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Google-Affiliated Coronavirus Test Website Touted by Trump Goes Live in 2 California Counties and Is Quickly Overloaded, No Plans for National Rollout

Coronavirus Covid-19 Placeholder
Shutterstock / frankie's

Google sister company Verily on Sunday evening launched a pilot of an online tool to provide risk screening and testing for people at high risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). But the site currently covers just two Northern California counties: Santa Clara County and San Mateo County — and within a few hours of opening to the public had booked all available test slots.

Donald Trump had claimed last Friday that the Google-backed test-screening site would cover the U.S. “in large part.” But Verily, a life sciences and health care subsidiary of Alphabet, has not announced any plans or intentions to expand the tool beyond the state of California.

“Ultimately, our goal is to help local authorities expand testing access in California as the need continues to increase,” Verily said in a blog post Sunday. The tool, available at Project Baseline (projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19), is designed to “triage people who are concerned about their COVID-19 risk into testing sites based on guidance from public health officials and test availability.”

As of Monday morning, though, the Verily site informed visitors trying to sign up that it was “unable to schedule more appointments at this time. Appointments will continue to expand through this program as we scale capacity in the near future. Please check back later.”

Trump, in declaring a national emergency Friday over the coronavirus pandemic, had said Google was helping to develop a website “very quickly” that would let Americans nationwide “determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location” including at Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens stores. He claimed the Google-backed virus screening and referral site would cover the U.S. “in large part,” according to the White House’s transcript of his remarks. “We have many, many locations behind us, by the way,” Trump said. “[W]e cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location.”

Google, in an update Saturday on its efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic, said it “is partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information.” However, according to Google, this informational site is separate from the Verily screening and testing project, which is what Trump was referring to at Friday’s White House press conference.

An initial version of Google’s website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources across the U.S. is slated to launch later Monday (March 16). The site will include best practices on prevention; links to “authoritative information” from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); and “helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers and businesses,” according to Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s blog post on March 14.

Google execs were caught off guard by Trump’s inaccurate statements about the Verily project, according to multiple reports. According to the New York Times, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, spoke to the CEO of Verily about helping with coronavirus testing. Kushner relayed details to Trump, who exaggerated the scope of the project including falsely claiming that “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now.” (In fact, about 1,700 Google staffers last week had said they were willing to volunteer time to work on coronavirus-related projects.)

At Sunday’s White House press conference, Trump lashed out at the media over coverage of his mischaracterization of Google’s coronavirus efforts. “I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace,” Trump said. Holding up a printout of the Google PR team’s Twitter thread, he said, “As you know, this is from Google. They put out a release and you guys can figure it out yourselves and how that got out.” Trump also falsely claimed in a tweet Sunday that “The Fake and Corrupt News never called Google” to check on his description of Google’s plans.

As of Monday morning, there were 3,774 confirmed coronavirus cases and 69 deaths reported in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering’s coronavirus COVID-19 tracker.

Currently, to be eligible for Verily’s coronavirus testing program, people must be located in Santa Clara or San Mateo county; be at least 18 and a U.S. resident; be able to speak and read English; and be willing to sign COVID-19 Public Health authorization form. Participants also must sign in using a Google account.