tests don’t have to be performed in federally licensed labs, although the CDC acknowledges some of those tests can have errors, especially when testing personnel aren’t familiar with how the tests work.

The I-TEAM asked Center for COVID Control what kind of testing it does, but the company responded saying it was suspending service, citing high demand for testing because of the Omicron surge that has stressed staffing at some locations.

In a statement, the company said, “CCC will use this operational pause for additional staff training in sample collection and handling, a refocus on customer service and communication practices, and ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines.”

Federal records show the lab associated with Center for COVID Control has received more than $113 million from the federal government reimbursing them for COVID-19 testing for people without insurance.

The company also said Thursday it’s responding to questions from several public health and regulatory agencies.

In Massachusetts, health officials reportedly ordered Center for COVID Control to cease offering testing there Thursday.

About the Authors:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.