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Google's first coronavirus screening site from Verily is live — and very limited

(Image credit: PK Studio / Shutterstock)

Google and one of its parent company's subsidiaries have created coronavirus sites to inform and assess users. They're more limited than you might think, and aren't quite what was promised by the President in a recent speech. But these tools could certainly help people, and maybe the whole of the US in the coming months.

Verily and Project Baseline

Verily, a life sciences company owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, has begun trials of a web page that can screen for coronavirus and refer users in the San Francisco area to testing sites. This is a part of its Project Baseline health tracking initiative (via CNBC and The Verge). 

To use the site, you need to sign in with your Google account, and complete an authorization form which allows the site to share your personal details with various official bodies. You also need to be over 18, an English speaker and be a US resident currently living in either San Mateo or Santa Clara county.

If the screener decides you could have contracted the virus, based on your occupation, recent travel and contact with any confirmed cases, you will then be directed to a local testing site for a physical test, depending on capacity. However, if you report any of the major signs of a COVID-19 infection, such as severe coughing, fever or shortness of breath, the test will end and you will be instructed to seek medical attention away from the testing sites.

Verily has plans to expand the site to the whole of the United States, but gave no timeline as this is dependent on the availability of test kits and sites. However, there is speculation that this project is more about surveying a wide swathe of the US population to figure out who may have the virus without physical testing, rather than trying to act as a virtual triage service.

Google's COVID-19 information site

The Verily project was initially announced prematurely and inaccurately by President Donald Trump in a press conference on Friday last week. While there was briefly some confusion over what exactly was being announced and who was running it, Google has since made its own announcement. The company shared a blog post by CEO Sundar Pichai about how it's trying to stamp out coronavirus misinformation with its plans for a coronavirus information website.

Vice President Mike Pence has also mentioned that other tech companies are working with the US government, and that a national diagnosis site like the one suggested by the President could still be made. However no specific details have yet to emerge.

The fact that you need to attach your Google account to your test results is concerning in terms of user data and privacy, and the limited availability means this Verily project may not have a major effect for the time being. However, for people who think they may be at risk, this resource could form a small but important part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.