Problematic COVID test sites cease operations after City enforcement action

Gentech agrees to cease San Francisco operations after City investigation revealed cash payments given to test takers facilitated drug activity

SAN FRANCISCO (November 16, 2023) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, Mayor London N. Breed, Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip, and SFPD Chief Bill Scott announced today that Gentech, an outdoor COVID-19 testing operator, has agreed to cease all virus testing operations in San Francisco, following conversations with the City and multi-department enforcement efforts.

Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu speak at a press conference in August 2022.

For months, Gentech operated out of their 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. Many of the testing tents operated near open air drug markets, and the cash payments appeared to facilitate drug sales and activity.

After a multi-department enforcement effort to ensure compliance with a recently issued Health Order and similar ordinance authored by Supervisor Dean Preston, the City Attorney’s Office engaged with counsel for Gentech and the company agreed to cease operations 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. We appreciate that Gentech has engaged with the City and has ceased all operations in San Francisco.”

“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,” said Mayor London Breed. “This is part of the broader work we are doing to improve the conditions on our streets while providing safe, accessible services for our residents. I want to thank our City Attorney, Department of Public Health, and Police Department for working together to remove these operations from our streets.”

“Our goal is to protect and promote the health of all San Franciscans during this fall and winter when viruses may be circulating,” said Health Officer and Director of Population Health Dr. Susan Philip. “That is why setting minimum infection control and safety standards for these testing sites not only ensures they operate in a responsible manner but also ensures confidence in the public health testing process by a trusted and verified source. I want to thank our City partner agencies for working collaboratively with the Department of Public Health to maintain the integrity of specimen collection sites and uphold Health Order compliance to keep the public safe.”

“The SFPD has been working closely with the Department of Public Health and City Attorney’s Office to conduct strategic enforcement of these highly questionable COVID testing sites,” said SFPD Chief Bill Scott. “Our officers worked with the DPH 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.”

“I’m relieved that these operators, who have targeted people in my district for months, will no longer play fast and loose with people’s health and privacy,” said Supervisor Dean Preston. “The Board of Supervisors’ unanimous passage of our Safe Swab ordinance will ensure that Gentech and similar operators will no longer be able to operate in a gray area, or at all, moving forward.”

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 order put in place clear infection control and safety standards to make sure that there is no inadvertent risk of transmission of a virus from members of the public seeking a test to workers at the collection sites. Those standards, along with minimum privacy standards, ensure that the public has confidence in the public health testing process and that the testing is being conducted by a trusted and verified source.

Following issuance of the Health Order, SFDPH’s Environmental Health Branch and SFPD initiated an enforcement campaign to ensure compliance with the Order and deter any ancillary illegal activity.

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 located San Francisco, such as a government agency, school, or healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 testing options can be found here.