Verily Rolls out Free COVID-19 Testing in Several States
Jacob Bourne posted on April 29, 2020 |
Biotech company expands existing community health program to fight pandemic.
Project Baseline worker directs participates to a mobile testing site. (Image courtesy of Verily.)
Project Baseline worker directs participates to a mobile testing site. (Image courtesy of Verily.)

Verily, Google’s biotech sister company, has built a community health research initiative called Project Baseline to open COVID-19 testing sites all over the country. Project Baseline is a five-year-old program that seeks broad-based community engagement in clinical trials, medical research and health surveying to “map human health” using the “new digital environment.”

With the onset of the current global pandemic, the company first launched the Baseline COVID-19 Program in several California cities and is now launching the program in Delaware, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The program is receiving federal funding and is operating in conjunction with state public health authorities. One premise of the program is that because those who’ve been infected with SARS.

Project Baseline COVID-19 technology platform flow. (Image courtesy of Verily.)
Project Baseline COVID-19 technology platform flow. (Image courtesy of Verily.)

CoV-2 may show no symptoms for up to 14 days while still infecting others, it’s imperative to test those who’ve potentially been exposed to the virus.

The program allows multiple sites to function through a single tech platform that runs through a 10-step process for every person tested. From the participant’s perspective, getting tested involves a five-step process, starting with enrolling on the program’s website, then completing a screening survey, scheduling an appointment, and attending a drive-in appointment where a nasal swab test is administered. The participant either receives an email if the result is negative or a phone call if the result is positive. Public health authorities are then notified if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

Project Baseline COIVD-19 is designed to increase the amount of testing for the virus, targeting adults who aren’t experiencing severe symptoms, but there are requirements. Users must confirm that they are at least 18 years old, don’t need immediate medical attention, are able to drive to one of the testing sites, and sign in to the program using a Google account. The requirement for logging into a Google account has elicited some criticism and concern about the privacy of those being tested, and has prompted an inquiry by several Democratic U.S. senators.

In a recent press release, Verily said that the goal of its program is to increase research engagement and data collection, and to get therapeutic tools on the market faster, but the company also acknowledged the privacy concerns. “Verily has done extensive work over the past few years to develop private and secure platforms, and has published Verily’s privacy commitments,” the press release stated. “The Baseline platform has been employed in clinical research for years and hardened to protect data and users.”

Verily also stated that the program is compliant with FDA requirements and the California Consumer Privacy Act; however, it’s not covered by HIPAA. “For the Baseline COVID-19 Program, we have committed to minimizing the data we collect for the purpose of enabling this testing and only collecting what is necessary to enable people to get tested,” the press release continued. “We are committed to deleting this data once the public health emergency is over, except where individuals provide their explicit consent for additional uses of their data, such as clinical studies. To provide context, current expert projections are that this public health emergency will last at least 18 months; because COVID-19 is a new disease, we expect to retain the data throughout this time period to assist public health.”

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