A building with a sign advertising covid tests. The building has graffiti covering the windows.
One of the Center for Covid Control's testing locations in Portland. Isabella Garcia

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is suing the Center for Covid Control, a private COVID-19 testing company that operated approximately 300 testing locations throughout the US, three of which were in the Portland area.

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Rosenblum is accusing the company of deceptive marketing of its testing services and violating Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, which protects against deceptive business practices. The lawsuit—which also names the company’s testing partner Doctors Clinical Laboratory—alleges the company owners had no medical testing background, funneled millions of federal funding intended to cover the cost of testing into their own pockets, and asks that the testing provider be permanently banned from providing COVID-19 testing in Oregon.

Oregon is the second state to sue the Center for Covid Control, joining Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson who sued the company in January over invalid tests. The company is also under investigation by the FBI.

The Center for Covid Control’s website claimed it provided both rapid testing and more sensitive PCR testing with results within 24 to 72 hours.

“In reality, they produced questionable test results—and lacked proper capacity to store and process the thousands of test specimens they received each day,” an Oregon Department of Justice press release said Thursday.

The Center for Covid Control closed all of its national testing sites in January following media reports of fraudulent and expired tests at several sites and investigations by the FBI and multiple states' criminal justice departments.

According to the lawsuit, Illinois couple Aleya Siyaj and Akbar Ali Syed formed the Center for Covid Control in 2020. Before creating the testing company, the couple ran an ax-throwing lounge and photography studio in Illinois. In fall of 2021—amid the delta surge—the company rapidly expanded, opening a total of approximately 300 testing sites nationwide, five of which were in Oregon. However, according to the lawsuit, the Center for Covid Control did not expand its testing capabilities to support its new operations.

“In or around late 2021, the number of PCR specimens sent to [the Center for Covid Control] and [Doctors Clinical Laboratory] for testing increased ten-fold, from 8,000 to 85,000 per day,” the lawsuit states. “Instead of pausing collections or increasing testing capacity to meet demand, Defendants continued to funnel the millions of dollars received from the federal government for testing to the companies’ owners.”

According to the state investigation, a portion of tests collected by the company went untested due to a lack of testing capacity. The lawsuit does not state how much money the Center for Covid Control received from the federal government in total or how much money was actually used to cover the costs of processing the tests it was able to handle. According to the lawsuit, Siyaj and Syed owned a $1.36 million mansion and several luxury cars including two Lamborghinis, a Tesla, and a Ferrari Enzo which alone cost $3.7 million.

The state investigation also found that due to lack of training, poor labeling, and mishandling of tests, the tests that were able to be processed by the Center for Covid Control and its partner lab may not have been accurate. After each test was administered, it was placed in a biohazard bag with an index card with the patient’s information on it. Because each specimen tube was not labeled, if the tube was separated from the index card, there would be no way of knowing who the test sample belonged to. The test specimens were also left unrefrigerated during collection and shipping, which can ruin the sample.

The Center for Covid Control’s partner lab also never reported any of its test results to the Oregon Health Authority, as required by law, until after it had closed its testing facilities. Then, the lab reported test results for just five days in January 2022. The company operated in Oregon from August 2021 to January 2022 and should have reported results from approximately 160 days in total.

Portlanders who received rapid tests from the Center for Covid Control told the Mercury in January that they didn’t experience anything at the sites that made them question the validity of their test—especially because COVID testing was so varied at the time.

“Maybe a couple things seemed odd, but this whole COVID situation is odd,” a patient named Naomi said. “I mean, I did a Curative [another private company offering free tests] test last week in the field at Revolution Hall. I don’t know what’s normal.”

Naomi had taken a test at a Center for Covid Control site before traveling to see family and friends for Christmas.

“They advertised quick and accurate test results, and people put their faith in them—during a time when testing for COVID-19 was in high demand,” Rosenblum said in a press release. “As a result, Oregonians made crucial decisions—about returning to work or school, travel, and visiting family and friends—in reliance on shoddy tests.”

In addition to blocking the company from operating in Oregon ever again, the lawsuit also seeks up to $25,000 for each violation and restitution for consumers as determined by the court.

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