Google on Sunday announced a nationwide website dedicated to providing Americans with information about the novel coronavirus.
But that description stops short of what President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have spent days saying Google was developing very quickly: A website meant to assess patient symptoms and to direct Americans to “testing at a nearby convenient location.”
Google is working with the US government on the informational site, said Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, in a blog post. The website will contain educational material and “best practices for prevention,” and will launch late Monday.
What Google is truly working on has been the source of much confusion after the administration’s apparent announcement of a nationwide testing website created by Google. Shortly after Trump and Pence made their announcement on Friday, Verily, an Alphabet subsidiary and a sister company of Google, acknowledged that it is set to launch a website that will allow users to plug in their symptoms and be directed to testing sites if necessary. But Verily made clear that the website, known as Project Baseline, will be restricted to California residents for now — and is not ready for nationwide service. Verily is not the same as Google, though both are owned by the same parent.
Google’s website is being prepared for a national audience but appears far simpler than what Trump and Pence described.
The site, Pichai wrote, will include “links to authoritative information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers and businesses.”
After media reports on Friday about the gap between what the Trump administration promised and what Verily had announced, Trump slammed the reports as “fake news.” On Sunday, he claimed that “the head of Google” — apparently referring to Pichai — called him to “apologize” and that everything Google has announced has “substantiated what I said on Friday.” Google declined comment on any call between the president and the company’s CEO.
Whether Trump’s claims have truly been substantiated is unclear. Google has not said that the nationwide informational website will direct users to local testing sites, nor has Verily said that it will be quickly ramping up its site to serve residents outside California.
On Friday, Pence appeared to suggest that Google’s nationwide website would soon help make “hundreds of thousands of tests” possible “in the very near future.”
“For Americans looking on,” said Pence, “by this Sunday evening, we’ll be able to give specific guidance on when the website will be available, you can go to the website, as the president said, you type in your symptoms and be given direction whether or not a test is indicated.”
“And then at the same website,” he continued, “you’ll be directed to one of these incredible companies that are going to give a little bit of their parking lot, so that people can come by and do a drive-by test.”
That more closely resembles Verily’s own descriptions of its limited website, which the company said Sunday would launch on Monday. That tool, which is being developed with the California government, will guide users to two pilot testing sites: one each in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters in a press conference Sunday. Users of the tool who undergo testing can expect to receive results in “two to three days [after their test] based on that interface,” Newsom added.
Verily said Project Baseline will ultimately aim to expand and serve other areas, but the company did not offer a timeframe.
Asked point blank whether Google’s national coronavirus website will direct visitors to testing sites, a Google spokesperson referred CNN to Verily’s announcement and noted the differences between what Verily said it would offer, and what Google said it would offer in its blog.