Google News will direct users to local COVID-19 info

Google is partnering with local news publishers in the US and Canada.

Melissa Kopka via Getty Images

Since the pandemic began, Google has been working to surface relevant, reliable information. Now, with rates of the virus and state policies varying so widely across the country, Google wants to provide users with more local information. Today, it announced that it’s partnering with local news publishers to highlight their content in the COVID-19 section of the Google News app.

The feature allows users to see things like public health guidance, the status of local healthcare infrastructure and public transportation, events and resources for those in need. It’s available in more than 21 regions at the moment, and Google plans to expand the offering across the US and Canada. It may also offer the feature outside of the Google News app in the future.

Google News will now show local COVID-19 content.

Google is making a few other useful changes. When people look for coronavirus info in Search, the news carousel will now include tweets from local officials and health authorities. This feature is available in more than 30 countries.

And according to Google, more people are tuning into local radio on Google Assistant, presumably to listen for coronavirus news. While you can ask Google Assistant to play a specific station, in many cities, you can now ask Assistant to play local news about coronavirus. For instance, you might say, “Hey Google, play news about coronavirus in Boston.” Whatever Assistant-enabled device you’re using will then play a mix of stories relevant to your community. That should be useful for all news.

“The past few months have reinforced the critical role that local news plays in keeping communities informed. Google is dedicated to supporting and promoting local journalism both within and outside of our products,” Google said in a statement.

As part of its Google News Initiative, Google has taken several steps to support local reporting. Recently, it announced plans to pay publishers for “high-quality” content and to develop sustainable business models for local news publications. Google also invested $6.5 million to fight coronavirus misinformation -- that includes funding for journalists and social media influencers.