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SF City Attorney Investigating Potentially Unlicensed COVID Testing Company

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Tuesday his office is investigating a local COVID testing operator that could be working without a license.

Chiu recently sent a letter to testing company Community Wellness America, Inc. asking for proof that it obtained the proper licenses to operate within the city.

"It would be unacceptable if there are rogue actors who are trying to exploit the situation, setting up unlicensed testing facilities to try and make a quick buck," said San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu. "We're specifically looking for a specific federal license that these operators are supposed to have."

In a press release, Chiu said the letter was part of a new operation with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) to track down unlicensed testing operators in the city.

"During this Omicron surge, ensuring the integrity of our COVID testing operations is of the utmost importance," said Chiu. "Our testing capacity is stretched to the maximum right now, and there is understandable anxiety about finding a test."

Chiu's office said that it received reports of Community Wellness America, Inc. possibly operating without a license starting Jan. 5. The company hosted testing sites near Golden Gate Park and Dolores Park among other areas, and when asked, those pop-up testing operations were unable to produce valid, up-to-date Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) licenses, according to reports.

At the corner of Dolores and 18th Streets on Monday, the company had set up a pop-up testing site. On Tuesday, that site was gone and the company was under investigation by the city.

San Francisco requires all testing operators to have a valid CLIA license issued by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which they can receive by demonstrating they use only FDA-approved COVID tests.

"Private testing operators do not need to obtain a license from the San Francisco Department of Public Health in order to perform COVID tests in San Francisco," Chiu's office said. "However, if an operator intends to conduct testing on city property or block a public right-of-way, the operator must have a permit issued by the San Francisco Department of Public Works."

KPIX did some checking into Community Wellness America and found a number of details.

IRS documents reveal the organization is 501c3 - a tax exempt public charity. The certificate on display at the pop-up site next to Mission High School was for its partner, Crestview Clinical Laboratories -- which is supposed to test all the samples, but that certificate had expired in November. KPIX found a federal website indicating it actually expires at the end of this month.

Chiu is concerned about whether the tests being handed out are valid along with other issues.

"In addition to individuals who may not be getting tests that are legitimate, licensed or authorized, we are concerned at the same time members of the public might be having their personally identifiable information taken by those rogue operators and used for who knows what," said Chiu.

No one know if it that is the case with Community Wellness America. The medical director told KPIX he was surprised the lab certificate had expired, but didn't answer any other questions.

A testing site would be allowed to operate on the sidewalk in San Francisco with a permit from the Department of Public Works. DPW tells KPIX that no such permit exists for Community Wellness America anywhere near Mission High School or in the city at all.

KPIX tried to contact the owner of Community Wellness America. He is licensed to practice acupuncture in the State of California, but has yet to return any calls or emails.

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