Minn. AG Ellison sues COVID testing operation over flawed results

A man wearing a suit and face mask walks out of a building
Attorney General Keith Ellison walks out of the Family Justice Center to speak to the media in 2020 in downtown Minneapolis. Ellison has sued COVID-19 testing companies, alleging they failed to deliver accurate test results, or results at all.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Minnesota’s attorney general sued two Illinois-based companies Wednesday over COVID-19 testing allegedly rife with problems.

Attorney General Keith Ellison is seeking an injunction and financial penalties against Center for Covid Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, whose operations overlap. Their tests were offered at eight sites in Minnesota.

The lawsuit filed in Hennepin County alleges people failed to get timely results or any at all, others said they received results for tests they didn’t take. In a news conference, Ellison said deceptive practices during a pandemic won’t go unanswered.

“Issuing false results, not issuing results at all undermines the public’s trust in this crucial tool of testing. We cannot have that,” Ellison said. “These companies’ taking advantage of Minnesotans for profit during this vulnerable time for families is unconscionable.”

The companies are under scrutiny in other states in connection to more than 300 locations they operate. A Center for Covid Control statement issued last week blamed high demand for problems. It recently paused operations to fix flaws but plans to resume testing this weekend.

“Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments,” the center’s founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

Minnesota Health Department officials raised concerns with the entities over data reporting practices, both related to security and accuracy. The lawsuit said in one batch of results there was a 74 percent positivity rate, which was 10 times above the state average at the time and suggested either flaws in testing or that only positive results were being submitted.

The lawsuit also alleges specimens were mishandled, citing former employee reports of trash bags containing old samples that hadn’t been refrigerated.

The company, which shares an address with Doctors Clinical Laboratory, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the Minnesota litigation.

They had pop-up testing clinics mostly in the Twin Cities but also in Rochester, Minn., and on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Both rapid tests and PCR tests were offered with results promised swiftly.

The company receives payment through insurers or federal reimbursement; Ellison declined to say if it was under any state criminal investigation for claims submitted.

Edward Hugener said he sensed trouble when he tried to get a test for himself and his 12-year-old daughter at a cramped Minneapolis location.

“The whole time within that room — 15-by-15 square-foot roughly — there was zero social distancing, no sanitizer, no signage to wear masks or anything,” he said. “At that point, I was like this place is a little bit shady. I know what shady looks like and this was it.”

He said they left before getting a COVID-19 test but received documentation later from the lab that they had tested negative.

“This is what really got me to raise the red flag,” Hugener said, explaining why he was among the people to contact Ellison’s office. “It was an absolute disaster.”

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