Apple And Google's Plan For Contact Tracing : Consider This from NPR Governors around the country are starting to plan for what reopening their states could look like. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said testing will be a big part of his decision-making.

Millions of Americans should have received an economic impact payment from the government today. Meanwhile, many are still waiting on unemployment benefits.

Plus, Apple and Google's plan to help with contact tracing will depend on trust from the public.

Listen to Life Kit's episode on giving back on Apple, Spotify and NPR One.

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This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
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Reopening Won't Feel Normal; Tech Giants Plan For Contact Tracing

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Reopening Won't Feel Normal; Tech Giants Plan For Contact Tracing

Reopening Won't Feel Normal; Tech Giants Plan For Contact Tracing

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Some states might start to reopen sooner than others.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's going to be very, very close, maybe even before the date of May 1.

MCEVERS: President Trump says the White House is working with governors on a plan for each state.

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TRUMP: To implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate.

MCEVERS: Coming up, what that plan to reopen could look like in California. And tens of millions of people have filed for unemployment benefits, benefits that are supposed to include an extra $600 a week - why some people in some places aren't getting that money. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Wednesday, April 13.

Around the country, governors say that any plan to reopen their state will depend on science and data. And for exactly what data they'll be looking at...

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DEBORAH BIRX: There was a modeler out of the University of Washington that modeled from cases up, utilizing the experience around the globe.

MCEVERS: When the White House first extended social distancing guidance last month, Dr. Deborah Birx said they used a widely cited scientific model of the pandemic to help make their decisions.

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BIRX: It is this model that we are looking at now that provides us the most detail of the time course that is possible.

MCEVERS: That model from the University of Washington is known as the IHME model, or Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. And soon, the researchers who put it together will release a new version, one that will forecast when social distancing could possibly start to be relaxed in each individual state. Models like that will help governors make their decisions. But even when the science and data indicate it's safe to start reopening, that doesn't mean everything goes back to normal.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: The framework is predicated on the ability to do six things. The most important is our capacity to expand our testing.

MCEVERS: Here in California, where I live, Governor Gavin Newsom laid out a framework of six things that have to happen before things reopen. He said it's all about testing and waiting until there's a low-enough number of new cases so it's possible to trace and track people who test positive.

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NEWSOM: There is a ray of optimism and hopefulness that this, too, shall pass. It's also, perhaps, the most difficult and challenging phase of all.

MCEVERS: Challenging, he said, because even if you can go out, life will not feel normal.

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NEWSOM: You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask - dinner where the menu is disposable, where the tables - half of the tables in that restaurant no longer appear, where your temperature is checked before you walk into the establishment. These are likely scenarios as we begin to process the next phase...

MCEVERS: So, many Americans are still waiting on unemployment benefits, benefits that are supposed to contain a few extra hundred dollars a week from the federal government. NPR's Chris Arnold has a look at why some people are not getting that money.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: A lot of people have been out of a job for about a month now, and that's a long time to not be making any money in the midst of this pandemic.

NICOLENA LOSHONKOHL: It's really intense, and it's really frightening. So honestly, I just feel frightened.

ARNOLD: Nicolena Loshonkohl is a hair stylist we've been checking in with in Roanoke, Va. She's a single mom with a 2-year-old daughter. She was a regular employee at her salon, so it was simple to file for unemployment online. And she started to get payments, but so far, only $340 a week. And that doesn't cover her rents, her health insurance, food.

LOSHONKOHL: To be blunt, it's just not enough. I mean, it's not nothing, but it's not enough.

ARNOLD: That's because so far, Loshonkohl's only getting her state's benefits. But everyone receiving unemployment is supposed to get an additional $600 a week from the federal government's big rescue package. There have been delays, though, like integrating those extra payments into the state's often antiquated systems, so many people are not getting that extra money yet. And the state benefits are based on income, so some people are getting less than Loshonkohl.

LOSHONKOHL: I have a friend who's a waitress, and she got unemployment. And her unemployment is $80 a week, and she has a son. What is she supposed to do with that, you know? So I'm not only thinking about myself, but I'm thinking about, like, how many people are going to suffer.

ARNOLD: The crisis right now shines a light on the stark differences between states when it comes to unemployment benefits. States set the benefit amounts, and some just do not give people very much money.

Andrew Stettner is a fellow with the nonpartisan think tank the Century Foundation.

ANDREW STETTNER: So Arizona - the maximum weekly unemployment benefit is $240 per week, while in Massachusetts, the average is $550 per week. So there's a huge disparity.

ARNOLD: Stettner says that's in part why Congress voted to give people the extra $600 a week so everybody would have enough money to live on. The good news, he says, is if you've managed to get your state benefits, in most cases, that federal money is coming very soon. He says if you look at the states where most workers live...

STETTNER: Eleven of those 13 states have announced that they're going to get the $600 out to claimants by this week.

ARNOLD: Still, there's a big backlog. Stettner says millions of people are still waiting to get any money. And if there's any complication where an actual person needs to review the case, he says that could take a couple of months. In the meantime, those one-time $1,200 stimulus payments that go to almost everybody - they'll be crucial to help many out-of-work people get by. Nicolena Loshonkohl is still waiting for that money, too. But she got some other help since we spoke to her in our last story.

LOSHONKOHL: Some of my friends heard it or read it, and they started reaching out to ask me what I needed and started a fundraiser to help me.

ARNOLD: They sent her gift cards for grocery stores, Visa gift cards. It added up to more than $2,000.

LOSHONKOHL: Yeah, I started crying a lot. And I felt really relieved because then I can ride it out until June.

ARNOLD: So if there are more delays, she can take care of her toddler and pay her health insurance and her rent.

MCEVERS: NPR's Chris Arnold.

So as we have heard, step one in any return to normal is testing - much more testing than is happening now in the U.S. And step two is contact tracing, something that takes a lot of work. Public health workers have to track each person that someone who's tested positive for coronavirus has come in contact with and make sure those people quarantine, too. Now Apple and Google say technology can change that workflow. NPR's Shannon Bond took a look at what the two companies are working on. And we should say both companies are NPR sponsors.

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SHANNON BOND: Imagine two people sitting near each other in the park. Call them Alice and Bob. They both have smartphones that are sending out Bluetooth signals.

DANIEL WEITZNER: That technology is able to send out anonymous little chirps, little messages that other phones can listen to.

BOND: Daniel Weitzner is a research scientist at MIT who's been working on a project using this Bluetooth technology. Now Apple and Google are teaming up to do the same thing. The idea is this - Alice and Bob's phones have a list of the Bluetooth signals they've received. If Bob comes down with COVID-19, he can mark himself as infected in an app from his public health department. The system uses the record of those anonymous Bluetooth signals to warn anyone whose phone has come near his in the last two weeks - people like Alice.

Dr. Louise Ivers of Massachusetts General Hospital says using smartphones this way would not replace traditional contact tracing but could give it a boost.

LOUISE IVERS: This approach can both expand the reach because you may not remember who you were on the bus with, or you may not have known those people.

BOND: It could also free up public health officials to focus on people who don't have smartphones or who are particularly vulnerable. It's not a fail-safe. Bluetooth signals reach further than the 6 feet we're told to stay apart. And for the system to be effective, a lot of people need to participate.

WEITZNER: We need the network effect of everyone being able to hear all of these chirps.

BOND: Which is why Apple and Google, normally big rivals, are working together. About 3 billion people around the world have either an iPhone or Android. So if a lot of them opt in, this could really make a difference. But convincing people to trust the tech giants with what is, after all, a form of surveillance is a challenge. Weitzner says these Bluetooth messages do not reveal who sent them or from where.

WEITZNER: We don't need to know where you were close to someone, just that you were close to someone.

BOND: Apple and Google are putting pretty strict limits on their system. Only public health agencies can use it, and the government can't force people to turn on tracking. The Bluetooth signals - those random numbers - they stay on your phone. That means not even Apple or Google can trace where you've been. But people are already asking if we're giving up too much about ourselves.

Ashkan Soltani was chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission. He worries about the implications of unleashing this technology.

ASHKAN SOLTANI: Whether we require, for example, people to have used this app and to provide their score on the app in order to, for example, return back to work or use public transportation.

BOND: Apple and Google say they'll release their system next month. And already, Democrats in Congress are warning that they'll keep a close eye on how the tech giants handle privacy.

MCEVERS: That was NPR's Shannon Bond.

In Washington, D.C., at the Greater D.C. Diaper Bank, demand for diapers and formula is up 300%. At the same time, the organization is having to completely rework the way it operates.

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CORINNE CANNON: We've put in some very strict protocols to make sure that we are following social distancing and we are keeping our volunteers safe and our staff safe. And you know, most of the nonprofits I've spoken to are still utilizing volunteers but in different or reduced capacity.

MCEVERS: Corinne Cannon is executive director of the group, which, like a lot of nonprofits, is really stretched right now. Our friends over at Life Kit have put together some advice to help you give back, stay safe and have an impact. Giving locally is often the most helpful. The organization Charity Navigator can help you figure out where to start. There's a link to Life Kit's full podcast episode with more advice in our episode notes.

And just before we go, a clarification on something you heard in yesterday's episode. We told you about a CDC study that indicates there was a strong correlation in San Francisco between people staying home and the president's nationwide guidance to do so, guidance that was issued on March 16. Data in that study showed a similar correlation in Seattle, New Orleans and New York. But as some listeners brought to our attention, in San Francisco, another event coincided with people staying home. And that was seven Bay Area counties issuing stay-at-home orders on the same day the president issued his federal guidance.

For more on the coronavirus, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station. We will be back with more tomorrow. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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