State, local and federal governments worked with a Google sister company to deploy a website offering novel coronavirus (COVID-19) screening and testing resources to residents in two Silicon Valley counties.
The website which went live Sunday night, offers people in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties information about the virus, including screening questions to help them decide whether they have it; whether they qualify for free testing, and where tests are available. It’s the latest offering from Project Baseline, an initiative founded by Verily, an Alphabet subsidiary centered on life sciences and healthcare. Among the takeaways:
• Jesse Melgar, press secretary in the Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, confirmed to Techwire the office has been “working in close partnership with Verily to pilot testing in a few Bay Area counties.”
“Protecting the health and safety of Californians requires a foundational public health model for large-scale testing,” Newsom said in a statement. “California is mobilizing quickly to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help those affected. We are partnering with organizations across health care, including Verily, to expand access to reliable screening and testing.”
• In an email to Techwire, Carolyn Wang, Verily head of communications, said the company is working to expand risk assessment and testing in areas with high numbers of cases, such as the Bay Area — but that as “testing capabilities expand,” the company will work to scale its efforts. The effort, she said, is still in early stages, and it’s hoped lessons learned from the pilot will enable that scaling.
In a news release, the company said its goal is to help local governments expand access to testing to meet increasing need. Details about any contract between the state and Verily or local governments remain unclear, as does information on the website’s reception in just a few days.
• The website requires San Mateo and Santa Clara county residents who are over age 18, don’t have severe coronavirus symptoms and would like to complete a screening survey, to register with Project Baseline through a new or existing Google account. Project Baseline members have the “option to share information” on their health with the initiative, “including self-reported data, data recorded by mobile devices or other sensors, and electronic health records,” according to its FAQs.
• Information provided, it said, will be stored in a “secure, encrypted database with restricted access.” Project team members who need to contact residents will have access to the contact information they choose to share — and with residents’ consent, the initiative may share that information with “other researchers and partners.” Among its uses, data provided may help to “conduct and publish research on health and disease” — with personally identifiable information removed before publication. It may also facilitate in the creation of “new tools, technologies, products, and partnerships related to health and disease.” Study “details pages” will let residents know whether health data provided and results can be returned, the Project said in response to an FAQ about whether data provided can be accessed, noting that study protocols vary.