During his Friday press conference, President Trump declared that 1,700 Google engineers were working on a website to fight the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. That site, called Project Baseline — which is actually a creation of Alphabet-owned Verily — is live as of Monday morning. And it’s nothing like what Trump promised in his address to the nation.
Project Baseline is not a public health site with the power to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Rather, it’s a pilot program with a very limited scope that isn’t actually useful for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. In fact, the screening program prompts users with symptoms to seek help elsewhere.
How exactly is this meant to fight the coronavirus again?
Narrow, limited, unusable — For starters, Project Baseline is only available to those living in either Santa Clara or San Mateo counties in California. The project has nothing at all to offer for those who reside outside of these areas.
Say you do live in one of these two counties. You’re coughing, have a fever, and are generally very scared that you’ve contracted COVID-19. You log onto Project Baseline seeking assistance in finding a testing facility nearby. The site prompts you with an opening question about your symptoms: “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms?”
You click yes. Project Baseline provides you with an answer: “We suggest that you seek medical attention.” There’s also a link to the CDC’s website.
That’s the entire screener. No links to testing facilities, even within Project Baseline’s supposed coverage area.
Not even informative — Telling Project Baseline you’re not experiencing symptoms does not prove to be any more helpful. You’re prompted to answer a few more questions — are you 18 or older? Do you live within the coverage area? — and then presented with a screen that says Project Baseline is “unable to schedule more appointments at this time.”
Doomed from the start — Project Baseline’s failure to launch is unsurprising, to say the least. Google CEO Sundar Pichai did not even know about the project until the day before Trump announced it. The White House claimed the site would assist in directing people around the country to testing sites, including drive-through clinics that would be opening up in the parking lots at retailers like Target and Walmart.
At launch, Project Baseline delivers on none of its promises. It provides no resources or assistance to those hoping to find testing facilities, even in its supposed coverage area.
The project’s landing page states: “We are working to rapidly expand testing in every way that we can; please check back soon as we add more testing sites and may expand eligibility criteria.” With how unusable the site is now, it can only improve from here.