One week ago, President Donald Trump held a press conference wherein he claimed Google would be building a screening website for the coronavirus that would direct people to testing sites. As we learned in the following days, that wasn’t true. Google’s sister company Verily did launch such a site, but only for the Bay Area and reportedly it only offered tests to a very small number of people. Google, however, did say it would launch some sort of website and after a small delay, it’s here.
Alongside the website and potentially more importantly, Google will start providing more enhanced information cards for people who search for terms related to the coronavirus. There will be information tabs for symptoms, prevention, global statics, and locally relevant information. It will look a bit like this:
The website is at google.com/covid19. It does have useful resources, including a card that mimics what you see above. Google’s post announcing the site says that you will be able to find “state-based information, safety and prevention tips, search trends related to COVID-19, and further resources for individuals, educators and businesses.” Google emphasizes that it’s pulling information from “authoritative” sources like the WHO and the CDC.
It’s only available in English right now, but a Google spokesperson tells The Verge that Spanish language support is soon to follow. The site was also designed with accessibility in mind, including with the larger fonts that Google usually uses.
The website has videos in ASL, a global map showing confirmed cases by country, and plenty of information about Google’s other relief efforts — plus some feel-good YouTube videos.
Reading through that description, however, you’ll notice that it doesn’t include what Trump originally claimed it would. The nearest thing to finding a test is a drop-down menu that provides links to local websites — for example, choosing California provides a link to the California Department of Public Health.
Right now, the CDC has a “self-checker” chatbot that Microsoft helped build, but the WSJ quoted an executive from a healthcare provider who put in a realistic context: “It’s just something consumers need now to help with anxiety.”
In other words, lots of big tech companies are making efforts to provide coronavirus-related support, but none of them are able to solve some of the biggest problems in the pandemic: access to testing and the impending crisis in our healthcare infrastructure.
At some point in the future, Google may actually provide a questionnaire and information about local drive-thru testing locations. But a spokesperson says that the company won’t do so until there’s authoritative and trustworthy information on those sites. That could be a long time coming, unfortunately.
By Dieter Bohn