Verily launches coronavirus screening website, but not for all

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Prevention is always better than cure. Though this wise saying is relevant all the time, it has gained more importance amid the coronavirus outbreak. Given the characteristics of COVID-19, it is extremely crucial to take precautions, and one of the best things to do so is to take a test for the virus if you feel you should. Given the awareness of the outbreak, testing for the virus is already easy, but now Google’s sister company Verily has made it even easier by coming up with a coronavirus screening website.

Verily’s coronavirus screening website

Late on Sunday, the life sciences arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, came up with a website that will help with coronavirus screening. The website, however, is limited for now and works with two testing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Using the website, people in the Bay Area can take online screener surveys. This will help people in selecting the testing sites for the examination – either Santa Clara county or San Mateo county.

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“We are very encouraged by this partnership, very enthusiastic to finally announce it. I know there’s been some conversations about it in the media,” Gavin Newsom, California Governor, said in a Sunday press conference.

Talking of how the site works, when you land on the website, the first question that you need to answer is: “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms?” If you answer “Yes,” the test ends and you see a message that the program is “not the right fit” for you and that you need to see a doctor.

If you say “no,” you will be asked to sign in with your Google account and sign an Informed Consent authorization form. The form basically means that your data may be shared with public health officials. After this, you will be asked to answer a few more questions.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Verily said, “The initial question is meant to ensure that anyone who is seriously ill does not come to our sites because they are not prepared to provide medical attention.”

After you complete the survey, you will get the result via an email. If you qualify for a test, you will be asked to visit the nearest center for a free checkup.

A pilot project for now

As said above, Verily’s coronavirus screening website is very limited at the moment. In its present form, it is more of a pilot program and not a public health utility.

Users interested in taking the screener need to have a Google account. If they don’t have one, the website asks them to create an account first. Also, you need to be 18 years or above, be a U.S. resident and speak English to qualify to use the website.

Verily, in a blog post on Sunday, said that it is working with the state of California on this pilot program. For now, the company has revealed no information on its plans to expand the program outside the state of California.

“The program is in its early stages, and we will take the time to assess operations at pilot sites in the Bay Area before rolling out to additional sites,” the company said.

Verily’s coronavirus screening website is part of the bigger health initiative, called Project Baseline. Verily’s screening site has been put under Project Baseline because the latter has the needed infrastructure in place to collect and protect health data.

Verily claims that the information of users won’t be shared with insurance companies or be connected to their Google account. At the time of registration, the company informs that users will need to give the following information – name, address, email, phone number and health information. Also, the company informs that the information will be accessible to the government and health authorities for “public health purposes.”

Inaccurate facts from Trump?

Verily’s coronavirus screening website comes after confusing and inaccurate statements from President Donald Trump. Last week, Trump inaccurately said that Google is developing the website. In fact, it is Verily that made it.

Moreover, Trump said that 1,700 Google engineers are contributing to the project. Verily, on the other hand, has only about 1,000 employees. As per a report from the New York Times, Trump “oversold” and “inflated the concept.”

Google, however, did not officially correct Trump’s announcement. Rather, in a series of tweets, it pointed to Verily’s sites and also informed what it is doing to fight the coronavirus. The search giant is also making a coronavirus-related website. However, it would have nothing to do with the screening, rather will include information on the coronavirus, including its symptoms and risks.

On Friday, President Trump declared a national emergency.  Data from Johns Hopkins University say the outbreak has already resulted in over 5,000 deaths and 135,000 confirmed cases globally. In the U.S., the number of cases has surged significantly over the last two weeks. The number of confirmed cases jumped from 100 on March 1 to almost 3,300 this Sunday.