Verily Coronavirus Testing: What Do You Need to Know?

Project Baseline is a coronavirus initiative spearheaded by Google's parent, Alphabet, but what is it, and what will it do?
Scarlett Cook

Verily, a sister company of Google, has created a screening website, which allows people to find out if they can get tested for coronavirus, free of charge. It’s aimed at adults in two counties in the California Bay Area: San Mateo and Santa Clara.

But concerns have been raised around data, privacy and security.

So what is the Verily company? How does the screening site work? And what has the reaction been like to the launch?

What is Verily?

Verily is a healthcare and life sciences company. It’s a part of Alphabet, Google's parent company. It’s been reported that staff from Verily, Google and Alphabet worked on the screening site project.

Verily was started in 2015, aiming to utilize health data to help people live more healthily. Some of the institutions it’s partnered with include the American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic.

How Does the Verily Testing Website Work?

Project Baseline is Verily’s screening site for COVID-19. Adults in San Mateo and Santa Clara are eligible to complete the screening. This involves submitting information about your health status. Based on the answers provided, people are invited to complete a free coronavirus test.

To use the screener, people need to have (or create) a Google account, as well as complete and sign forms for consent and authorization. The screening questions are based on public health guidelines: people have to give health information, as well as detail any symptoms that they’re experiencing.

Depending on the answers provided, and the availability of testing appointments, people find out if they’re eligible for a free coronavirus test, and where to go to take it. After testing, the results are sent via email.

Verily's Project Baseline is working to deliver COVID-19 testing initially in select counties in the Bay Area to the highest risk populations as defined by the California Department of Public Health. If you are in the California Bay Area and interested in getting tested for COVID-19, complete an online screener based on guidelines from public health officials and see if testing is available for you through this program at this time. – Verily website

What Has the Reaction Been?

The New York Times reported that within hours of launching, the Verily website reached capacity. And, there’s been confusion around the capability of the project, as well as who is eligible for testing.

Since then, The Guardian described how the testing centers were quiet, even though the initiative was promoted by President Trump.

Also, with people needing to have a Google account to access the screener, worries around data, privacy and security have arisen. Democratic senators, including California Senator Kamala Harris, have voiced their concerns. There have also been questions around whether or not this tech-led initiative excludes older generations who may not be quite as tech-savvy, and yet represent the most vulnerable group.

What Next for Project Baseline?

By using health data, Verily’s Project Baseline screening website can help people to work out if they can receive a free coronavirus test.

But with the site reaching capacity so quickly, and the need for more assurance about its security measures and data management, it’s uncertain what’s next for the project. This has been compounded somewhat by mixed messaging from both Verily itself, and President Trump.

As with so much of the current public health crisis, it’s likely to be a case of wait and see – for both Project Baseline and in general.

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Scarlett writes news stories for Tech.co. She can also be found writing about UK startups.

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