What you need to know
- The President claimed that Google will collaborate with the White House on a screening website for the novel-coronavirus.
- He also added that 1,700 Google engineers were working on it.
- The website will help people who suspect they may have the virus find a testing site.
Update: The actual scope and provenance of the website in question are quite different from President Trump's bold proclamations about it. The site is being built by Verily, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet. Its scope is also far less impressive than the President's announcement might imply: the tool is only for people in the Bay Area of San Francisco.
In addition, 1,700 engineers are almost certainly not working on the website, since Verily's entire workforce may not reach that number. Back in 2017, the company only had 500 employees. On LinkedIn, only 741 people list Verily as their employer. Given these numbers, it's highly unlikely that Verily could employ 1,700 individuals to said website, even if it wanted to.
The number, according to The Verge's conversation with communications lead for Verily, Carolyn Wang, may instead refer to the number of Google employees who responded to CEO Sundar Pichai's call for volunteers, and not people who are actively working on coronavirus screening tool full-time.
Far more egregious than mixing up Verily and Google or even the wildly inflated numbers regarding the number of people dedicated to this website is the fact despite President Trump's claims that "it's gonna be very quickly done" and that it "cover[s] this country and large parts of the world," the website is currently non-functional and only covers the Bay Area.
The intended audience of the website was initially not even the general public. Instead, it was aimed at being a triage tool for healthcare workers. Likely as a result of President Trump's announcement, however, the company has now stated it will make the website available to everyone, even though it will only direct individuals to pilot sites in the Bay Area, making it entirely redundant for everyone else across the country and, indeed, the world.
Wang noted that Verily plans to make the website available more broadly available "with time," but did not give any timeline for when this might be.
The company issued the following statement via Twitter:
We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing. 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. We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort.
Original Story: Google is collaborating with the United States government to make it easier for people who suspect they have contracted the novel-coronavirus (COVID-19) to see if they need to be tested.
The announcement was short on details, but the idea, it seems, is to give users the ability to enter their symptoms and see if they need additional testing. None of this sounds extremely complicated, but according to Trump, Google has 1,700 engineers working on this.
According to Debbie Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, users will have to log into this new screening website, fill out a screening questionnaire and risk factor questionnaire and then directed to a "drive through" testing facility.
In essence, it'll help streamline the process of determining whether you need to be tested for the virus or not and alleviate some panic for individuals who feel like they have some symptoms that match with that of the virus. While some governments like South Korea have engaged in aggressive testing, others have opted to wind down their testing under the assumption that the virus has been too widespread that any test would be meaningless.
The United States has yet to reach any decision point and has been criticized for its slow rollout of tests and perceived inaction in recent days. Measures like this will help inform what strategic changes may or may not be made further down the line.