Google: Actually, We're Going to Do a Coronavirus Website After All
After President Trump announced Google was creating a website to direct people to coronavirus testing locations, Google said a limited site was being handled by Alphabet subsidiary Verily Life Sciences. On Saturday night, however, Google said it would also release a nationwide COVID-19 site.
UPDATE 2: Google tonight released a statement that said it's "partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information."
According to Google, this nationwide website is "in addition to...work being done by our sister company Verily to launch a pilot website that will enable individuals to do a risk assessment and be scheduled for testing at sites in the Bay Area."
Google did not provide details on when the nationwide website would launch. It released its statement just shy of 9 p.m. ET on the East Coast on a Saturday night after more than a day of confusing or vague statements from the White House about what the Google website entailed.
UPDATE 3/14: During a Saturday morning press conference, Vice President Mike Pence was unable to explain the discrepancies between statements from President Trump and Google on the coronavirus website. He read a statement that was similar to what Google tweeted last night and said a version of the site limited to the Bay Area should go online on Monday, March 16. "That's the statement I was handed this morning from [Google]," he told the press.
At 5 p.m. ET Sunday, the White House will announce more details about the rollout of the public-private partnership Trump announced yesterday, including testing sites, Pence said.
President Trump said Friday that Google will create a website that’ll tell you where you can get tested for the coronavirus. But the project is being handled by Alphabet subsidiary Verily Life Sciences and is far from completion.
"We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for COVID-19 testing," said Verily. "Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time."
Moreover, Verily tells The Verge that the site was conceived as a tool just for health care workers, but after Trump's Rose Garden press conference, it'll be a public tool. Look for Bay Area information to be live in the next few days via Verily's Project Baseline website.
A Verily spokesperson also told PCMag: "Initially, we're linking it with several sites in the Bay Area to test and iterate, and collaborating closely with organizations like Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp who are also working on additional approaches to making testing more accessible and expedient in other areas."
Trump announced the website alongside a national emergency declaration to address the coronavirus outbreak, which has now infected more than 1,600 people in the US.
“Google is helping to develop a website. It’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted, and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” according to Trump, who said Google has committed 1,700 engineers to building the website.
“The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car,” Trump said during the press conference.
According to Trump, the US plans to have 1.5 million testing kits available by early next week. However, health officials want to limit wasted tests, so the Google site will help streamline the screening process. According to a White House official, the Google site will work like this: Users will fill out a screening questionnaire. If they check yes on the qualifying symptoms for the coronavirus strain COVID-19, they’ll be told which local “drive-thru” testing location they can go to undergo a screening. Clinical labs will then be able to process the results within 24 to 36 hours.
“We’ve seen it work in our own United States and we want to bring this across the continent,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said during the press conference.
"We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort," Verily said.
South Korea has also deployed a drive-thru system to quickly roll out coronavirus screening. It’s conducted 250,000 local tests, allowing the country's authorities to quickly quarantine people infected with the virus, according to NPR.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with the comment from Verily.
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