Trump's emergency declaration includes plans for drive-thru coronavirus testing (Update: About that website...)

As Ed anticipated earlier today, President Trump has announced a national emergency to combat the spread of the coronavirus. He did this at a White House news conference which included representatives from major industries in addition to government officials.

“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a national emergency,” Trump said. He added, “Two very big words.”

He then went on to outline a plan to offer as many as 5 million coronavirus tests to Americans, including through drive-thru testing facilities that would be set up in the parking lots of major retailers. To pre-screen people for testing and direct people who need a test where to go, Google will be helping to set up a website to identify those who may be at risk:

Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other top federal officials and corporate executives, Trump announced that 1.4 million new tests for coronavirus would be available next week and that 5 million would be available within the next month — although he added that “I doubt we’ll need that” quantity.

He also announced plans for a large-scale drive-thru protocol for testing for the virus.

Under the protocol, Trump and other officials explained, individuals who suspect they may be infected can fill out a screening questionnaire set up by Google, and if they have the appropriate symptoms or risk factors, they will be directed to nearby drive-thru testing centers.

Those centers, officials explained, will deliver the tests to laboratory automated machines, and test result will be produced in 24 to 36 hours.

The new coronavirus test that will make all of this possible runs on automated testing machines which are already in place at more than 100 labs around the country:

The test was developed by diagnostics giant Roche Holding AG and is designed to run on the company’s automated machines, which are already installed in more than 100 laboratories across the U.S. It will be available immediately.

It is only the third coronavirus diagnostic to receive emergency-use authorization from the FDA, following a test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one from the New York State Department of Health…

Currently, all testing is based on identifying unique portions of the new coronavirus’s genetic sequence. But Roche’s tests can be conducted faster than manual laboratory tests. Its machines provide results in three and a half hours and can run many tests in parallel—though as they are located in laboratories, it will take additional time for samples to be sent for testing. Its most advanced machine can process around 4,128 samples every 24 hours.

All of this is supposed to be available starting next week. It’s certainly an ambitious plan. Implementing it in hundreds of locations across the country won’t be simple. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about that next week. The plan itself will undoubtedly have plenty of critics but the markets did react positively, ending a very tough week on a significant upswing.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared into the 4 p.m. trading close with a gain of about 1,980 points, or about 9.4%, to 23182, concluding a topsy-turvy session. The S&P 500 rose 9.2%, and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 9.3%.

Those moves recovered some ground on the heels of Wall Street’s worst day in more than three decades, when the Dow plunged 10% as the rapidly spreading coronavirus drove fears of a global slowdown despite action from the Federal Reserve and attempts by lawmakers and the White House to reassure investors and the public.

You may need to scroll in about halfway to view the press conference:

Update: Google Communications just put out a statement suggesting the website they are working on will be ready for testing soon but will only roll out nationwide “over time.”

That’s not very specific but based on the presentation above the website is a part of the whole drive-thru testing scheme. Here’s a screenshot of Dr. Deborah Birx explaining how it’s supposed to work. That top blue box reads “Screening Website.”

Update: The Verge has confirmed the statement above.

Carolyn Wang, communications lead for Verily, told The Verge that the “triage website” was initially only going to be made available to health care workers instead of the general public. Now that it has been announced the way it was, however, anybody will be able to visit it, she said. But the tool will only be able to direct people to “pilot sites” for testing in the Bay Area, though Wang says Verily hopes to expand it beyond California “over time.”

The triage site should be put live within a few days, and it will be hosted at Project Baseline, the Verily website where people can sign up to take part in clinical trials…

As for the 1,700 Google engineers Trump referenced in the press conference, that appears to be related to a call for volunteers Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai put out in a company-wide memo earlier this week.

In all, the difference between the reality of what is being built and what was promised during the press conference is very large.

I mean…this is just not helpful. You don’t have the President and Vice President announce a plan to the nation (complete with a flow-chart graphic) only to have the company explain afterwards that nothing like that is really happening. I honestly don’t understand how it’s possible Google and the White House hadn’t communicated on this before the press conference. Just to be sure I wasn’t imagining things, I re-watched the announcement above. Here’s what VP Pence said about the website that would soon be available:

On the plus side, it sounds like the White House really does have some of the testing and retail pieces of this plan on board. Based on Pence saying information about the website would be available Sunday, I guess they have two days to figure out how a site currently intended for the Bay Area can be expanded to the entire country very, very fast.