Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

First it was testing and PPE, then ventilators: The next big coronavirus hurdle for the U.S. is contact tracing.

Why it matters: This is a must-have for reopening while limiting the death toll.

The big picture: Contact tracing is a simple concept. Most countries use a combination of cellphone apps and human contact tracers to track down everyone who came into contact with an infected patient.

  • Those people are then tested and isolated if positive.
  • If you act quickly enough, outbreaks can be contained before becoming hotspots.

Humans are slow and do the process manually, much like a journalist reporting out a story.

  • Apps are fast, using Bluetooth signals to rapidly tell you who you came into contact with. But they come with major privacy and effectiveness concerns.
  • Apple and Google have pushed for public health agencies to adopt their privacy-oriented model, the AP reports. The tech firms are offering an app-building interface they say will work smoothly on billions of phones when the software rolls out sometime this month.

Between the lines: The U.S. has made big strides on testing, but we still don't have the scale needed to pull this off.

  • NPR found that states plan to hire more than 36,000 contact tracing staffers in the short-term.
  • But Johns Hopkins estimates the number needed exceeds 100,000.

The bottom line: Contact tracing won't realistically slow the current out-of-control outbreaks in the U.S, but if we get the people, tech and funding fixed fast, it could help alleviate some of the pain from wave two.

Go deeper: Contact tracing is the next big hurdle in the push to re-open cities

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that all school districts across the state can choose to reopen for in-person learning because it has so far maintained low enough coronavirus transmission rates.

Driving the news: It’s another sign that the state, once the global epicenter of the pandemic, has — at least for now — successfully curbed the spread of the virus even as infections have surged elsewhere around the country.

Updated Aug 4, 2020 - Health

The states where face coverings are mandatory

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday for people in public, as well as teachers and students going back to school.

The big picture: 34 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, have issued some form of a mask mandate as infections surge across the country.

Updated Aug 6, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Ethical tech in crisis

On Thursday August 6, Axios Cities author Kim Hart hosted a conversation on how technology companies are responding to the pandemic, featuring former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

DJ Patil unpacked how tech companies are building ethical and responsible tech centered on privacy and transparency during a time of crisis.

  • On the issue of misinformation during a pandemic: "It's no small statement to say [misinformation] is life or death. And so platforms have responsibility right now to figure out what is the right level of action at a bare minimum. It's creating stricter standards for how and what is allowed on their platforms."
  • On his concerns with the lasting consequences of quickly developing COVID-19 response technology: "It's easy to say this technology can be beneficial. But I have very serious reservations about it being deployed. What happens once it's deployed? Do we keep that in place after a pandemic? Those are the questions that we should be prepared to answer right now."

Kenneth Roth discussed different contact tracing models, highlighting the Bluetooth-based contact tracing system designed by Apple and Google.

  • On apps that use Bluetooth technology rather than location data for contract tracing: "Not relying on location data is a huge step forward in terms of privacy...[The app] did not identify infector, [it] simply told somebody that you were near somebody who was infected. They didn't put the data in a central database that the government might use for other reasons."
  • On the responsibility of Big Tech when it comes to moderating what contract tracing apps are allowing in their stores: "When you have problematic uses of technology of this sort, Google and Apple shouldn't participate. They should say we're not going to let you put apps like this on our stores if you're going to be using it this highly abusive way."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with
Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer at Salesforce Paula Goldman who discussed Salesforce's work on ethical tech development.

  • On having clear priorities in developing ethical technology: "Even though there's no definition of responsible tech for a pandemic, we need to think about things like privacy. We need to think about how vulnerable groups [are] being affected."

Thank you Salesforce for sponsoring this event.