Pop-up Sites Offer Free and Fast COVID Tests, But Do They Deliver?

Consumers have been lining up at the new pop-up sites to get tested, but some wonder if the sites are reliable.

NBC Universal, Inc.

When Branden Adams wanted to get a COVID test, he stopped by a pop-up test site he spotted under a tent on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax in LA.

Days later, Adams still hadn't gotten his results.

"I was a little irritated. I spent thirty minutes in line to get tested. They said I'd get my results back in 24 hours, that did not happen," Adams told the NBC4 I-Team.

On street corners and in parking lots across Southern California, pop-up COVID test sites have suddenly appeared to meet the demand of the thousands of people who want to get tested as the Omicron surge worsens. And public health experts say testing can help slow the surge.

"Of course if you are symptomatic, you need to be tested," said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley of UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.

"And if you've been exposed [to someone who has COVID-19], you'll want to be tested immediately if you're unvaccinated, and then again about 5-7 days after that," said Dr. Kim-Farley. He added that if you're vaccinated and boosted, and exposed to someone who is positive, you should get tested 5-7 days after exposure, as the CDC recommends.

Consumers have been lining up at the new pop-up sites to get tested, but some wonder if the sites are reliable.

"That is something that I would like to know and I don't know how to find out," Branden Adams told NBC4.

Medical experts told the I-Team there are questions you should ask when getting tested at a pop up site:

  • Ask for the name of the lab processing the site's test results. The lab's name is often different from the name on the tent at a site.
  • Then, make sure the lab is "CLIA" certified, means it's meeting standards set up the federal government. You can find that out by typing the lab's name into this free CDC database.
  • Check to see how quickly a lab is turning around test results, especially for the more accurate PCR tests. You can find that out by looking up the lab on the the "Turnaround Time" Dashboard on this state of California website.

Public health experts say a lab should be processing and telling you test results within 24-48 hours.

"You really need to get your test results back within 24 to 48 hours," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of USC's Keck School of Medicine, who is also an independent medical director for Curative, a company that provides COVID testing at sites across the country.

"Up to 48 hours still has clinical relevance in terms of your ability to seek treatment should you test positive," Klausner told the I-Team. "It's not acceptable to get test results back beyond 48 hours," he added.

When the I-Team examined the state's turnaround time data, it found some labs were turning around COVID tests in three or more days.

It took 78 hours for Branden Adams to get his results back from that pop-up site at 3rd and Fairfax, which is run by the nearby Optimum Pharmacy.

"I was a little upset," said Adams, who told the I-Team he was anxious to get results because some family members had recently tested positive.

The supervisor of the Optimum site, who identified himself as "Lance," told the I-Team their lab was overwhelmed this week. "They are backed up," Lance said.

Contact Us