Editor's note: This story was updated Saturday afternoon to reflect the Colorado attorney general's order.
As complaints swirl over a pair of COVID-19 test site chains, the Colorado state health department and Colorado Attorney General have ordered the chains stop all testing in the state, including one that's been operating in Fort Collins.
Mac Again Medical Group's 1700 S. College Ave. COVID-19 testing site was issued a cease and desist order by the state after it failed to comply with test reporting requirements, the office of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Saturday.
Center for Covid Control, an Illinois-based company that was planning to open a new location at 2925 S. College Ave. in Fort Collins on Monday, was also issued a cease and desist order for a trio of its Denver and Englewood testing sites.
According to Weiser's office, the center was not properly certified by the federal government to perform COVID-19 testing and failed to report COVID-19 testing results to the state health department, as required by state law.
On Thursday, following news that the Oregon Department of Justice and two Better Business Bureau offices were also investigating the company, Center for Covid Control announced it would temporarily pause its testing operations through Jan. 22, citing in a company news release that its "unusually high" recent patient demand affected "our usual customer service standards and diagnostic goals."
Mac Again was becoming the subject of mounting complaints in Fort Collins the week of Jan. 9, with the Larimer County health department reporting a handful of consumer complaints made about the medical group by Jan. 12, department spokesperson Kori Wilford said.
Individuals who complained to the department's call center said they did not receive their COVID-19 test results from the site. Some also said Mac Again's patient questionnaire asked them for their Social Security number, which they thought was too personal for a COVID-19 testing questionnaire.
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Wilford noted that Mako Medical, which operates Larimer County's free community testing sites, also asked for individuals' Social Security numbers when it first started operating the county's testing sites. Mako Medical has since removed that field from its online registration form at the request of the county, Wilford said.
Colorado's state health department had also received complaints about Mac Again and said Friday it was working with its federal partners to investigate them. The complaints center around cleanliness of its sites, a lack of physical distancing and not providing testing results in a timely manner, a department spokesperson said in an email Friday to the Coloradoan.
Colorado State University student Amanda Ruybal and Avalon Clare — both recent customers of Mac Again's Fort Collins testing location — told the Coloradoan that while they got their rapid test results from Mac Again within minutes of submitting their tests, neither received their promised PCR test results.
Looking back, Ruybal — who went to the testing center after developing symptoms on Jan. 1 — said the testing site, which operates out of an unassuming midtown Fort Collins strip mall, felt informal for a medical office.
The building was cramped with other test takers — some of whom Ruybal said had their masks pulled below their noses.
"It just seemed off," Ruybal said. "But I was just happy to have something."
After traveling from Milwaukee to Fort Collins to see family for the holidays, Clare said she, too, was desperate to find a COVID-19 testing site after the friend she had driven out to Colorado with developed symptoms on Dec. 29.
Since Larimer County's free Fort Collins testing site at Timberline Church was sometimes experiencing hourslong waits in late December, Clare said she felt lucky to find Mac Again, which popped up in her Google search results and promised free, walk-in rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests.
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Clare, Clare's fiance, parents and their friend all got tested. Their rapid test results, like Ruybal's, came back within minutes, but they never heard back about their PCR tests, Clare said.
Clare said she called the number listed on the site's Google profile and followed instructions on its automated message to inquire about the group's missing PCR results. She also tried to fill out a contact form on the company's website but said it had been disabled.
"I reached out in every way they said to," Clare said.
After finding little information on Mac Again Medical Group online, Clare got increasingly concerned when she stumbled across a Jan. 7 USA TODAY report featuring similar complaints about Center for Covid Control, a separate, Illinois-based COVID-19 testing company that is now being investigated by the Colorado health department, the Oregon Department of Justice and at least two Better Business Bureau locations.
“I feel a little foolish because looking back it seems a little too good to be true," Clare said.
Mac Again responds
A man who identified himself as the manager of Mac Again's Colorado locations told a Coloradoan reporter Friday that Mac Again's Colorado sites were previously associated with Center for Covid Control but hadn't been since November. He declined to give the Coloradoan his last name or issue any official statements from the medical group.
The man said some recent Mac Again tests may not have been processed because the labs Mac Again uses were inundated as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and large pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS stopped scheduling COVID-19 test appointments — flooding Mac Again with more patients.
No rapid or PCR test appointments were available at any of Walgreens' or CVS's Fort Collins locations on Friday, the pharmacies' websites indicated.
The unnamed Mac Again manager also addressed a fear Ruybal voiced about the medical group possibly using its patient questionnaire to harvest personal information or bill patients' insurance for tests that were never completed. While Ruybal input her insurance information into the patient questionnaire, she said her insurance hadn't been billed for it as of Wednesday.
The manager said all of Mac Again's systems are HIPAA certified in order to protect personal information. He also disputed a claim by Ruybal that she saw one of Mac Again's Fort Collins employees wearing a plastic face shield but not a face mask when working at the site Jan. 1.
How to file a complaint about a COVID test site
Since regulating diagnostic laboratory testing is delegated to states' respective health departments through the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Larimer County health department has been referring people with testing site complaints to the state.
Complaints can be submitted to the Colorado department of health by emailing email@example.com.
"We ask that anyone having COVID-19 symptoms not wait to be tested or wait for test results before isolating away from others," Wilford wrote in an email to the Coloradoan. "With the surge of Omicron cases, we're relying on our community to do the right thing and stay home if feeling sick."
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Fort Collins COVID test site ordered by Colorado Attorney General to stop