A suburban Chicago-based COVID-19 testing company that has been the source of complaints and anger nationwide has announced it will temporarily pause its testing efforts for at least a week in the midst of the omicron surge.
Center for COVID Control has 320 testing locations in 22 states, including many in the Chicago area, and is based in Rolling Meadows, according to its state license.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office told NBC 5 Responds it has now opened an investigation into the company and its operations.
For weeks, complaints ranging from results gone missing to results that are completely inaccurate have led some states to launch formal inquiries amidst calls for greater transparency on how the business operates.
Those complaints led to the company’s CEO Aleya Siyaj acknowledging some of the company’s missteps on Thursday when it announced a one-week pause of operations to provide additional staff training and education.
“Center for Covid Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and most compliant manner,” Siyaj said in a news release. “Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments.”
The company said it will stop collecting test specimens starting on Jan. 14 with plans to reopen a week later on Jan. 22, 2022.
“We’ve made this difficult decision to temporarily pause all operations, until we are confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality," Siyaj said.
This week, several states have announced formal investigations into the company, including here in Illinois.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General’s office told NBC 5 Responds on Thursday that after receiving several complaints, it has now opened an investigation.
“As a result of complaints from residents, as well as reported problems at pop-up testing locations connected to the Center for COVID Control, we have opened an investigation,” the office said.
Chicago’s Better Business Bureau said it has been actively looking into an influx of complaints about the company - ranging from missing test results, to staff asking for too much information.
“The company has been unresponsive to the BBB inquiring about the complaints,” said BBB spokesperson Thomas Johnson. “Center for Covid Control has the lowest grade the BBB gives,” an F-rating.
Center for COVID Control did not respond to NBC 5’s inquiries about specific consumer complaints.
While some complaints have focused on staff not wearing PPE, as well as unorganized test collection methods, other complaints are more serious.
Robert McNees of the Chicago-area told NBC 5 Responds that back on Dec. 22, 2021, during the height of the Omicron surge, he, his wife and daughter went to a Center for COVID Control testing site on North Howard Street to find out if they were infected.
McNees said the family stood in line and scanned a QR code for an application to fill out, including a way to share their health insurance information.
When the family finally got inside the testing location, McNees said he started to have some doubts about the process. He said he witnessed staff not wearing masks appropriately, and that those waiting for tests were standing indoors, close together.
The family was given their testing swabs and asked the staff if they could administer the test in their car in the parking lot. With a lack of instructions on how to conduct the test, the family decided it would be best to find another facility for their testing needs, and left the location without delivering the swabs.
But five hours later, McNees said he received testing results by email, indicating he had tested negative.
“We were surprised and we weren't sure what to make of it,” McNees said. “We talked about it for a while and kind of arrived at the conclusion that it was probably their busiest day of the year. And if there was going to be a day that there was a mix up or a mistake, that would probably be it.”
McNees said he feels like the problem was likely due to high demand, and stress on the testing system nationwide.
Now, investigators across the country are taking a closer look at consumer complaints involving Center for COVID Control.
In addition to Illinois, state Attorney General’s offices in Oregon and Massachusetts, as well as the California Department of Public Health, have said they are looking into the company’s operations this week after receiving consumer complaints.
Last month, the company told NBC 5’s Vi Nguyen that as the demand for COVID-19 tests has increased, so have complaints from the public to local health departments, leading to government entities getting in the way of its testing efforts.
“We’re constantly fighting the government entities that should be helping us but rather, they make our life a lot more difficult than it needs to be,” said owner Ali Syed.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office said it has received at least ten complaints about the Center for COVID Control, and it is encouraging members of the public to report any problems.
“We encourage individuals to report experiencing problems with the Center for COVID Control or other pop-up COVID-19 testing locations to file complaints on our website (linked here),” the AG’s office said.