America may be a leader in many areas, but beating the coronavirus isn't one of them. The U.S. has over 5.4 million cases with over 51,000 adding to the total every day, and it's eighth in the world for COVID-19 deaths per capita, more than France, China, or New Zealand. So what are these other countries doing that we aren't?
There are a lot of contributing factors to an uptick in cases, ranging from many Americans being reluctant to wear masks (even our president) and a seemingly unquenchable urge to gather in large groups. But there's one other difference between the U.S. and countries successfully reducing their cases of the coronavirus — contact tracing.
Contact tracing — tracking down people who may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive with COVID-19, helping them get tested, and then asking them to self-isolate or self-quarantine — has helped South Korea, Australia, and other countries reduce their numbers dramatically. But widespread contact tracing hasn't worked as well in the U.S.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials estimated that the U.S. needs 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people in the community. So far, only six states — Utah, South Dakota, New York, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Massachusetts, plus the District of Columbia — have met that bar.
In addition to the shortage of contact tracers, limited testing and delays in getting results have made it almost impossible to stop an outbreak from being tracked down in time to stop it from spreading. Further complicating matters is the resistance of Americans to respond to contact tracing, often concerned that a 12-day quarantine will cause them to lose their job.
Even when there has been technology to make tracing and notifying people about possible exposure easier, the U.S. hasn't rallied to adopt them. Even though Apple and Google worked together to make sure iPhone and Android users could receive exposure notifications if their states supported them, so far only Alabama, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia were on board.
With America falling short when it comes to contact tracing, it's probably best to follow the current advice for preventing the spread of the coronavirus — wash your hands frequently, stay 6 feet away from anyone outside your own household, and wear a mask.