Google’s coronavirus screening website has gone live in the San Francisco area following a weekend of confusion that began when President Trump made a surprise announcement Friday that the search giant was building the tool.
Trump revealed Google’s participation Friday during a Rose Garden press conference, announcing that the Silicon Valley company was working on a nationwide website to help people determine whether and how to get a new coronavirus test, and Google had “1,700 engineers” on the project.
Hours later on Friday, however, tech website The Verge reported that “Google is not working with the US government in building a nationwide website,” and that instead, another subsidiary of its parent company Alphabet called Verily was working on “a much smaller trial website” that focuses on testing facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Following the Rose Garden address, Google’s communications Twitter account confirmed Verily’s work on a regional version of the project, centered on San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in the north of the Golden State.
“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,” Google tweeted.
Later in the weekend, Google added that it was building “a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information.”
“We are fully aligned and continue to work with the U.S. government to contain the spread of COVID-19, inform citizens, and protect the health of our communities,” Google said.
“I want to thank the people at Google and Google Communications, because as you know, they substantiated what I said on Friday,” Trump said in a Sunday afternoon press conference.
“The head of Google … called us and he apologized, I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace,” Trump added. “I’m sure you’ll apologize. It’ll be great if we can really give the news correctly.”
The website that went live on Monday says the company is working “with the California governor’s office to direct high-risk individuals to newly-launched testing centers in San Mateo and Santa Clara” counties, sometimes by calling those users directly to make testing appointments.
The website prompts visitors to answer questions about their recent health and travel, using the information to determine whether they should travel to receive a free coronavirus test.
People showing symptoms of the flu-like virus are meant to seek medical care rather than a test through Verily’s system, the company said.
The coronavirus has infected more than 162,000 people around the world, including more than 300 diagnoses in New York City, and killed more than 6,000.
Verily said the data and survey responses it collects will be kept in an encrypted database to which access is restricted and monitored. The data is shared with health care authorities, but never mixed with a user’s personal data “without your explicit permission,” Verily said.
In addition, Verily said user-submitted data would be used for research purposes only with permission, though it may ask for that permission in the future.
With Post wires