San Diego County shuts down private coronavirus testing site offered by OC clinic – Daily News

on Apr19
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While a Huntington Beach medical group continues to test folks for coronavirus in Westminster Mall’s parking lot, the group’s new testing site in San Diego County was swiftly shut down by health officials there concerned about the tests’ reliability.

“We asked this organization to provide proof that it has the necessary credentials and certifications required by state law in order to conduct the tests,” said the shutdown order from Wilma J. Wooten, public health officer for San Diego County. “The organization has failed to provide such proof.”

Matthew Abinante, a doctor of osteopathic medicine with Elevated Health in Huntington Beach, has been offering two types of COVID-19 tests in Orange County since early April via an effort called The Orange County Health Care Agency has not intervened.

This week, Abinante’s group began offering tests in the parking lot of MiraCosta College’s San Elijo campus in Cardiff. The San Diego Health and Human Services Agency ordered it closed on Wednesday, April 15.

Test results not reported

The different approaches by Orange and San Diego county officials underscore the fragmented nature of official response to the pandemic.

San Diego’s Wooten, in a letter to the college, said that the O.C. health group also failed to comply with state requirements to submit test results to the public health officer.

“Based on COVID Clinic’s failure to provide proof that it is complying with state law despite numerous requests from the county, and after consultation with the California Department of Public Health, we have concerns that COVID Clinic’s testing process is not complying with state law and therefore may not be producing reliable and verifiable results,” Wooten wrote.

“Numerous people have paid for the tests at your campus and are presumably relying on the veracity of the tests. Public reliance on such test results, and the failure of COVID Clinic to report such tests, may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and due to the severity of the pandemic this places the public’s health at risk.”

Two tests

The Orange County group has been offering two types of tests for coronavirus.

The nasal swab test, which diagnoses active virus and is generally reserved for the sickest patients, is $125. The blood test, which detects antibodies to the virus in people who’ve been exposed and either recovered or never fell ill, is $75. Both tests can be had for $175.

The swab test has been approved by the FDA, while the antibody test is not yet approved by the FDA but is tolerated with proper warnings.

Eventually, blood testing will help officials figure out who’s been infected, who might be immune, and when life can begin to resume. Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties have launched surveillance projects to start collecting this crucial information, but most counties are holding back, waiting for more guidance from the state.

Stunning early results from Santa Clara‘s testing suggest that the true coronavirus infection rate is 50 to 85 times higher than the number of confirmed cases.

Healthcare workers tend to a driver in line at a drive thru Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing site at the Westminster Mall in Westminster, CA, on Monday, Apr 6, 2020. The site, run by Elevated Health, is doing nasal testing for $125 and antibody testing for $75. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

But right now, positive blood test results don’t have currency with public health officials and aren’t included in the total infection numbers released daily by public health officials.

Abinante and Elevated Health didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the San Diego dust-up. But on Facebook, Abinante said, “San Diego is closed while we go through the red tape required by SD county.”

A commenter responded, “Maybe it should be called ‘due diligence’ and not red tape??”

Another said the FAQs from the blood test manufacturer “say multiple times these tests should just be used as PRELIMINARY results. I think it is a bit misleading what you have been offering and perhaps that is why you have been shut down.”

Many others, however, thanked the medical group for providing testing options when they’re needed and scarce.

Why the different official reactions?

The Orange County Health Care Agency said policing is generally not its role.

“(I)individual doctor’s offices/practices are not regulated by the OC Health Care Agency, unless we are actively investigating a disease outbreak which may have begun at the facility,” said a statement from spokeswoman Jessica Good. “These questions are better directed to the California Department of Public Health, as individuals privately offering testing which may not be approved by the FDA is an issue for the whole state, not just Orange County.”

The state agency did not directly address the differing county responses — or its role in them — but did say that, “With new antibody tests being offered by many sources, it is important to understand whether a test being offered is accurate or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Only four blood tests have emergency use authorization from the FDA right now. A list all of COVID-19 tests approved this way is available at

Dr. Michael Dao shows some of the Covid-19 rapid tests he acquired from South Korea at his office in Garden Grove, CA, on Wednesday, Mar 25, 2020. The test uses a drop of blood and can return results in 10 minutes. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

After the Southern California News Group reported that a Little Saigon doctor was offering quick, $47 blood tests in March, the OC Health Care Agency issued a stern warning — but did not shut him down.

“These non-approved tests can produce false results and lead to unintended negative consequences for the individual and the broader community,” Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick said at the time. She feared a false negative could lead someone who actually has COVID-19 to believe they’re fine and circulate confidently in the community, unaware they may actually be spreading the virus.

If people have questions about the legality of tests being offered or prices being charged, they should contact the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, HCA spokeswoman Good said.

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