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Trump caught Google off guard with a fake coronavirus site announcement

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President Donald Trump announced Friday that the U.S. government’s coronavirus testing device, which has lagged far behind other developed countries, will soon get help from Google. The search and advertising giant will create a website, said Trump, which would help Americans determine if they need a test for the virus, and if so, where they can get it. find one.

The only problem: there is no national site like the one described by Trump. And Google had no idea that the President was going to mention one.

A Google source told WIRED that company management was surprised that Trump announced anything about the initiative at the press conference. What he said was also almost entirely false. There will be a coronavirus test site, not from Google but from sister company Alphabet Verily. We are developing a tool to help sort individuals for Covid-19, Google tests tweeted in a report. Verily is in the early stages of development and plans to launch tests in the bay area, hoping for wider expansion over time.

Even that, however, was not the original plan. the Verge reported on Friday afternoon that Verily had planned the site only for healthcare workers. After Trump unexpectedly announced the effort, Verily decided that he would allow anyone to visit him, but could still only provide people with information about the test site in the San Francisco area.

Google did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Verily described the site's intention differently from the Verge report. "We originally planned to focus on the populations most at risk, which includes health care workers, but it was not just for them," the company said. "We are working with organizations like Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp as part of this initiative, and local organizations to determine what will work best. At Verily, we are focused on developing a tool to help sort out individuals for testing. "

It is unclear whether senior management at Google or Alphabet was aware of Trump's plans, but CEO Sundar Pichai apparently made no reference to them in a scale note. company on its coronavirus efforts on Thursday which was first reported by CNBC. In the memo, Pichai told employees that "a planning effort is underway" for Verily to "assist in the COVID-19 testing effort in the United States".

The White House declined to comment on the matter, but did not dispute that Google was unaware that Trump was going to announce the site on Friday.

Do you have a tip on this story? Using an unprofessional device, send an email to Louise at [email protected] or on Signal at 347-966-3806. WIRED protects the confidentiality of its sources.

The disconnect is particularly strange given how much Trump and other White House officials touted the website at Friday's press conference. Google had 1,700 engineers working on it, said Trump. Sunday, proposed Vice President Mike Pence, they would be able to announce the site availability schedule. The recently appointed White House coronavirus coordinator Debbie Birx explained how the site would work. Customers, patients and interested people can fill out a screening questionnaire, she said. If the responses indicate that they have symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the site will direct them to the nearest driving test site. Once tested, they will get results within 24 to 36 hours. It looked a bit like Google Maps: Pandemic Edition.

It is not clear at this point to what extent the Verily site will reflect this description. This is part of a larger set of coronavirus tests announced by the White House, including partnerships with pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens and retailers Target and Walmart. The tests themselves will be provided by biotechnology companies like Roche Diagnostics, which received version approval earlier on Friday.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

The fact that the White House is finally treating the tests urgently is a good thing, even if it is late. But apparent miscommunication or outright misrepresentation may bode well for the broader efforts of administrations. What we have learned from past public health emergencies is the importance of clear, consistent and accurate information that the public can use, says Christopher Friese, professor at the School of Nursing at University of Michigan. Frieses' comment focused specifically on the importance of clarity in a test information website, but also seems to apply more widely.



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