The White House continued to give conflicting information Saturday about a website Google is supposedly building to help people determine whether and how to get a novel coronavirus test.
Vice President Mike Pence said during a briefing at the White House that an update would be available on Sunday, March 15th. “We will have very specific description about when the website will be available, when the parking lot sites will be available for people to be tested,” Pence said in response to a reporter’s question. “We are working with state and local communities to determine where it is best to roll those out.”
But later in the briefing, Pence was asked why Google was saying the site would be limited to the San Francisco Bay area. “They are planning to launch a website this coming Monday, March 16th that would enable individuals to do risk assessment and be scheduled for testing at testing sites in the Bay Area, with the goal of expanding to other locations,” Pence said.
The objective is to have a website up very quickly for people in areas most deeply impacted, Pence added, including Washington State, California, New York, Massachusetts and Florida.
Google itself has never said it would build a website, instead a sister company within its parent company Alphabet — Verily — is planning on building a pilot website just for the Bay Area. Given how complicated Alphabet’s corporate structure is, it’s possible Pence was simply referring to Verily’s website. We have reached out to Verily and Google for comment.
During a Friday press conference where he declared a state of emergency, President Trump said Google was developing a website “…it’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past — to determine if a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.” He added that “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress.”
That was news to Google, which said a screening website made by Verily, a separate division under Google’s parent company Alphabet, was in the works, but would only be able to direct people to testing facilities in the Bay Area and that a nationwide rollout was an aspiration, not an absolute plan.
Carolyn Wang, communications lead for Verily, said Friday evening that the “triage website” will only be able to direct people to “pilot sites” for testing in the Bay Area, with hopes of expanding it beyond California “over time.”
During Saturday’s briefing, President Trump said he had taken a test for the coronavirus — despite saying previously that he did not think he needed one— and was awaiting the results. On Saturday, the White House reported Trump had tested negative for the virus. Reporters in the briefing room said they had their temperatures taken before Trump and the rest of the task force entered the briefing room.
Wearing a “USA” baseball cap, Trump was asked why he decided to shake hands with some company executives who joined him in a press conference at the White House on Friday to declare a national emergency. Health officials are advising people to avoid such contact to prevent spread of the virus. He said it was a habit he picked up as a politician adding that “getting away from shaking hands is a good thing.”
Pence also announced Saturday that the administration is planning to extend its travel restrictions to include Ireland and the UK, to take effect Monday at midnight. President Trump had earlier announced that “most foreign nationals” who have been in 26 European countries would not be allowed to enter the US for 30 days. The latest ban does not apply to US citizens, but Trump said the White House was considering a domestic travel ban for some “hot spots.”