Nov 2, 2020 - Health

The coronavirus is becoming impossible to track

Illustration of New York City map with a gloved pointed hand
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans increasingly have no idea where they're catching the virus, and contact tracing efforts are falling apart in the face of the sheer number of cases, NYT reports.

Why it matters: It's much easier to close down a meatpacking plant — or even contain an outbreak in a nursing home — than to contain a virus spreading rapidly through the population from an unknown number of origins.

Between the lines: The number of cases is several times above what experts say is realistic for contact tracing, and health officials in some places have given up on tracking the virus.

  • Earlier on in the pandemic, uncontrolled spread was limited to a few major cities or specific regions, but it's now happening across the country.

The big picture: "The problem, of course, is that failing to fully track the virus makes it much harder to get a sense of where the virus is flourishing, and how to get ahead of new outbreaks," NYT writes.

  • "But once an area spins out of control, trying to trace back each chain of transmission can feel like scooping cupfuls of water from a flood."

The bottom line: The U.S. has attempted to use a strategy of testing, tracing and isolation to keep the pandemic in check. But the virus is very much out of control, and this strategy is falling apart. That leaves a serious question of where we go from here.

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