A nationwide website to help Americans figure out if they should be tested for Covid-19 will be ready “early in the week,” Vice President Mike Pence said.
The website would feature a questionnaire that would assess whether someone needs to be tested. Eventually, patients will be able to book a specific time and location to be tested, Pence said.
What’s less certain is if it’s the same site that Google’s sister company, Verily, is working on — it will launch a site on Monday to do just that, but only in two counties in California’s Bay Area at first, it said on Sunday. A person familiar with Google’s internal plans to respond to the crisis said a top priority is to build the ability to let millions of patients take the questionnaire and be directed to testing sites as soon as possible.
“While Verily is in the early stages of this pilot program, the plan is to expand to other locations over time,” Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, who is ultimately in charge of both Google and Verily, said in a Sunday blog post.
Verily and Google spokespeople didn’t respond to a request for comment on Pence’s announcement.
The development adds to a flurry of exchanges between Google and the White House over the past several days about what exactly is being built by who. On Friday, President Donald Trump said at a news conference that the tech giant was working on a website to help coordinate a massive testing effort that would involve drive-through clinics set up in Target and Wal-Mart parking lots across the country.
For hours after the Friday news conference, Google spokespeople directed reporters to Verily, which said it was only working on the Bay Area sites — seemingly contradicting the president’s message. Late on Saturday night, Google sent out a series of tweets saying that it was indeed building a nationwide site, but that it would only have information about the virus and how to prevent its spread. Trump printed out those tweets and brought them to the Sunday press conference, arguing that they proved he was right when he said Google was supporting his government’s testing efforts.
The testing website would be a part of a major expanded effort to get more Americans tested for the disease. At the Sunday press conference, administration officials laid out plans to get makeshift drive-through testing clinics set up across the nation. Priority would be given to older people and those more at risk from dying from the virus.
Google has started a number of other initiatives to help spread trustworthy information and suppress hoaxes and misinformation related to the virus. Search results for the virus automatically link to the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. The company has been taking down videos on its YouTube service that spread bad information, but some are still appearing, especially in non-English speaking parts of the world.
Pichai also sent out a call internally on Thursday to employees, asking them to volunteer their time to help with virus-related projects.
“For 21 years, Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Pichai said. “Helping people get the right information to stay healthy is more important than ever in the face of a global pandemic like Covid-19.”
— With assistance by Justin Sink
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