Verily, the life sciences arm of Google’s parent Alphabet, late on Sunday launched a website to give people information about coronavirus screening, though it’s limited for now to two testing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. The rollout comes after a set of confusing announcements last week by Google and President Donald Trump.
The software tool is hosted through Verily’s Project Baseline, an initiative to advance clinical research. It allows people in the Bay Area to take online screener surveys to see if they should go to testing sites in Santa Clara county or San Mateo county for examinations. Along with partnering with the federal government, Verily also worked with the California governor’s office.
“We hope that this partnership can scale and we believe it will be a national model,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference Sunday. “We are very encouraged by this partnership, very enthusiastic to finally announce it. I know there’s been some conversations about it in the media.”
When users enter the website, the first question in the workflow is: “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms?” Answering “yes” to the question appears to end the test, while saying “no” takes the user to the next question. That may seem counterintuitive, but Verily reportedly says the test is working as intended.
The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told BuzzFeed: “This screener was developed in partnership with government health officials. The initial question is meant to ensure that anyone who is seriously ill does not come to our our sites because they are not prepared to provide medical attention. We are early in this pilot and are going to be learning more that will help us refine this COVID-19 risk screening and testing.”
To take the screener, users are also required to have a Google account. If they don’t have one, they are prompted to create one.
The effort comes as the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted everyday life across the globe. At Google and Alphabet all North American employees have been asked to work from home and the company canceled its annual Google I/O developer conference. The confab, which had been scheduled for May, is Google’s biggest event of the year.
The launch follows major confusion about the project and its scope, and Google and government officials earlier Sunday sought to clarify . The questions began on Friday, when President Donald Trump announced Google is working with the White House and private sector partners on a website to give people information about coronavirus testing. Trump unveiled the project during an address at the White House, where he declared .
More than an hour later, Google tweeted that Verily, the life sciences arm of Alphabet, is “developing a tool to help triage individuals for COVID-19 testing. 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.”
There seemed to be a disconnect between the two announcements, especially over timing and scope. Trump said 1,700 Google engineers were working on the project, while Verily only has around 1,000 employees. It turns out Trump had “oversold” and “inflated the concept,” according to a report by the New York Times.
On Saturday, Google followed up with a tweet confirming it’s “partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information.”
Update, 9:39 p.m PT: Adds new information after website’s launch.
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