Facepalm: US President Donald Trump today announced that search giant Google is in the process of creating a website focused on the COVID-19 virus outbreak. The website would act as a form of pre-testing triage and will help to give US citizens some much-needed direction in this challenging time... except Google is not working on such website, but a much smaller company called Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is on the early stages of developing one, but is not even ready to work on a single test location.
Update #2 (3/16): Alphabet's Verily launched Sunday night a pilot website for COVID-19 screening and testing. Project Baseline currently serves the San Francisco Bay Area only and requires users to login with a Google account.
Update (3/13): Not long after President Trump claimed that Google was working with over a thousand engineers on developing a website for Coronavirus self-screening at home, the company was forced to issue a statement that essentially contradicts everything Trump announced.
Verily, not Google is working on this project. Verily used to be a division of Google X, and today is a research arm of Alphabet. Perhaps most importantly, the website project is on the "early stages of development" and is not ready to serve the first pilot city yet, let alone help citizens across the country. The company's statement can be read below:
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.
The site will help citizens screen themselves for the virus by answering a series of questions intended to narrow down symptoms. If the person is likely to have the virus based on their responses, the site will direct them to the nearest mobile test location for COVID-19, which will reportedly be set up in locations like store parking lots.
Results won't be given to visitors on the spot, of course – samples will need to be sent back to a lab for testing. However, once the test results are in, they'll be displayed on the original screening website so that users can stay informed and more easily decide their next steps.
According to the President, roughly 1,700 Google employees are developing the website right now. Trump has been known to exaggerate from time to time, but given the high-profile nature of this virus, we wouldn't be surprised if that figure is accurate. In all likelihood, tens of thousands (if not millions) of Americans will visit this website over the coming months, so it's in Google's best interest to ensure it's bug-free and capable of handling high levels of web traffic.
Other details about the website and the partnership between Google and the US government are still scarce at the moment. However, we can probably expect to learn more (and perhaps even see the site launch) over the coming days.