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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

States and cities are trying to fill in the gaps that could prevent many vulnerable people from successfully isolating themselves — an important part of tracing coronavirus infections and reducing the virus' spread.

Between the lines: People who don’t have a home, who live in communal settings, or who don’t have a way to meet their basic needs without leaving the home pose complicated challenges to the U.S.’ containment effort.

The big picture: Testing and contact tracing is the only way to contain the virus until there's a treatment, and isolating infected or potentially infected people is part of making that process work.

  • For people who can work from home, order groceries online and avoid interacting with vulnerable family members, self-isolation is very doable.

Yes, but: People experiencing homelessness, by definition, do not have a place to quarantine.

  • Those living in communal settings, like nursing homes and prisons, will also struggle to isolate — part of the reason these facilities have been so prone to outbreaks.
  • Millions of Americans live with someone who's vulnerable to the virus, whether because of their age or pre-existing health conditions, or are caregivers for elderly relatives.
  • Congress has mandated paid sick leave for certain workers, but the benefit is limited.

What they're saying: "We always pay lip service to if you’re sick, stay home. It can’t be lip service anymore. It has to be the norm," said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County & City Health Officials.

What they’re doing: Some communities are trying to remove these barriers.

  • Colorado is requiring long-term care facilities to create isolation plans.
  • Massachusetts created five state-operated isolation and recovery sites for homeless residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Communities within the state also set up quarantine sites for homeless people who have been exposed to the virus but are asymptomatic.
  • Nebraska is partnering with the University of Nebraska to provide quarantine housing.
  • New York City is offering hotel rooms to mildly symptomatic patients who need to isolate away from family, WaPo reports. While isolating, these patients will be provided food, pharmacy access and laundry service.

The bottom line: Successfully containing the coronavirus relies on sick or potentially sick people opting to isolate themselves. That isn’t going to happen all on its own.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 29, 2020 - Health

University of Alabama reports 1,052 COVID-19 cases since in-person classes began

Photo: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The University of Alabama on Friday reported an additional 485 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff since in-person classes resumed on Aug. 19, bringing the total number cases up to 1,052, according to the university's coronavirus dashboard.

Why it matters: The outbreak underscores concerns from public health experts that in-person classes could cause community spread within school populations. The total reported on Friday does not include the 381 positive tests caught when students, faculty and staff first re-entered campus.

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."