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Coronavirus screening website promised by Trump expands beyond California

A month after the White House's coronavirus task force promised that a national screening website made by Google would facilitate testing for Americans, the site by internet giant's sister company is now expanding from its introductory locales in California to four cities in Pennsylvania and a pair of towns in New York and New Jersey.

Officials at a March 13 Rose Garden press conference indicated the site would be a national resource. President Trump said at the time that a site made by Google "is going to 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."

White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said the administration expected the website to ultimately streamline the process for Americans to determine if they should be tested and where they should go for testing. But the site was not yet ready, and a few days later it made a much more limited debut in just two California counties.

Just over a month later the site, created by Verily Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, has added four Pennsylvania cities to a list that previously included eight cities in California.

While the sites in California are primarily operated by Verily in conjunction with the state's health department, Pennsylvania's are operated as a partnership with the pharmacy chain Rite Aid.

The company said in a press release that testing sites have been established in the parking lots of several Rite Aid locations in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Monroeville and York, Pennsylvania. The company also has testing locations in Valley Stream, New York, and Waldwick, New Jersey.

"All Rite Aid drive-up COVID-19 testing locations will utilize self-swab nasal tests overseen by Rite Aid pharmacists," the company said. Rite Aid said the Verily website will be used for symptom screening, appointment scheduling and to provide test results to patients.

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said his office was involved in arranging the Philadelphia location, which was the first to open earlier this week.

"The Wolf Administration has been working with federal partners, private industry and others in regard to assisting Pennsylvanians with testing for COVID-19," said press secretary Nate Wardle.

Visitors to the Project Baseline website in its current form are greeted with a survey to determine eligibility. Factors include: residing within driving distance of the testing sites, and having a mild cough, shortness of breath and a fever. Those who are eligible then receive a lengthier questionnaire to assess risk. To proceed to that step, users must have a Google account, a policy that will not change as the site expands across the country. 

In a blog post Tuesday, Verily wrote that "Google's access to data is strictly limited" to services related to providing communication between medical personnel and patients. 

"All the data provided by Baseline COVID-19 Program users for screening is stored separately and not linked to a user's Google Account, which is used for authentication purposes," the company wrote. "Data will never be used for advertising purposes."

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