Sometimes hype backfires. Especially when the president of the United States mistakes your company for Google and overplays its ability to provide proper testing under a deadly pandemic. This is the story of Alphabet's Verily, a technology and research firm now scrambling to provide COVID-19 tests.
Bloomberg publication spoke with Verily engineer Pete Massaro and detailed the pressure brought on by Donald Trump's announcement that Verily was introducing a "nationwide system" to conduct tests as the novel coronavirus spread rapidly. The announcement was made on March 13, causing Massaro's team to launch their project on March 16 — well before its original plan.
But what Trump failed to mention was that Verily was conducting tests in only two counties in California, not the entirety of the United States. Since then, the company's website has been overwhelmed by visitors while Verily was able to test only 20 people on the first day of its overhyped project.
Total number of tests done — In total, according to Verily, the company has tested 42,000 people as of May. The number sounds formidable but it's nowhere near the number of tests needed to understand COVID-19's spread. Ideally, public health officials suggest that 500,000 tests should take place on a daily basis.
Initially, the company planned to simply run a website that would help people understand their symptoms and potentially be sent to one of just two Verily test sites the company had set up. As mentioned before, on its first day the website crashed, and Verily tested only 20 individuals. Now the company is attempting to work on coordinated testing instead of carrying out its own examinations. Additionally, Verily is working with 37 Rite Aid locations in eight different states with plans to branch out further. The idea is to conduct at least 250 tests daily.
Carefully optimistic — In spite of the chaos that ensued after Trump's announcement, Verily sounds a little optimistic about the future of COVID-19 testing in the country. A company spokesperson told Bloomberg, "By scaling to more states and more individual sites, we aim to not only help individuals who need to be tested for COVID-19 but also play a supportive role in driving evidence-driven policy that will successfully manage this health crisis."
In the meantime, the company is going to have to figure out how to handle the shortage of PPE, swabs, and other painfully rudimentary equipment. After all, this is a technology and research company, not a medical facility — as much as Trump thinks it is.