COVID testing scam hits Michigan, contributing to pandemic fatigue
A legitimate COVID-19 curbside testing site in Muskegon Heights, Mich. | Cory Morse / The Grand Rapids Press via AP

DETROIT—The Better Business Bureau has begun investigating the Center for Covid Control, an Illinois-based organization claiming it partners with the CDC to offer free COVID testing. According to its website, the company also offers workplace testing, has job opportunities for those interested, and advertises social media links on its “Contact Us” page. At first glance, the site is not so different from other companies and organizations offering the same service. (Solv Health is an example of a reputable testing site locator.)

However, clicking through the Center for Covid Control’s website raises concerns. The testing center locating tool no longer seems to function, its Instagram account is suspiciously vague, and its Twitter account is currently suspended. The supposed job openings also have no further links, job requirements, or any details whatsoever.

It was initially reported that of the “300+” testing sites across the nation, 17 were in and around Lansing, Michigan, and multiple sites (many of which are “temporarily” closed) in the Metro Detroit area. The west side of the state has also been reporting on the problem, as these “pop-up sites” have become more common around Grand Rapids. The Illinois Department of Public Health has since released a list of legitimate testing locations.

The BBB’s investigation was launched in part with the Oregon Department of Justice and came after complaints started to pile up nationwide. Several “fake sites” have shown up across the Chicago area. WINK news of Florida started looking into the Center after several reports of people receiving emails delivering negative results even before they had been tested. WINK investigated local testing sites in Bonita Springs as well as reached out to the Center’s customer support—only to find out they were “caller 121” and getting the runaround from employees administering tests.

Initially, reports indicated testing sites were sending out negative results seemingly automatically; however, that has not been the experience for some.

According to some individual reports People’s World received, there were some people who did in fact receive positive results, and others had to return to the testing sites days later to receive their results. One individual, however, reported that their name was spelled incorrectly on their results and the document had a timestamp of about 10 minutes before they even filled out the registration form on the website.

People’s World spoke to one Detroit citizen who, after developing several symptoms, visited one of the Center for Covid Control’s sites only to receive a negative result. Erring on the side of caution, the person decided to take an at-home test to be sure and was surprised to see a pink line indicating they tested positive. When asked what was seemingly off about the testing center, she reported that the testing room itself was very “small,” “messy,” and none of the “employees were even wearing masks.”

According to the same source, the only documentation required was a driver’s license number and medical insurance information. When considering the actual cost to the individuals getting tested, it would at first appear these sites offer a service, a benefit paid for from public funds, with no harm done. However, the “cost” is rooted in a much deeper problem today.

This “scam” comes at a dire time in the pandemic when the far-right’s anti-vax movement continues to thrive, despite the growing absurdity of its claims. Meanwhile, this movement’s energy is mixing with resigned feelings of so-called “decision fatigue” among many who are tired of having to make health-based decisions themselves.

At the heart of this fatigued attitude is the view that we have to learn to live with COVID, that our current reality is also our future. Far from just being a pessimistic acceptance, this view seems to justify “living” one’s life, going back out to restaurants and bars, being social, and not putting things off until the pandemic gets better.

On top of this, arguments against vaccine and travel shaming are becoming commonplace across supposed ideological lines as well. Views that we must all “accept” coronavirus or, at least, a specific view of “who” the virus will hurt and who it won’t—statistics around how many comorbidities are correlated with deaths from COVID-19 are informing a narrative of relief for those who consider themselves healthy and fit—are multiplying. Allegedly, 75% of the people who have died from COVID, despite being vaccinated, also had at least four comorbidities. This has led to several arguments about self-care and living healthier lifestyles as the best approach to the pandemic.

This means that the “best approach” to the pandemic is taking another hyper-individualized turn. This “acceptance” of COVID as a fact-of-life from here forward furthers the ideology that health is only an individual matter and not a social concern.

Within such a view of the pandemic is a core belief not that it’s necessarily ok that people are dying, but “it’s understandable that people are dying”—because they aren’t healthy, or because they can’t afford proper care, etc. This approach is dangerous for several reasons—namely, that it allows for people to claim that they “care” about others and their health while also accepting those people’s illnesses and death with indifference and as a personal failure. This is the biggest “symptom” of this “fatigue” today.

Such arguments take the dominant ideologies of today to their ultimate conclusion: Suggesting that it’s “understandable” that people are dying is far worse than uttering some sort of “survival of the fittest” line that it’s ok for the unhealthy to die off. The latter would (and is) often discredited as sociopathic and outwardly violent. “Understanding,” however, allows for us to hold inconsistent beliefs about the virus, shrug off responsibility, and remain “inactive” in our part of not spreading the virus for the sake of “enjoying” our lives.

The unfortunate truth is that we still cannot make total sense of the virus, who is going to die from it, when we will get ahead of the mutations, etc. What we tend to ignore is that it’s less individuals hit hard by the virus and more communities—Black communities, lower-income neighborhoods, etc. having the highest number of cases and deaths. Not to mention that contaminated water supplies, the affordability of healthy food, police violence, and racial and economic disparities have not ceased over the last two years. In fact, it has been very much the opposite: They have been exacerbated by the virus and these structural issues have come to light in every facet of our social lives.

Accepting the belief that living a healthier lifestyle—drinking more water, eating organic foods, sleeping better, etc.—as the solution to surviving COVID-19 aligns well with certain “body standards” arguments which have a long and problematic history. It also signals similar arguments for eugenics, alienates communities impacted by political-economic decisions, takes immunocompromised to be a right or “choice,” and completely obscures the “care crisis” of those who are unable to care for themselves.

In short, this belief ignores precisely how we got here in the first place. These views tend to “rationalize” death today while subtracting the predominant role of the virus by making it “understandable” that someone “actually” died. Such arguments take the dominant ideologies of today to their ultimate conclusion: When we’re often barraged with claims that surviving is tied to hard work or upward mobility, suggesting that it’s “understandable” that people are dying allows for us to shift the reality of pandemic into a purely ideological belief, shrug off responsibility, and remain “inactive” when it comes to stopping spreading the virus for the sake of “enjoying” our lives.

Having to worry about “scam” testing sites will only further feelings of “decision fatigue” and arguments that coldly distance “unhealthy” people from the rest of us. Resistance to isolating and shutting back down is not just found among the far right, and this is the current crux of the pandemic. Whether arguing from a Westernized holistic perspective or that of the pseudo-scientific “natural immunity” viewpoint, the liberalized view of individuality is playing the dominant role here and it’s a place where the far right, “moderates,” and many liberals agree—maybe not in theory but certainly in practice.

The reality of the pandemic is moving further and further into an argument over who owns “health” and this fits all too well into the ideologies that already divide us on politics, race, gender, property, economics, etc. Reducing the spread of coronavirus will not occur by distinguishing deaths from COVID from deaths with COVID. It will require the political-economic structural changes that many of us are still demanding.

For proper COVID testing, the Department of Health in Michigan recommends checking their list for legitimate locations.


CONTRIBUTOR

Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is an essayist and activist based out of Detroit.  He has written and presented on topics such as suicide and mental health, class struggle, gender studies, politics, ideology, and philosophy.

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