A walk-up Covid-19 testing site at 18th and Dolores streets administering up to 100 free PCR tests a day is run by a company that Marin County shut down in August of last year for operating without a permit.
Bob Soto, a lab assistant at Community Wellness America, Inc., was the only employee at the site’s testing tent on Friday and Saturday. He could not produce permitting papers on either day, when asked by Mission Local.
He said his company contracts with Crestview Clinical Laboratory, LLC, based in Irvine, California, and the 18th and Dolores street site is permitted. Community Wellness America, which is not a lab, ran into trouble in August when Marin County officials shut down a site they described as unlicensed. In April, 2020, public health officials in Washington state urged people to avoid “unusual” testing sites operated by the company.
“The testing site should be able to produce the license when asked,” a San Francisco Department of Public Health spokesperson wrote in an email. “We are aware of groups offering Covid-19 testing in the City that do not appear to have the appropriate permits and licensing to set up testing stations.”
The Health Department did not confirm whether the 18th and Dolores site was permitted. Soto today told our reporter to return at 4 p.m. to view his paperwork. By that time, however, the site had packed up and was nowhere to be seen.
The number he provided for his boss went through to a Verizon automated message stating that the “wireless customer you are trying to reach is not available.”
Public health officials said that city residents should be cautious. All testing sites should have a valid Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) license through the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The Department of Public Health encouraged community members to check the city’s testing page for testing sites. The Community Wellness America site is not listed there, and the company could not be reached for comment.
“No one is giving us trouble. No police have come by and told us we can’t be here,” said Soto to a person being swabbed who thanked Soto for being there.
Soto told the resident that they could expect their test results within two to five days, but he also told Mission Local that their “delivery service has Covid-19,” and expected results to take longer over the weekend.
Salu Ribeiro is the co-founder and CEO of mobile testing company Bay Area PLS, which provides rapid testing at the Unidos en Salud community testing site at 24th and Capp streets. He said he was not familiar with the 18th and Dolores site or Community Wellness America. Community Wellness America should be able to show permits on demand, he said.
Ribeiro’s company, he said, has dealt with illegitimate testing companies before, including one last week which assumed the identity of his testing site in Oakland to draw customers.
At the 18th and Dolores site, test-takers were asked to fill out a form with the their contact information, including name, address, phone number and email. The form also asked about symptoms, whether the test seeker had received a covid test previously, and dates of vaccination. If uninsured, the form asked for a driver’s license or passport number.
With the information the testing site asks of test-takers, Ribeiro said, the company can bill the government through the CARES Act and private insurers. “A lot of labs have gotten people’s information and billed the government, but people never get results,” Riberio said.
Earlier this week, Community Wellness America was administering tests at 18th and Church streets. Soto said they had another testing pop-up in the area between August and mid-September of last year.
On Friday afternoon, the 18th and Dolores site line ebbed and flowed between 10 to 15 people but had nearly disappeared by 3:15 p.m. A similar number were waiting to be tested on Saturday morning.
Official hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Soto said he just goes until tests run out. The demand seemed consistent enough that Soto plans to stay at that location Monday through Saturday.
Several individuals in line wondered whether the site was legitimate, but they were more concerned about getting a test.
A mother had been searching all over the city for tests on Friday when she saw the site at 18th and Dolores. However, she eventually left the Wellness America line to try the city’s site at the Alemany market.
A woman in line on Saturday confided to someone she was speaking to over the phone how “I just came across a free testing site. I feel weird, but you never know.”
For information about getting tested and help finding a testing location, visit sf.gov/gettested.