Google, Walmart join U.S. effort to speed up coronavirus
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[March 14, 2020] Donald
Trump and executives announced that Google would offer a website to help
people determine whether they needed tests and retailers would set up
drive-through testing in parking lots.
Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O>, Walmart Inc <WMT.N>,
Target Corp <TGT.N> and drugstore owner CVS Health Corp <CVS.N> all
closed up more than 9%, in line with the broad stock market, though
Alphabet dropped 2% after hours.
Pressure has been rising on U.S. officials to increase and improve
testing for the fast-spreading virus, which has reached almost every
U.S. state and infected more than 1,660 people in the country.
"I want to thank Google. Google is helping to develop a website, it's
gonna be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine
whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby
convenient location," Trump said.
"Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now, made tremendous
An administration presentation showed a potential user would be asked
several questions on the website and then given a recommendation as to
whether they should get a coronavirus test.
Those requiring a test would be referred to a store that can provide
assistance, potentially including a drive-through test, according to the
administration's presentation. Results would be available online in 24
to 36 hours.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the website's launch date would be
known by Sunday night.
Verily, a healthcare tech company also owned by Alphabet, said it was
leading the effort to develop the web tool, with the help of an
undisclosed number of Google employees.
"We are in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing
out in the (San Francisco) Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more
broadly over time," Verily spokeswoman Kathleen Parkes said.
About 1,700 Google workers have volunteered to help with coronavirus-related
efforts, according to a person familiar with the matter, but it is
unclear whether all of them are involved with developing the new
Carolyn Wang, another Verily spokeswoman, said it initially aimed to
assess testing needs for people more prone to catching the virus, such
as healthcare workers. But she said Verily now plans to trial the system
more broadly at several sites around the San Francisco region.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump declares the coronavirus pandemic a national
emergency as Vice President Mike Pence listens during a news
conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington,
U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Wang added that Verily was "collaborating closely with organizations like Quest
Diagnostics and LabCorp who are also working on additional approaches to making
testing more accessible and expedient in other areas."
Quest Diagnostics Inc <DGX.N> and Laboratory Corp of America Holdings <LH.N> did
not respond to after-hours requests for comment.
The Verily spokeswomen did not respond to questions on how data submitted by
website visitors would be protected and used.
Leading U.S. retailers will work with the government to assist with
drive-through coronavirus testing, the Retail Industry Leaders Association said.
Senior leaders of Walmart, Target, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc <WBA.O> and CVS
stood with Trump at the announcement.
The tests will be conducted in retail store parking lots and sent to labs to
complete testing in partnership with local health departments and diagnostic
labs. The testing sites will not be run by the companies.
FINDING A TEST
The cooperation with the Trump administration comes as Alphabet faces several
antitrust investigations from state and federal agencies over its search and
digital advertising businesses.
Trump has accused Google of skewing its search results to portray him
negatively. The company has also attracted the administration's ire for not
renewing a contract to provide its artificial intelligence technologies for a
military drone program.
"Google cozying up to the government doesn't hurt," said Andre Barlow, an
antitrust expert with the law firm Doyle, Barlow and Mazard. "Obviously there
are a lot of factors that are weighed in the antitrust investigation, which
could go either way."
Trump also is eager to increase testing after efforts were hampered by flawed
kits distributed by the federal government in February, which gave some false
(Reporting by Chris Sanders, Makini Brice and Diane Bartz in Washington and
Paresh Dave and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Munsif
Vengattil; Editing by Richard Chang and Rosalba O'Brien)
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