SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — An outdoor COVID-19 testing operator will cease all virus testing operations in San Francisco after the city took enforcement actions.
For months, Gentech operated out of its characteristic green tents advertising COVID-19, flu, and RSV tests. “In addition to a lack of personal protective equipment and compliance with sanitation requirements, Gentech paid members of the public $5 in cash for every test taken,” the City Attorney’s Office wrote.
Many of the tents popped up and operated near open-air drug markets. Cash payments appeared to facilitate illicit drug sales and activity, according to city officials.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott described the green COVID testing sites as “highly questionable.” The City Attorney’s Office called the sites “problematic.”
Chief Scott said, “Our officers worked with the DPH (Department of Public Health) to identify operators in violation of the city’s health order before citing them and seizing their property. Since Gentech has ceased operations, less money is being funneled into the illicit drug markets, and the public has more right-of-way in our downtown corridor.”
Lawyers with Gentech and the City Attorney’s Office reached an agreement for all operations to cease in San Francisco.
“As we head into winter, ensuring the integrity of our virus testing operations is of the utmost importance,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “At this time, almost four years into the pandemic, the public can rest assured that the vast majority of testing operators in San Francisco are legitimate and provide a much-needed public health service. However, the City has put a health order in place make sure we have the legal tools necessary to weed out any bad actors.”
On October 11, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip issued a Health Order setting standards for sites that collect specimens for COVID-19, flu, RSV, or other viruses to ensure they meet minimum infection control and safety standards.
The city’s public health department and police initiated an enforcement campaign to ensure compliance with the order and deter any ancillary illegal activity, the City Attorney’s Office said.
Mayor London Breed said, “Ensuring people have access to public health resources is critical, but we cannot let others use this as an opportunity to facilitate and worsen the drug crisis on our streets.”
Gentech released a statement to KRON4 on Monday. The company wrote, “Gentech operates a state-licensed, federally certified, and privately accredited clinical laboratory. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has proudly served the COVID-19 testing needs of San Franciscans.”
Gentech’s statement continued, “Recently, Gentech temporarily paused its COVID-19 specimen collection activities in San Francisco to evaluate other testing services that can be provided in the city. Gentech made this decision voluntarily after proactively consulting with the City Attorney’s Office. Further, we are dismayed by the allegations that Gentech’s collection sites are in any way tied to San Francisco’s illicit open drug markets. These false, defamatory claims are meritless. Gentech conducts its business in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, including a recently adopted rule by the San Francisco health officer regulating COVID-19 specimen collection sites. We will continue to cooperate with city officials in our mission to make testing services widely and conveniently accessible to the public.”
The city’s new standards will ensure that testing is being conducted by a verified source, city officials said.
As the demand for virus testing increases during the winter months, members of the public should be aware that the Health Order requires specimen collection sites to partner with a trusted community entity, such as a government agency, school, or healthcare provider.