The COVID-19 testing tents that have popped up across Manhattan with the promise of results in 24 hours are “misleading” customers, according to Attorney General Letitia James’ office.
The AG came down on Labworq, which operates the tents, in a letter sent Wednesday saying some who had submitted to a nasal swab at the outdoor testing sites had been waiting more than five days for results.
Labworq users have been griping on social media about long delays with some saying the company is a “scam” and others bemoaning having to change travel plans when the purportedly speedy results did not arrive in time.
“Misleading statements about when individuals can expect COVID-19 test results is especially concerning during the holiday season, since many individuals are relying on these test results to make decisions about whether they can travel or attend family gatherings,” wrote Mary Alestra, special counsel in the AG’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection.
Alestra directed the company to immediately update its website and signage at testing tents with accurate information. She noted that the office can “investigate and commence legal action” to stop “deceptive” business practices.
By Thursday morning, the Labworq site said results would take three to four days and by late afternoon, the time frame had been extended to five to seven days.
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But at three tents in the Union Square area Thursday afternoon, none of the workers provided accurate information on the availability of results, with one saying they could come as soon as 24 hours. The outside of two tents still promised 24-hour turnarounds.
“I thought it was 24 hours. He just said 72,” said Kenyanna McDonnald, 28, who had her nose swabbed at a Labworq tent on 14th Street to make sure she was negative for COVID-19 in the midst of the explosion in cases.
At a LabQ van down the block, results were being promised in 72 hours, while its website said they could take as long as five days. The attorney general’s office also directed LabQ, which is based in Brooklyn, to stop misrepresenting how long results take.
Kim Williams, 53, of Chelsea, said she took a test at Labworq tent on Dec. 13 for a flight to Canada two days later, which she had to cancel when her results did not come on time. The delay came even before the rush for testing spiked across the Big Apple.
“It seems like their goal is to swab you. They don’t seem concerned about whether or not you actually get the test,” Williams said.
Labworq’s address is a computer repair shop in Williamsburg where a worker told The Post they didn’t know anything about the testing business.
The tests are actually done by a company called ProPhase in Garden City, LI.
Pavel Zaichenko, who founded Labworq in August and also owns the computer repair business, said the company acted as a collection agency for ProPhase and it had become overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases surged.
“We are working very hard to resolve these issues,” Zaichenko said.
He said the company went from processing about 5,000 tests a day to 20,000. It was forced to cut back on the number of tents it puts up from as many as 200 to about 40 because the lab could not keep up. The tents are also closing earlier at 3 p.m.
“We have been bombarded,” he said. “We’re scrambling to try to get things back on track.”
Zaichenko said he was looking to work with more laboratories to speed up processing.
Since the company is not a lab, it is not regulated by the state Department of Health. The city DOH doesn’t oversee it, either.
Ted Karkus, the CEO of ProPhase, said it was beefing up staff to process more samples as “everyone, everywhere in the metropolitan area wants to be tested.”
“We have state-of-the art lab equipment and we have the supplies, but as with every industry, there is a shortage of qualified personnel to handle the influx,” he said. “You cannot snap your fingers and hire 100 or 200 employees in 24 hours.”
Additional reporting by Gabriella Bass