Earlier today, US President Donald Trump declared the ongoing coronavirus outbreak a national emergency. At the press conference, President Trump said that the US government is working with Google to develop a nationwide coronavirus outbreak screening website. President Trump also went onto explaining how the website would work and the information it would provide to the public. The information, according to Trump included the process to get coronavirus test kits.
Unfortunately for the US citizen, Google is not working with the US government on this project. Just over an hour after the press conference, Google sent out the following statement on behalf of Verily which is an Alphabet subsidiary devoted to the study of life sciences.
We are 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. We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort.
Carolyn Wang, the communications lead for Verily told The Verge that the project was initially made just for the healthcare workers. However, since the President made the announcement, Verily will be making the website available to the general public. Moreover, she also noted that the website will be able to direct users to the pilot sites in the Bay Area as the website is still not complete and is not ready for a broader rollout.
Google is going to develop a website — it’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past — to determine if a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location. We have many, many locations behind us, by the way. We cover this country and large parts of the world, by the way. We’re not gonna be talking about the world right now, but we cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location. Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress.
– Donald Trump (at 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."
— Google Communications (@Google_Comms) March 13, 2020
The Verge further noted that Debbie Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator showed a flowchart for the website at the press conference but no one from Google or Alphabet spoke at the conference. Birx further said the website will allow citizens to enter their symptoms and depending on the results, the website would direct them to a drive-thru testing facility.
Unfortunately, none of that seems to be true as Google already clarified its position. As for the 1,700 engineers President Trump promised, it appears to be linked to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai’s memo asking developers to volunteer their time to the project so Verily could do a broader rollout soon. As things stand, we don’t know what the website will be about and how it’s going to work. What we do know is that the features promised at the press conference were not true and Google is not planning to roll the website out to the whole country that would somehow predict if a person has coronavirus given the symptoms are identical to the common cold or seasonal flu.