Confusion greeted the launch of a coronavirus testing website built by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet and sister-company to Google. The site launched Sunday night and is initially intended for people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The website was supposed to direct Californians who live in the wider San Francisco area to one of two locations in the state where they could be tested for the novel coronavirus, if they met certain criteria established in an online questionnaire.
At first, users who reported they were suffering from symptoms such as “severe cough, shortness of breath, fever or other conceding symptoms” were advised they were not eligible for testing. If you went to the tool and answered “yes” to the symptoms question, the tool told you “based on your symptoms, in-person COVID-19 testing through this program is not the right fit.” When asked why those with symptoms were being advised not to receive testing, Verily spokeswoman Carolyn Wang told CNN that the tool is meant for those who are unsure if they are infected.
“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,” she said in a statement. “We are early in this pilot and are going to be learning more that will help us refine this COVID-19 risk screening and testing.”
Verily later updated the questionnaire to ask if users are experiencing “severe symptoms,” and to emphasize that the tool is not for those with such symptoms. The tool still advises those who report severe symptoms to “seek medical attention” and refers those visitors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
However, in testing the website, CNN also discovered that answering the questionnaire correctly — meaning responding in ways that met the site’s criteria for coronavirus testing — led to another error message. The message said: “Unfortunately, we are unable to schedule more appointments at this time,” suggesting that there aren’t enough testing appointments available even for those who warrant testing.
The Verily website launch follows a series of announcements from the Trump administration in recent days that Google was developing a large scale testing website. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence promised that “for Americans looking on … 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.”
Verily’s site is distinct from the nationwide website Google is building to address the coronavirus. Google is developing an educational site to provide information about the coronavirus, but the company’s announcement stopped short of describing it as a website connecting users to test locations.