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

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Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Aug 13, 2020 - Health

We're doing a lot less coronavirus testing

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. is cutting back on coronavirus testing. Nationally, the number of tests performed each day is about 17% lower than it was at the end of July, and testing is also declining in hard-hit states.

Why it matters: This big reduction in testing has helped clear away delays that undermined the response to the pandemic. But doing fewer tests can also undermine the response to the pandemic.

Aug 13, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus cases are falling, but don't get too comfortable

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Danielle Alberti, Sara Wise/Axios

America's coronavirus outbreak is slowing down after a summer of explosive growth.

By the numbers: The U.S. is averaging roughly 52,000 new cases per day — still a lot of cases, but about 10.5% fewer than it was averaging last week.

Aug 12, 2020 - Health

Poll: America's confidence in public school system jumps amid pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's confidence in the public school system rose by 12 points this year to 41% — its highest point since 2004, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

Why it matters: "Double-digit increases in confidence for any institution are exceedingly rare," Gallup notes. The jump comes as teachers, administrators and parents are still figuring out how to safely get kids back to school in the midst of a global pandemic, as the U.S. reports the most coronavirus infections and fatalities in the world.