AUSTIN, Texas — According to the CDC, the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is far less outdoors than indoors.
So when an Austin chiropractor began offering free COVID-19 testing at her clinic, she set up to collect samples outside the front door of her clinic. Now though, her landlord is threatening to evict her, saying that by testing outside she is in violation of her lease.
This legal headache is just the newest element on chiropractor Michelle Paris' already full plate.
“I’ve been a chiropractor since 1994," said Paris, who is also the clinic director for Whole Family Chiropractics and RejuvaWell in Austin.
She has her hands full running her chiropractic and regenerative health clinics.
“I start at seven o’clock in the morning and I quit at two o’clock in the morning," said Paris.
She also has two teenagers, and in the middle of March the pandemic quickly became personal.
Her 16-year-old son got extremely sick, but wasn’t able to get tested for COVID-19.
“So I treated it as though it was COVID. I had to you know mask and glove and deliver things to his bathroom and I completely isolated from him," said Paris. "And it was during that time that I realized this is insane that I can't get a sick person in my family tested.”
That’s when she took matters into her own hands.
“I am happiest when I have control. So the not being able to get my son tested and not being able to keep my staff safe was a terrific lack of control," said Paris. "So I started researching what we could do and how we could test, so we became a CLIA-certified lab, or a moderate complexity lab."
She named the business "Austin COVID Labs."
“What I think is imperative is that we have reliable, repeatable, and free testing for everyone. So we are part of the federal reimbursement program, so we can test the uninsured. We can pretty much test anyone," said Paris.
She began testing outside her clinic in April, but at the start of September she got a letter from her landlord saying that by testing outside and having unapproved signs she was in violation of her lease.
“I got a default letter that said if I didn't cure the defaults, that they would lock me out of the space, seize my assets, and I would still be liable for the remaining eight years on the lease," said Paris.
She had no choice but to move testing inside, where her staff is taking extra precautions, but she still worries about the added risk.
“We have to space people out and sanitize the room, you know, thoroughly between each person. And I don't feel it's as safe.”
Overture Mueller released a statement to Spectrum News, saying, "We have no issue with the business operating inside their retail space. The lease prohibits business operations within the shared common spaces such as the parking lot, sidewalks and other outdoor spaces. We support any effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ask only that it be done in a manner that respects social distancing, the safety of the residents who reside in the community, and the terms of the lease. Community policy asks that business operations refrain from operating in shared common spaces such as the parking lot, sidewalks and other outdoor spaces.”
Paris’ lease does say that the common area is only to be used for serving food and beverages, but Paris says the pandemic poses extenuating circumstances.
“I want to stay at Overture, I don't want to leave, I just would like permission to resume testing outside for the duration of this pandemic. Outside is so much better than testing inside for several reasons. One, the last thing we want to do is expose any of our current patients coming in for chiropractic or RejuvaWell to potentially positive cases. Two, the CDC as well as pretty much everybody else says that outside is the safest place to be.”
Ultimately, Paris hopes she and her landlord can reach a compromise. But for the time being, she and Overture Mueller are at a standstill.
“I don't understand. I'm really baffled and I don't understand the hard line during a pandemic on a community service," said Paris.