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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.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.