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Coronavirus: Trump falsely claims that Google is developing a screening website for use “across the continent”

The White House is turning to Google to create a new screening website for anyone who wants information on how to get tested for the coronavirus, said President Donald Trump on Friday. However, there are some discrepancies between the White House and Google versions of what the site will be able to do, where it will do it and when.

The site will actually be built by Verily, the life sciences division of parent company Google, Alphabet, which focuses on researching and developing health problems, the company confirmed.

The president said 1,700 engineers were working on the triage website and that it would be done “very quickly”. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said she wanted to take “across the continent”. Vice President Mike Pence said he would have more information on when the website would be available on Sunday evening.

“I want to thank Google, Google is helping to develop a website, it will be done very quickly, unlike past websites, to determine if a test is justified and to facilitate testing in a convenient location nearby,” said Trump during a press conference to declare the coronavirus a national emergency.

But in a brief statement shared on Twitter an hour and a half after the announcement, Verily said the website was only “in the early stages of development”. The tool will first start in the San Francisco Bay area with “the hope of expanding it more widely over time.”

According to dr. Birx, who raised a flowchart to illustrate how the site would work, will begin with a survey asking people about their symptoms and risk factors. If it determines that they must undergo a test, it will direct them to the nearest drive-through test center.

Verily’s spokeswoman, Emily Friedman, said the site will operate with several test stations in the bay area during the test and that Verily is working with the test companies Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp on the project. Andrew Conrad, CEO of Verily, was the scientific chief of LabCorp.

As reported for the first time by Verge, the tool will be based on the Verily project baseline, which collects health data from volunteers. Verily’s site wasn’t originally intended for the general public, but the company changed that plan since the announcement.

“We intended to start with the highest risk populations, including health workers, but we weren’t planning on them alone,” Friedman said. “Our aspiration is that the triage tool is used in a much broader way.”

In truth it started in Google X, the Google wing for experimental projects. It became its division called Verily in 2015. One of its higher profile projects was an effort to develop glucose sensitive contact lenses that the company said it hoped would “one day lead to a new way to people with diabetes to manage their disease. ” The project was shut down in 2018, after researchers failed to find a strong correlation between tear glucose levels and blood glucose levels.

In truth, it did not provide details on how to manage the sensitive health data collected. In the past, Google’s handling of health information has raised privacy concerns. In November 2019, he said he was partnering with Ascension healthcare provider to collect and store personal data for millions of patients, including full names, birth dates and clinical histories, in order to make smarter recommendations for doctors.

It would not be the first time that President Trump has misrepresented the work of a technology company. In November 2019, credit was taken for Apple who opened a manufacturing plant in Texas. Since 2013, the company has been manufacturing computers in a plant belonging to one of its contractors and, although it plans a new Austin campus in 2022, it will not build hardware.

The Washington Post

Reuters added: Vice President Mike Pence said the website launch date will be known by Sunday evening.


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