COVID Testing Company Flouts James's Warning

Atty. Gen. Letitia James Told a Testing Company to Give Accurate Turnaround Times, Then Our Reporter Took Their Test

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, seen here at a Nov. 2, 2021, rally for taxi drivers, has warned COVID testing companies about misleading turnaround claims.


(Image: Photo by David Dee Delgago / Getty Images.)

Labworq, a company that operates pop-up COVID-19 testing sites in New York City, has been misleading the public about test turnaround times even after warnings from New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

According to multiple Labworq patients, the company has not complied with the requests from James. New Yorkers who spoke with me said that Labworq has taken much longer to turn around their test results, and in some cases lost tests altogether.

On Dec. 21, James’s office first issued a warning to the company, asserting that it was misleading consumers on turnaround times. Labworq had advertised results in 24-48 hours. But that’s not the care New Yorkers received even after James’s warning, amidst the surge of the Omicron variant.

“New Yorkers need to be given realistic timetables of when to expect their COVID-19 test results so they can plan accordingly. Labworq must immediately update its signage, its website, and notify patients of the realistic timeline in which they will receive results.” James said in her release.

Previously, the company advertised 24-48 hour turnarounds. As of Jan. 26, the website had been updated to say 2-5 day turnaround. Despite this, I found there are tents that are still up that advertise the 24-hour turnaround.

And even that turnaround time appears to be inaccurate. Numerous New Yorkers I spoke to said they’re not receiving test results in 2-5 days. In many cases, tests are taking weeks. In fact, it happened to me.

On Jan. 16, I received test results for a COVID-19 test at one of the several Labworq operated pop-up testing tents around New York City. The test came back negative. According to the sample, it had been collected on Jan. 13. That would be a three-day turnaround, if it were accurate. But the test was actually conducted on Dec. 23, 2021.

I know the test was the one I took that day because I only utilized a Labworq testing tent once since the start of the pandemic. That was on Dec. 23, 2021, ahead of a dinner with my father and two family friends. All other tests I’ve taken have been through other providers.

I am far from alone in this experience. According to emails provided to me by Rob Scheer, a resident of Manhattan, Sheer first took a PCR test Dec. 17. He did not hear back on his test results so he reached out to Labworq, which said that his results were not in the system on Dec. 27. Labworq suggested Scheer take the test once again, so he did.

He says he did not receive his results until Jan. 23.

Another resident, Julian Norton, took a test on Jan. 3. He was told he would receive the results in 5-7 days. That did not happen. Norton says he followed up with the company several times. “Eventually they told me they would never have the results,” he said. The company recommended he get tested again, according to emails he shared with me.

Norton told me he filed a claim with James’s office. According to Norton, he received a letter saying they are aware of the situation.

Indications are that the problem has not actually been rectified. Bri’anna Moore, a resident of Manhattan, said that she took a test at a Labworq facility on Jan. 4. She only received her results on Jan. 27.

As happened to me, the timeline of her results was misrepresented. Moore said that, according to her testing results, the lab which processed her sample received it only a day earlier — weeks after her initial test.

Moore also questions the accuracy of the results and the safety of the testing tents. “I was a little apprehensive once I was taking the test because the person didn’t seem like they really knew what they were doing. He wouldn’t get up to help people swab their nose and had his mask on incorrectly,” Moore says.

We cannot independently confirm the validity of the claim about the testing center but it does align with my own anecdotal experience.

Three other New Yorkers described similar experiences but opted not to be included by name in this piece. Labworq and James’s office did not respond to my requests for comment.

“When you do testing there has to be regulated procedures and they have to be followed,” Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, tells me. “Whenever you take a specimen in a hospital they quickly bring it to the lab and keep it protected,” he says.

With all of these factors combined, there are concerns about the accuracy of the results in the first place and, in turn, about the accuracy of the New York City case count.

As with others in this story, my results took so long that, after my original test, I went several times to other testing centers and took at-home tests, which fortunately produced more timely results. I had COVID. I quarantined. I have since recovered and resumed normal life.

But how many people aren't quarantining because they're not getting test results in a timely fashion? Problems like this, slipping through the cracks, are concerning at best given just how contagious the Omicron variant is and how it invokes a collective PTSD from earlier stages of the pandemic, even for me personally.

This was my second battle with COVID. The first was in March 2020. I was very sick and nearly hospitalized. My blood oxygen level dipped into the mid-80s (mid-90s is normal). I recovered but had mild long COVID until I was vaccinated in the spring of 2021.

I received my booster in early December. I tested positive around Christmas for the highly transmissible variant. Fortunately, because of the strength of the safe and effective vaccine, my second case was mild. For many, unfortunately, that’s not the case and the actions of this testing company only made a bad situation worse.

Andy Hirschfeld is a freelance reporter. You can find him on Twitter @andyreports