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Here’s what’s going on with Trump and the ‘Google’ coronavirus screening website

Computer with code on the screen. (Pixabay/Relesaed)
March 15, 2020

Google’s sister company Verily has been developing a coronavirus screening website to help potential patients assess their risks and schedule testing and a test version of that website is ready to launch on Monday at locations in California’s San Francisco Bay Area.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has been overseeing the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, announced the planned Monday roll out of the coronavirus website, TechCrunch reported Saturday. Google further elaborated on its involvement in the coronavirus response efforts in a series of tweets Saturday.

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus on Friday. During his address, Trump named Google as one of several major U.S. companies working in a private-public partnership with his administration to develop tools for dealing with the spread of the coronavirus.

Trump initially attributed the effort to develop a coronavirus screening website directly to Google, rather than its sister company Verily, which caused some confusion. Trump also indicated more 1,700 Google engineers were working on it, rather than the 1,000 Verily employees actually handling the project, the New York Times reported.

Trump’s comments raised concerns that the details of the project had been misunderstood, as Verily’s initial website roll out was only planned for three testing locations to start. After Trump announced the screening website, Google began directing questions to Verily. Carolyn Wang, Verily’s spokeswoman, confirmed the companies limited initial website roll out but could not provide a timeframe for when the website would become more broadly available.

On Saturday, Pence did indicate that the plan is to expand the screening website to wider use in California, Washington State and New York, where the coronavirus has had a heavy impact. The administration indicated the site could be a significant help if it operated in the nine areas of the U.S. most impacted by the coronavirus.

Google’s latest tweets appeared to indicate that it is part of the administration’s coronavirus effort, along with Verily’s more specific work on the coronavirus screening website. Google did state it is working to make a nationwide website to provide information about coronavirus symptoms and testing information.

Google also announced a homepage feature to promote simple steps people can take to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That feature, called “DO the Five” includes advice to wash one’s hands often, cough into one’s elbows and to avoid touching one’s face. It also advised people to maintain at least three feet of distance and to stay home if they begin to feel sick.

The tech giant further announced it would take measures to help promote authoritative information about the coronavirus and to limit the potential visibility of misinformation, phishing scams and conspiracy theories. Google also announced free access to its advanced Hangouts video-conferencing until July.