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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Governments around the world have turned to high-tech solutions like smartphone tracking and Bluetooth bracelets to slow the novel coronavirus' spread. For both practical and cultural reasons, however, the U.S. is unlikely to try such methods.

The big picture: The U.S. plainly needs more tools for slowing the spread of COVID-19. But a lack of testing supplies, the absence of nationwide strategies and policies, an individualistic culture, and concerns over civil liberties all stand in the way of adopting these techniques.

Driving the news:

  • In Taiwan, authorities used a mobile phone-based "virtual fence" to enforce a quarantine by tracking the location of people who have been exposed to the virus.
  • In Singapore, authorities have been tracking the spread of the disease by requiring residents to load their phones with a contact-tracing mobile app that they're now making available to developers worldwide.
  • Hong Kong uses bracelets, tied to smartphones via Bluetooth, to try to keep tabs on some in quarantine and foreigners entering the country.
  • In Thailand, tourists from certain countries were given a mobile phone SIM card with a special app to make health declarations and enable tracking.
  • Israel earlier this month approved monitoring the cell phones of those infected with the virus.

Yes, but: Without widespread testing in the U.S., it's not clear who would be tracked or for what purpose.

  • Plus, the U.S. lacks a coordinated national response to the virus, with much of the effort to "flatten the curve" coming at state and local levels.

Civil liberties advocates argue that invasive uses of technology, once introduced for well-meaning ends, are difficult to roll back and could lead to a more permanent erosion of privacy rights in the U.S.

  • "It's essential that government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are based on the recommendations of public health experts — and vetted by civil liberties and human rights experts," said Fight for the Future's Evan Greer, whose group is calling on governments to avoid turning to mass surveillance to fight the disease. "Real-time location data is incredibly sensitive information that can put people in imminent danger if it's leaked, shared improperly, or abused."

Technology can still play a role in U.S. efforts against the virus.

  • Mobile operators in Italy, Germany, and Austria are sharing anonymous aggregated data with health authorities. Facebook has also said it would share some data with researchers, and that could be more palatable in the U.S. than individual tracking. But again, without widespread testing, such data is probably less useful.
  • A consortium of tech companies, national labs and universities are tapping supercomputers to help identify drugs that could be useful in treating COVID-19.
  • In the absence of extensive testing data, companies are also trying to use other types of info. Smart thermometer maker Kinsa has been sharing maps of people's temperatures, while other groups are trying to analyze the limited virus data to see who might be most vulnerable.
  • 3D printing can contribute to providing scarce medical supplies and ventilator parts, with HP and Carbon among those trying to fill the void, along with grassroots efforts.
  • And of course, as we reported yesterday, the internet has proven a vital lifeline for the millions of people who are staying at home in an effort to slow the disease's spread.

Go deeper: Singapore's Big Brother fights against coronavirus

Go deeper

By the numbers: Catholics, Biden and abortion

Expand chart
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Biden — the second Catholic U.S. president — will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, as some church leaders debate whether to deny Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

By the numbers: Overall, two in three U.S. Catholics believe Biden should be allowed to take Communion despite his stance on abortion, according to polling by Pew Research Center.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause, chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

6 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.