HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY (WFLA) – Over the last few weeks, 8 On Your Side was hearing from viewers worried about a roadside tent in Ruskin advertising to be a free COVID-19 testing site. The people getting tested were promised results would be available within three days, but for some, weeks passed without any results.
Edwin was one of the individuals who reached out to 8 On Your Side concerned about the location at the corner of East College Avenue and 24th Street S.E. The Hillsborough County resident asked for us not to use his last name.
Edwin noticed the site on the side of the road and pulled over hoping to learn his COVID status. He hasn’t received any results and now he’s left with many questions.
Other people reported a similar story to the State Attorney General’s Office. A representative told us they’ve received seven complaints and they are investigating.
When 8 On Your Side visited the site Tuesday morning, there was a man and woman working at the tent. The woman was interacting with people without a mask or any other protective gear.
It’s something one of the state complainants told us seemed like a red flag when she and her husband visited the site earlier this month.
“It just seemed very shady. The people were not wearing their protective equipment like they normally would. My husband did get results, I did not get results. It just doesn’t seem to be on the up and up,” said the woman who asked to remain anonymous.
When 8 On Your Side approached the masked man operating the tent, he claimed he didn’t speak English. He called another man who claimed to work for a clinic-based out of Bradenton. He declined to speak with us in a recorded interview. When we asked to speak with the owner of the clinic, the man on the phone would not provide us a direct line to contact the individual.
8 On Your Side tried contacting the clinic multiple ways this week, but have not heard back.
When we went back to the location in Ruskin on Thursday morning, the tent and all of the signage was gone.
Edwin and other individuals who tried to get tested at the site were told to scan a QR code and fill out all of their personal information including a photo of their driver’s license. In the top left corner of a piece of paper, Edwin said he was given at the site, there’s a name of a facility based out of Illinois.
It’s the same lab Sarasota Police received reports about late last month before warning the public of a potential scheme. The police department shared a screenshot with us of the website residents expressed concern about. They were told to scan a QR code and fill out their information on that site.
The QR code from the site in Ruskin leads to a seemingly identical web page with the same logo as the Sarasota reports.
8 On Your Side reached out to the lab last month, but never received a response. We tried again this week, but haven’t yet heard back.
While both Sarasota PD and the Attorney General’s Office were both looking into the company tied to the testing, there’s no proof of any wrongdoing. 8 On Your Side will update this story if and when we hear back from the lab or clinic.
We contacted the FDOH in Hillsborough County regarding the site. We were told ‘neither the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County nor Hillsborough County government are operating a public testing site in Ruskin’.
A county representative told us code enforcement responded to the location this week. The tent was unmanned at the time. We are told having a pop-up tent like that on the property was a code violation and the since the test location was not coordinated with the Florida Department of Health, it needed to go. The county said both the tenant and property owner said they had nothing to do with the test tent and that someone had approached them asking if they would be OK with them setting up shop. Neither had the name of the individual who approached them, but led officials to believe it was a random and unsolicited request
The Attorney General’s Office shared the following signs of what could be illegitimate, pop-up testing sites.
- Having no affiliation with local medical providers or government entities;
- Not delivering test results;
- Workers seeming uninformed about the testing process; and
- Volunteers that are unmasked or not following current Center for Disease Control and Prevention point-of-care guidelines and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standards during interactions with patients.
Below are questions the AG’s office says to ask to help spot a testing-site imposter:
- Are they dressed the same as the other health care workers on site?
- Are they interacting with test seekers within the established test-site area?
- Can they accurately and correctly answer questions without seeming nervous or confused?
- Do they pressure test seekers for personal or financial information?
- Are health care guidelines and standards being followed?
Anyone suspicious of a testing-related scheme, should report it to local law enforcement and our Office at 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at MyFloridaLegal.com.