As last year progressed – especially in late summer and into autumn when the omicron variant of COVID-19 became a real concern, pop-up testing sites began proliferating noticeably.

Anywhere there was a cheap storefront vacancy and in the absence of new retail tenants, the free COVID testing sites appeared overnight staffed by people sitting at socially distant card tables inside otherwise barren spaces marked by makeshift signage promising free, quick rapid and PCR test results.

Just before Christmas, with people desperate to visit family again, testing sites were overwhelmed. At the site on Harlem Avenue in Riverside, lines of people wrapped around the building.

Then came the complaints. Rapid tests generally were no problem to get, but the more accurate PCR tests either came too late to matter or not at all. These medical testing sites, managed and staffed by people with generally no background in that practice and certainly not at that kind of scale, floundered.

By late last week, with complaints nationwide leading to investigation of at least one COVID testing company and its associated lab, the pop-up sites quickly began shutting their doors, at least temporarily.

Where will those investigations go? We don’t know, but at the very least we’re going to learn how little oversight and how many holes in the system there are that allowed these clearly unprepared companies to thrive, if only for six months.

The most remarkable thing about the pop-up testing sites is that they existed at all in the form they did.

A cursory glance at the professional backgrounds of those running the operations shows that they have plenty of entrepreneurial spirit – they owned bars and boat rental companies, worked for cellphone retailers and cable TV providers.

They were in it because of the failed response to COVID-19 from the get-go in this country. Could the federal government have created a robust testing program and rolled it out nationwide? Yes, but it chose not to.

Seeing a clear demand for testing and understanding a way to be reimbursed by the state or federal government for providing that service, these entrepreneurs jumped in. Why wouldn’t they?

There were few regulations or requirements beyond finding or creating a testing lab partner, getting it certified and popping for a cheap, temporary local business license.

During the summer when testing demand was manageable, the obvious issues with having amateurs running COVID testing operations wasn’t so clear. After Thanksgiving, the issues became glaring and the complaints mounted.

We’re glad state attorneys general and the Better Business Bureau have stepped in to investigate what’s going on, but the larger question is why do we insist on doing this in the United States? 

Why is monitoring the health and safety of the population during a pandemic farmed out to amateurs whose motives may or may not be altogether interested in the testing end and may be more interested in the making-money end?

We’re in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic with no end in sight. And it’s our own fault.