How Are Americans Catching the Virus? Increasingly, ‘They Have No Idea’

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How Are Americans Catching the Virus? Increasingly, ‘They Have No Idea’

Now, though, any sense of control has vanished. New cases of Covid-19 have tripled since the beginning of October to 850 a day in Grand Forks, and about half the people contacted by the health department say they are not sure how they became infected.

“People are realizing that you can get it anywhere,” said Kailee Leingang, a 21-year-old nursing student who also works as a state contact tracer in Grand Forks. Even Ms. Leingang has fallen ill, along with several of her colleagues. She traces her case to her parents, who first started showing symptoms. Beyond that, the trail goes cold.

“They have no idea,” she said of where her parents came in contact with the virus.

Ms. Leingang, isolating at her home with her cat, feels sicker by the day. Dishes have piled up in the sink — she is too weak to stand long enough to wash them. But she is still working, calling at least 50 people a day to notify them that their tests came back positive, though her job is no longer to track who else they may have infected. “With the high number of cases right now,” she said, “our team can’t afford to have somebody not work.”

In earlier, quieter periods of the pandemic, the virus spread with some degree of certainty. In all but the hardest-hit cities, people could ask a common question — “Where did you get it?” — and often find tangible answers.

A popular college bar in East Lansing, Mich., Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, became a hot spot this summer after dozens of people piled into the bar, drinking, dancing and crowding close together. At least 192 people — 146 people at the bar and 46 people with ties to those at the bar — were infected. Afterward, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down indoor dining in bars in parts of the state.

In Ingham County, which includes much of East Lansing, it is far harder to tell where the virus is spreading now. Of the county’s 4,700 reported cases over the course of the pandemic, more than 2,700 have come since the beginning of September.

Much of the new spread may be tied to students at Michigan State University, where students are living off campus and taking classes online. But every day, employers and residents call the Health Department to report random cases that defy easy explanation.

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