The Coronavirus testing site is live, all thanks to Google and Verily, the subsidiaries of Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL). Interestingly, with the launch, it’s already surrounded by the controversy.
In a press conference on the last Friday, US President Donald Trump announced the upcoming launch of a COVID-19 testing site developed by Google. According to this statement, the coronavirus testing site would provide preliminary screening for people with possible symptoms of the novel coronavirus and relay suspected cases to the nearest testing centre. Said site was supposed to be the combined effort of 1700 Google engineers in conjunction with federal authorities in order to provide COVID-19 screening in large capacities in different parts of the US.
However, people were left in confusion when Google denied these claims. Within a few hours, it was found out that the Coronavirus testing site was an initiative of Verily’s Project Baseline.
Soon after President Trump made his statement, Google clarified the confusion it had created by tweeting a statement by its sister company Verily, which, along with Google, is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL)
The statement revealed that Verily (short for Verily Life Sciences, a life sciences research subsidiary of Alphabet) was in the process of developing a screening tool for coronavirus. Through this tool, Verily aimed to make preliminary testing for COVID-19 more accessible to people showing symptoms of the pandemic.
For this project, Verily collaborated with the California Government and was set to begin a pilot roll-out of the tool in the Bay area.
The tool was to be available via Project Baseline, Verily’s healthcare database which stores information about people’s health with the aim to conduct community-based research.
After the official statement was made, the tool was rolled out a day earlier than expected on Sunday, albeit available only in two Bay area counties.
Verily has stated that this is a pilot run and the eventual goal for the site is to expand as much as they can.
Coronavirus Testing Site
The screening tool is available in the Covid-19 subdomain of project baseline’s website.
The page lists the eligibility criteria for screening and then based on that lets people who qualify take the screening test.
The screening test asks the informant about the presence of Covid-19 symptoms, based on currently accepted guidelines. If the symptoms seem severe enough to warrant a lab test, the person is put in queue to get tested at the nearest testing centre for free.
However, to get screened, one needs to sign in with their Google account, a requirement many people have found suspicious. But the site claims to encrypt all user data.
There Are Issues As Well
While, on the surface, the initiative seems to make things simpler for people in the Bay Area counties it covers, many users have reported running into problems.
A number of users raised concerns about the test not screening them as being eligible for a lab test despite reporting symptoms.
When approached about this, a verily spokesperson person said, “The initial question is meant to ensure that anyone who is seriously ill does not come to our sites because they are not prepared to provide medical attention,” probably referring to the fact that those who are seriously ill should consult a professional ASAP.
However, the way this is executed seems to be counterproductive.
Another obvious issue is the limited availability of the test, but Verily has been consistent in its intent to make it widely available as soon as possible.
At the same time, the site’s proclaimed aim is to provide free testing only for individuals showing significantly severe symptoms. In that respect, it fails to fill the worldwide gap in the detection of mild cases which are more likely to contribute to the spread of the disease.
Additionally, on Monday, just one day after going live, the Coronavirus testing site claimed to reach full capacity in its testing and referrals. This raised another wave of concern in individuals but Verily chose to keep the maximum testing capacity of the feature confidential.
Since it is the beginning, a lot is being passed off as logistical issues, however, in the wider context and the significantly high number of cases in the Bay area, all bumps must be smoothed as soon as possible.