SAN FRANCISCO — Some Google employees are alarmed they weren’t told sooner that a colleague with measles had walked around buildings at their Silicon Valley headquarters — including a campus restaurant — two weeks ago, according to internal forum posts seen by BuzzFeed News.
Many are discussing how to protect themselves and their families and to what degree they may be at risk of the highly contagious virus after finding out that the unidentified person spent time in a Mountain View office building April 4.
A select group of employees learned about the incident more than a week later, on April 13, when a company doctor emailed them about the infected “Googler,” as BuzzFeed News first reported on Wednesday. Sometime on Tuesday, a warning flyer went up at the restaurant.
For many other employees, though, the news report was the first time they’d heard about the potential health risk at their campus, where thousands work, as no wider message went out until Thursday. Some were left annoyed that their employer hadn’t sounded the alarm faster and more widely.
“A bit upsetting that I had to find out about this through this Group, via a BuzzFeed News article, rather than from some official Google internal comms,” one Googler wrote on a company discussion board.
On Thursday morning, the staff doctor sent a message to multiple internal groups of employees, reassuring them that they were safe while acknowledging that his communication had been “slow.”
BuzzFeed News has learned that not only did the potentially infected person visit the office at 1295 Charleston Road, they also hung out in the on-campus Fish Food café, a five-minute walk away. It’s not clear how busy the restaurant, which serves up mussels, grilled fish, and other fare at no charge, may have been at the time, but Google famously plies workers with free meals to keep them on the campus.
A public health notice now inside the restaurant informs customers that “a person who may have been contagious with measles” was there from 6 to 7:50 p.m. on April 4, according to photos of the flyer, dated Tuesday.
“Measles spreads very easily through the air,” it notes.
The reported case is part of a historic resurgence of measles in the US. At least 555 people have been infected this year by the virus, which was declared eliminated in 2000, according to the CDC. Public health experts blame the uptick partially on the spread of anti-vaccine falsehoods on social media platforms — including Google’s YouTube, which, under public pressure, recently removed ads from known anti-vaccine video channels.
On average, it takes 14 days for the virus to develop from exposure to the first rash, according to the CDC. People can spread it from four days before through four days after the rash appears.
After BuzzFeed News’ story was published Wednesday, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department confirmed that an unnamed adult resident of San Mateo County “who visited Google” had contracted measles. The infection is unrelated to other cases in the county, and there is no additional health risk, the agency said. A Google spokesperson confirmed on Thursday that the person is a Mountain View–based employee.
The agency notified Google of the diagnosis at the end of last Friday. The company then notified “all co-workers who may have been around this individual” and, “out of caution,” all who work at 1295 Charleston as well as next door in 1245 Charleston, staff doctor David Kaye told employees in his Thursday email, which Google shared with BuzzFeed News.
The person was only at the Mountain View campus on April 4 while potentially being contagious, Kaye wrote, and Google was “not aware of any other cases.”
“Apologies for the slow reply here, and I’m very sorry this is causing people to worry,” he wrote. But he added that this news “will hopefully reassure you.”
For some Googlers, especially those with children, this reassurance may have been too little and too late.
“I’ve only seen the following notice,” one employee wrote in an internal group called “Expectant New Parents,” linking to the BuzzFeed News story. “Has anyone seen the detailed itinerary? We have a newborn at home, and wondering if we need to request the vaccine as a special case.”
“This is very concerning… also would like to know more,” another chimed in.
In reference to the public health notice in Fish Food café, yet another employee wrote, “Not sure why REWS or GSOC isn’t sending this out.” These are apparent references to the company’s Real Estate and Workplace Services and Global Security Operations Center.
Some workers wondered if a measles booster shot would help protect them. “I am hoping Google can offer an onsite clinic like they do for flu shots,” one wrote. (The CDC says a booster is not needed for people who received two doses as children.)
At Google’s office in Kirkland, Washington, a state that experienced a measles outbreak earlier this year, a manager on the office’s food team circulated the news in a note that also included earlier precautions and suggestions for preventive actions.
“Even though there is a very slight possibility of the virus spreading, we have many visitors on our campuses and they may have been exposed unknowingly,” the manager wrote.
Meanwhile, one Google employee urged their coworkers to not fall for the conspiracy theories they might encounter on, well, Google.
“Scary… folks please don’t believe everything you see on the internet — the earth is not flat, 9/11 was not a government-concocted hoax, and it turns out that vaccinating yourselves and your children is actually a good thing!”