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Now closed Destin business was marketing COVID-19 rapid tests that didn't detect the virus

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect the accurate spelling of the manufacturer of the tests conducted at EC Medical Diagnostic, which is Healgen Scientific LLC.

DESTIN — After his wife went to a testing site, received a "rapid" blood test and was informed that despite her not feeling well she did not have COVID-19, Dr. Layne Fielder decided to investigate the location where the test was conducted.

These are receipts from Dr. Layne Fielder and his wife's visit to E.C. Medical Diagnostics, pictured side-by-side. One shows the manufacturer of the test and the other does not.

The Niceville resident, a physician employed by Coastal Skin Surgery and Dermatology, drove down to EC Medical Diagnostics, located in the parking lot of  AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin, paid "50-something dollars" and was tested himself.

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"The employee told me I was good and I did not have COVID," Fielder reported. "I asked directly if it would show if I actively had symptoms and if I actively had disease, and she said, 'Yes it would' and I probably just had the regular cold."

As a doctor, Fielder suspected otherwise. "There are no blood tests that can tell if a person has active, spreadable/communicative disease ," he told the Northwest Florida Daily News in an Oct. 24 email. "The only way to do that is with the nasal swab tests."

Dr. Karen Chapman, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County, confirmed what Fielder had surmised.

In a lengthy email, she explained that there are two types of tests for COVID-19: diagnostic tests conducted with nasal or throat swabs and antibody tests taken with a finger stick or blood draw.

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"Diagnostic tests are the only tests that can show if a person has an active infection with SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19," Chapman said. "Antibody tests do not diagnose active coronavirus infection at the time of the test, nor does it show that you do not have COVID-19."

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose department deals with some types of consumer protection issues, acknowledged the existence of businesses across the state trying to cash in on the pandemic.

"If you're going to get a test, get something recommended by a doctor, not something you're going to do on an impulse," Patronis said. "If something sounds too good to be true, you need to be careful." 

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The receipt presented to Fielder's wife lists "Healgen" as the manufacturer of the tests conducted at EC Medical Diagnostic. Fielder's receipt, which he received after being tested at the same location a day later, lists no manufacturer. 

Alan Laird, owner of AJ's restaurants, and Heather Duncan operate EC Medical Diagnostics.

Healgen Scientific LLC is a company based in Maryland. Its website states its mission as "develops, manufactures and commercializes in-vitro diagnostic test systems worldwide." Those diagnostic test systems include rapid testing, the website said.

The website describes Healgen's rapid testing goal as "intended to screen patients for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies," which "can be detected 1-3 weeks after infection."

EC Medical Diagnostics was incorporated Aug. 26 and lists as its directors Hubert A. (Alan) Laird, the owner of the AJ's restaurant businesses, and Heather Duncan, Laird's girlfriend.

Its Facebook page advertises a "rapid COVID test" for $70. It says the business is fully licensed and can provide results in 10 minutes with no appointment needed. Discounts are offered to military personnel as well as service industry and medical workers.

A voice message at the business stated that EC Medical Diagnostics had been "temporarily closed as of Oct. 23." The message recommends that callers contact "your local health care provider for any testing needs."

On Friday the trailer from which EC Medical Diagnostics had previously operated had been moved from the parking lot space it had occupied prior to Oct. 23. 

The business voice mailbox was full, according to the recording, and could not take further messages. Laird's cellphone also went straight to voice mail and his inbox, too, was full, according to the message.. 

Efforts to reach Laird or Duncan through AJ's locations on Okaloosa Island, in Destin or Fort Walton Beach were also unsuccessful. 

Healgen did not immediately respond to questions about E.C. Medical Diagnostics and the testing site in Destin.