While sniffling and holding back mucus for... some reason... Trump today declared in a news conference that the COVID-19 pandemic is officially a "state of emergency," adding that Google is working with the White House to build a "screening website" for the disease. The move opens up $50 billion in funding to mount a response.
Google has been tasked with creating a self-screening website that can direct those people who do show symptoms to drive-through testing centers. Well, technically, it's a Google sibling company, Verily (which, according to Axios, has 1,000 employees... total). "It's going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past," said the recently impeached President in what was likely a swipe at the Obama administration's struggles rolling out the Affordable Care Act's website — which expanded healthcare for Americans, something Trump has not been able to accomplish.
Dr. Deborah Birx, who was appointed in 2014 by President Obama to lead the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, will be leading the charge on the new public and private partnership to fight COVID-19. As an expert in her field with experience in this area, she stands in stark contrast to Vice President Mike Pence. Pence, who the President has tasked with spearheading the administration's response to the virus, enacted a public health policy in his home state of Indiana which directly led to an HIV/AIDS outbreak.
The CEO of Wal-Mart, Doug McMillon, was also on hand to announce that Wal-Mart will be rolling out drive-through testing at its retail stores. This is on the heels of the Trump administration's repeated failure to provide tests for the virus. Many other nations, like South Korea which has socialized healthcare, have not been hindered by this issue in dealing with their outbreaks.
Verily — an Alphabet-owned company formerly known as Google Life Sciences — tweeted out a short response to the president's statements on the project via the Google Communications Twitter account. It should be noted that the tweet seems to suggest that this project is quite new and certainly not staffed by 1,700 people.
A follow-up tweet stated, “We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort."
According to CNBC, plans about the project were shared internally by Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, telling employees that, “The good news is that a planning effort is underway to use the expertise in life sciences and clinical research of Verily in partnership with Google to aid in the COVID-19 testing effort in the U.S." Pichai further detailed plans around how the pipeline from web test to real-world interaction would function. "As more test kits become available, the planners are looking to develop a pathway for public health and healthcare agencies to direct people to our Baseline website, where individuals who are at higher risk can be directed to testing sites based on the latest guidance from public health authorities," he is alleged to have said.
As for for the president?
"I don't take responsibility at all," said Trump of the administration's response and testing failures.
The many white men in attendance concluded the news conference by shaking each others' hands, in direct violation of CDC safety guidelines. Here's hoping Dr. Birx and the intelligent engineers at Google can help stave off the worst effects of COVID-19.
Update: This story has been updated with more detail about Verily and quotes from Sundar Pichai from a CNBC report.