Verily, Google’s sister company has launched a much storied screening website for those who wish to be tested for COVID-19 in the US. The website is available in currently available in the Bay Area of California and is more of a pilot program than a public health unity. Users feed in details about their health and their travel history and as a result, may get a free test.
This initiative to counter the populace-threatening pathogen is however fairly limited in scope. In order to gain access to the website’s facilities, the user must be of 18 years of age or older, be able to speak English and must be a US resident.
The health care technology company worked with a few employees from Google to develop this website. The site is located in Project Baseline, which till date has been used to connect people to clinical trials.The website states that the Verily is working with the California governor’s office in order to direct high-risk individuals to newly launched testing centres located in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The website may call these users directly to set up appointments.
The initial question asked on the website is “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath or other concerning symptoms?” If the user selects “yes”, they are told that the test is not the “right fit” and is asked to seek medical help. According to the company, people displaying symptoms of the flu require medical care rather than a test on the website.
If the user selects “no”, they are asked to sign in using a Google account. This step drew in a considerable amount of criticism online. Next, the user is required to sign an Informed Consent authorization form which allows public health officials to access their data. Following this, the user is led through a series of screener questions about their symptoms.
According to Verily, the responses to this survey will be kept in an encrypted Google form and the access to the data submitted will be restricted and regulated. The data may be shared with public health officials but will not be joined with users’ data stored in Google products or used for research purposes without their explicit permission. The users’ insurance company will not have any access to this data either.
The launch of the website was preceded by chaos created by inaccurate statements, courtesy of the White House regarding Google building such a website. Google was not prepared to be mentioned in the press conference and had not planned the launch of the site. Over the weekend, the tech giant tried to repair the situation through tweets pointing at its own efforts to put out information about the pandemic as well as tweets pointing at the Verily site.
As the pandemic that has caused 6000 deaths continues to, Verily is trying to help local authorities control the situation in California. The website is in its pilot stages and the company has not made any promises in its public statements about expanding the initiative.