Google to partner with US government to develop coronavirus website

Tech

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Google now says it is working with the government on the creation of a national website containing information about coronavirus symptoms and testing information.

“Google is partnering with the US Government in developing a national website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information,” the company said in a series of tweets Saturday evening.

The company did not give a time frame of when such a website would be up and running.

On Friday after the President said Google was helping to develop a website and it would be available soon, the company declined to say it would be publishing a national-scale website for coronavirus testing anytime soon.

Instead, a health-focused subsidiary owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said it intended to launch a small-scale website next week to begin to triage California-based patients. The website will aim to serve a broader population only “over time” — not “very quickly.”

In a different tweet Saturday night, the company did also mention the pilot website in the San Francisco area.

“What we’re building is a triage tool that will live on ProjectBaseline.com, and we plan to pilot it in California next week,” said Carolyn Wang, a spokesperson for the Alphabet subsidiary, Verily, before the company made its Saturday night announcement.

“Our aspiration is for the triage tool to be used much more broadly over time. Initially, we’re linking it with several sites in the Bay Area to test and iterate, and collaborating closely with organizations like Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp who are also working on additional approaches to making testing more accessible and expedient in other areas.”

Trump’s announcement sparks back-and-forth

Verily’s statement sharply contrasted with Trump’s remarks Friday in the White House Rose Garden.

“I want to thank Google,” Trump said. “Google is helping to develop a website. It’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.” The comment appeared to be a reference to the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website used for the US government’s health insurance exchange, which was premiered by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Officials in the state of California were stunned Friday to see the White House present their graphic for a modest pilot program that California’s been developing with Alphabet as if it were a Trump administration program that was a nationwide initiative and ready to go, a knowledgeable source told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Still, a White House official, in reaction to Google’s response, doubled down Saturday, telling CNN that “the Trump administration is working with Google to develop a website Americans can go to determine whether a test is needed and, if so, facilitate testing at a nearby location. We expect to have more details in the days ahead.”

In addition to saying Friday that the website would be developed quickly, Trump claimed that 1,700 Google engineers were working on the project.

During a White House briefing Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence attempted to clarify when the Google website announced Friday would be widely available. He said Google is planning to launch the website on Monday, but added that launch will only be available in the San Francisco Bay Area. He said the goal is to expand that site to other areas of the country. He also said that he would provide an update about the website at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Debbie Birx held up a sign at the Friday news conference that indicated users who showed symptoms would be directed to drive-through clinics. From there, users’ test samples would be shipped to labs, and patients would be able to view their results from a “screening website.”

It was unclear if Birx was referring to the Verily website. Verily did not immediately respond to questions about Birx’s sign, nor to questions about the accuracy of Trump’s claim about the number of employees involved or about Pence’s claim concerning the timing of the launch.

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