On March 13, President Trump announced during a briefing in the Rose Garden that Google was building a COVID-19 screening website to help Americans understand if they might have the new coronavirus. If likely infected, the site would also include the location of a local drive-through testing site to visit. So how can you access the screening website?
First of all, the initial announcement was filled with misinformation. Another Alphabet company called Verily actually built the site. And only a tiny fraction of the US population can use the screener to get help — not the entire country. In any case, the site is going to be in high demand across the country, as new cases and outbreaks continue to appear.
Amid all the confusion, Verily got its website up and running early on March 16. It's called Project Baseline and, as expected, is only available to Californians in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. Even if you live in these areas, the site has a very strict checklist of eligibility for people looking to use it:
- You need to be 18 or older.
- You need to be a US resident.
- You need to be able to speak and read English.
- You need to be located in one of the counties Verily has testing available.
- You need to sign a COVID-19 Public Health authorization form.
If you meet all of the requirements above, simply open Project Baseline's web app on your iPhone or Android smartphone using the URL below.
From what we've heard, you need to connect your Google Account or create one to use the screener, as well as fill out a COVID permission form. However, we've tested it out multiple times on different platforms and had to do neither.
Right now, the first screener question asks if you are "currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms." If you have mild symptoms, "No" would be your answer. Then, it asks if you're "over 18 years old" and whether you're within 50 miles of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
Currently, the demand seems too high as many of you will get a "we are unable to schedule more appointments at this time" warning. When working correctly and within capacity, you could qualify for free testing and will be directed to a testing facility in your area, if so. Once tested, you'll receive your results by email.
If you select "Yes" to the first question about having severe symptoms, it will end the screener, prompting you to seek medical attention.
During the March 13 announcement, Trump said the site would launch on the following Sunday. Almost immediately, Google refuted his claims. In a tweet from Google communications, the company confirmed that Alphabet company Verily is working on a coronavirus testing site. But, the statement notes, it would only work only in the Bay Area, expanding testing to more areas over time. Google did not say whether that initial testing would occur on Sunday.
Statements to news organizations on Friday afternoon expanded on the misinformation spread by the President. A statement from Verily to The Verge notes that initial testing of the site was only going to be for healthcare practitioners. The website isn't anything close to the site Trump described.
Carolyn Wang, communications lead for Verily, told The Verge that the "triage website" was initially only going to be made available to health care workers instead of the general public. Now that it has been announced the way it was, however, anybody will be able to visit it, she said. But the tool will only be able to direct people to "pilot sites" for testing in the Bay Area, though Wang says Verily hopes to expand it beyond California "over time."
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During the announcement on Friday, Trump and his team described the site as a place where you can type in your symptoms to determine if you need to get tested for the new coronavirus. If you meet the criteria to get a test, the site will direct you to a Target, Walmart, or Walgreens parking lot near you to perform a drive-thru test for the virus. You can see the idea in White House coronavirus response coordinator Debbie Birx's flow chart below:
The new coronavirus continues to spread in the United States and around the world, so any serious measures taken to help people identify their symptoms and direct them to testing areas are more than welcome. The communication breakdown between Google, Verily, and the Trump administration is just another misstep in a terrible month that will likely lead to the loss of many American lives.