A website from Google sister company Verily Life Sciences, which President Trump claimed would direct the public to coronavirus screening locations, is already overloaded and closer to a bureaucratic slog than any solution to the country’s testing woes.
On Sunday, Verily launched the site at Project Baseline, which promises to help guide people in need of a screening to a local coronavirus testing location after they answer an online questionnaire. The tests will be free, and the results will be sent back via email, text, or phone call within a few days.
However, the site is currently turning users away who experience “severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms.” It will instead recommend they visit a Centers for Disease Control website, which will advise them to call a doctor.
To use the site, you’ll also have to create or sign in with a Google account, forcing you to jump through another step and hand over your personal information to the web giant, which can be shared with health authorities.
The other restriction is how Project Baseline’s services are currently restricted to residents in the San Francisco Bay Area. So the website is useless for most Americans, and you’ll find no mention of it on Google’s home page, just a link to general coronavirus health and prevention tips.
On top of all this, the project itself is no longer accepting new applications for residents in the Bay area a mere 12 hours after it launched. “Unfortunately, we are unable to schedule more appointments at this time,” it says when you try to apply.
Who’s Telling the Truth?
(Credit: by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
The rollout, meanwhile, comes amidst misinformation from the White House. On Friday, President Trump said 1,700 Google engineers were working on the website, but according to the New York Times, that 1,700 number was just the total number of Google employees who said they’d be happy to volunteer for the project if needed.
Though Trump said the site will “be very quickly done [and] facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” Verily said the website was still in its “early stages” and would only address residents in the San Francisco Bay Area.
By Saturday night, Google tweeted that in addition to the Verily website, it too would create a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information. The next day, Google CEO Sundar Pichai published a blog post, which mentions the nationwide website. However, it won’t help people sign up for a coronavirus screening; it will be more about education and prevention.
President Trump holds up a print-out of tweets from Google
At a Sunday press conference, President Trump did not distinguish between the two sites, and accused the press of lying about the Google site.
“I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it some place,” Trump said. He then raised a copy of Google’s tweets on the issue, only to drop it on the floor. “You know, this is from Google. They put out a release, and you can figure it out yourselves.”
Later, Trump tweeted that “The Fake and Corrupt News never called Google,” which is a lie. You can see our own outreach to Google on Friday, and the response we got several hours later—from Verily, not Google.
According to Axios, Google was actually blindsided by Trump’s announcement of the website. The company then scrambled to create a nationwide service on coronavirus information while Verily tried to ramp up the scope of Project Baseline.
In his blog post, Pichai reiterated that Verily’s Project Baseline’s coronavirus screening was still in the early stages of development, with plans to expand it over time.
For those who don’t want to hand over their information, the company says it needs you to create a Google account so it can quickly contact you. “Your data collected by Verily through the testing program will never be joined with your data stored in Google products without your explicit permission,” the company adds in a FAQ.
In addition, your personal information will be fed to health authorities, which have been trying to track and contain the spread of the outbreak. As of today, the illness has now infected more than 3,800 people in the US. Verily says all your data will be kept in a “secure, encrypted database with restricted, monitored access.”
To get access to coronavirus testing, the CDC recommends you call a doctor or local health provider. “They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home,” the CDC adds.
Some localities and health groups have also opened coronavirus drive-thru testing sites for patients who’ve been referred by their medical provider.