County health director alarmed by reports of CMS bus driver giving students COVID-19 swab tests

CHARLOTTE — The Mecklenburg County health director said he is alarmed about reports of students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district getting their cheeks swabbed for COVID-19 tests from a school bus driver for money.

Parents have contacted Channel 9 this week after their children said a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school bus driver reportedly paid $5 to swab their cheeks while on the bus.


The first concerned parent spoke with Channel 9′s John Paul on Monday about the alleged incident. The bus driver said it a COVID-19 test, according to the parents. CMS officials said the tests were not authorized and the bus driver was suspended.

Since Monday, at least three other families have said that their kids were swabbed as well.

On Thursday, parents told Paul that CMS police pulled their children out of class to be interviewed.

(Timeline: Here’s what Channel 9 knows so far)

What is the cheek swab for?

One question many viewers may have is, “What was the cheek swab for?”

Channel 9′s Joe Bruno spoke with Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington to try and find an answer.

“I don’t want our residents being subjected to unnecessary. Any anything that’s unnecessary,” Washington said.

Washington said he was alarmed about the reports of students receiving cheek swab COVID-19 tests from the school bus driver.


Washington said not only are those tests unauthorized, but they also aren’t always effective.

“It’s not what we have been encouraging advising or recommending, they are not providers that we, I guess, refer people to that are doing those kinds of tests,” Washington said.

While the county has not officially authorized any cheek swab COVID-19 test providers, Channel 9 has heard several reports from various people saying they were offered one.

Channel 9′s John Paul said he met a man named Bernard along North Tryon Street Wednesday. Bernard told Paul that he was paid $5 to get a cheek swab COVID-19 test outside of Urban Ministry.

Bernard also said that a company by the name of National Institute of Molecular Diagnostics recruited him to put on an event where others would receive $5 in exchange for a COVID-19 cheek swab test.

National Institute of Molecular Diagnostics is based inside a building in Greensboro.

[Mecklenburg County drops mask mandate as COVID-19 trends continue to decrease]

When Channel 9 attempted to contact them, a representative on site directed us to their attorney. That attorney hung up on Wednesday and didn’t answer the phone on Thursday.

At this time, it is unclear if this company is connected to the CMS school bus driver. But Washington said the whole point of a COVID-19 test is for diagnosis, and incentives, monetary or otherwise, are not needed.

“I can’t tell you why somebody would pay someone to do a COVID-19 test. Certainly, that’s not something that we have engaged in as a department and would not encourage, I’m not sure why you would do that,” Washington said.

Washington did mention that all COVID-19 tests are reimbursable. And while that reimbursement depends on the type of test being done, sometimes providers can get more than $100 per test.

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said they do not contract with vendors that offer cheek testing and neither does Mecklenburg County. However, some pharmacies and some healthcare providers can administer the tests.

StarMed’s CEO said many do not swab the cheek to test for COVID-19 because it’s not as accurate.

What kind of permission does someone need to give COVID-19 tests?

One of the big questions Channel 9 is looking into is whether you need to be a medical provider or have any license or permission to do COVID-19 testing.

Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke has asked multiple agencies.

There are two kinds of testing; point-of-care testing, which someone gets at a doctor’s office, is one of them.

The county health department said the only people who should administer point-of-care testing should be medical providers who can do follow-up appointments or referrals.

The other kind is lab testing, which needs certification.

In either case, it appears that the average person cannot go around testing people.

Stoogenke said there’s a lot of money to made by testing people who don’t have insurance. At least two federal laws created because of the pandemic allocated $1 billion each for administering COVID-19 testing to uninsured people.

Stoogenke said the federal government will reimburse the testers the “Medicare” rates, so we’re asking exactly what those rates are, in dollars and cents.

Stoogenke also asked the state attorney general if he’s had any complaints about COVID-19 testing schemes. He said only two, but one was from a Charlotte person.

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The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has the Acute and Home Care Licensure and Certification Section, which investigates complaints involving medical providers.

Channel 9 asked if it’s investigating any COVID-19 testers. We are waiting to hear back.

(Watch the video below: Unknown group offers weekly COVID-19 test to people who are homeless)

“You’re swabbing yourself”

Channel 9′s investigation led reporter Erika Jackson to a homeless shelter off North Tryon Street Thursday night.

Herbert Bines didn’t ask any questions when he was offered $5 for a COVID-19 test last month.

“You’re swabbing yourself,” Bines told Jackson. “So, I didn’t think anything about it.”

Bines and John Borsoff both said they took advantage of a weekly COVID-19 test offered by an unidentified group.

“I went there today to go and see if they were doing it and they were not doing it,” Borsoff said.

The two men went down the road from the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte at 10 Ten Tires. A worker there said he saw the group offering weekly COVID-19 testing on the sidewalk in February.

“They come in dressed like all of the gear and everything like they do normally,” Borsoff said. “Like the paper gown and everything.”

It is unknown who administered the tests.

Channel 9 contacted NCDHHS about the testing there and is waiting on a response.

Return to this story for updates.

(WATCH PREVIOUS BELOW: CMS widens investigation after families claim bus driver swabbed kids’ cheeks for money)