Nov 10, 2021 - Podcasts

The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel

Yesterday, we talked about American pessimism around the economy. But as our latest Axios-Ipsos poll shows, we are optimistic about some things like the state of the pandemic.

According to our poll, Americans are more likely to think that going back to normal life is now a low to moderate risk. That same poll found that most Americans are happy with how their kids’ schools are handling COVID precautions and student safety.

  • Plus, Meta says it will block some ad targeting on Facebook.
  • And, how cities are staying resilient in the face of climate change.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Erica Pandey, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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ERICA PANDEY: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday November 10th. I’m Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Meta says it will block some ad targeting on Facebook. Plus, how cities are staying resilient in the face of climate change.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Americans see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Yesterday we talked about American pessimism around the economy. But as our latest Axios-Ipsos poll shows, we are optimistic about some the state of the pandemic.

According to our poll, Americans are more likely to think that going back to normal life is now a low to moderate risk. That same poll found that most Americans are happy with how their kids’ schools are handling Covid precautions and student safety.

So could this mean fears of another covid wave are waning? Axios’ Margaret Talev joins us now to help us answer this question. Good morning, Margaret.


ERICA: So Margaret, is the pandemic pretty much over according to Americans?

MARGARET: Well, there's no magic answer to this question. We don't have a question that says, do you think it's pretty much over? But the question “How much of a risk to your health and wellbeing do you think returning to your normal pre-coronavirus life is right now? November, this is now: 10% say returning to normal pre-coronavirus life is a large risk - 10%; one out of 10 Americans.

Let's go back to late January, early February, just days after Joe Biden's inauguration. It was four times as large - 39% of respondents saying going back to normal pre-Covid life would be a large risk. That reduction tells you the trajectory of where this is going. If you can get a vaccine, if you take the two shots, you feel largely protected and now people feel the Delta variant is waning and that is really what has moved these numbers.

ERICA: And Margaret, there've been a lot of headlines in the past few months about fights happening at schools over vaccine mandates or masks. This poll doesn't really reflect that conflict we've heard so much about, right?

MARGARET: Well, this poll reflects questions around COVID. On purely on the question of how have local schools done in balancing the kind of health and safety concerns around school and return to school with the other priorities like learning, right? Or your child's mental health? The findings were fascinating. Most Americans, like seven in 10 Americans, give their local schools good marks. And when you look at the partisan split, it's more than two thirds of Republicans are giving their local schools good marks for the way they have balanced these things.

So what this is showing, our pollster Chris Jackson says, it's a tail wagging the dog scenario where there is a core chunk of the American population, around one in 10, a little bit less than one in 10 parents, who are really, really unhappy with the way the schools have handled COVID and they're the ones generating the heat, the energy, the criticism that's driving this debate.

ERICA: Is all of this good news for President Biden whose approval ratings have been falling?

MARGARET: It might be. It's at least a window of opportunity for him. You know, in recent weeks he's been dragged down by the perceptions that the economy was doing poorly and he couldn't do anything to stop it. And that COVID was persistent and all the things that he said would stop it, hadn't done enough to stop it. Now in two successive weeks, we've seen terrific jobs numbers which could be a way for him to come back and now we're seeing this kind of parallel track. When Americans really believe psychologically that the Delta variant is behind them, it could create a moment for the president to regain the narrative and begin to talk about how his policies are helping lead the country back to something that looks a little bit more normal.

ERICA: Margaret Talev is Axios’ managing editor for politics. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks Erica.

ERICA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with a big move by Facebook parent company Meta.

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ERICA: Welcome back to Axios today. I'm Erica Pandey.

Facebook's parent company Meta announced yesterday that it would block some ad targeting around people's sexual orientation or political or religious identity. Axios media reporter Sara Fischer is here to tell us why it matters and how it fits into some larger issues of trust in big tech right now. Hey, Sara.


ERICA: So Sara, what does this Meta move mean for Facebook users?

SARA: So for users, it means that they're not going to get ads that are targeted around some of their interests that might be linked to some sensitive issues like religious affiliation, your sexual orientation or politics. But truly Erica, I don't think they're going to feel as big of an impact as the advertisers will themselves.

ERICA: Yeah, why is this a big deal for the advertisers?

SARA: Well, the advertisers love Facebook because they can target people any which way they want. But in the past few years under pressure from regulators and activists, Facebook has been making some changes just to ensure that some advertisers don't abuse its systems. And so for them, they're going to have a few less choices when they go to market to consumers.

ERICA: This is one move we’re seeing from Facebook to rebuild trust. But what are other privacy concerns that are leading people to maybe look for alternatives to engines like Facebook and Google?

SARA: I think users want to know that their data is safe and that their data is not being exploited. And so you mentioned that there are a ton of other new companies trying to take advantage of that environment and create privacy-forward alternatives to Google and Facebook.

ERICA: Well, what are some of those?

SARA: So you have a new startup called It's a web browser, a search engine, and it's being backed by Marc Benioff with participation from other investors, $20 million in funding. And basically it's a search engine that really focuses on making sure none of your inputs, none of your queries are saved in a way that would one day come back to bite you or make you vulnerable. I mean, come on, how would you like it if one day someone could access your searches? A few other new startups, there's this one called Brave, which is a privacy-focused web browser. They say they have 36 million users. DuckDuckGo, which is a little older, about 15-years-old, said that they have seen a huge surge in increases in downloads. And Protonmail, which I'm sure you use as a journalist. They think they're going to have 75 million users by next year. So clearly there's huge momentum around privacy focused-businesses.

ERICA: Sara, can these startups actually compete with the giants Facebook and Google?

SARA: So far, none of their business models have proven to be able to adequately compete with Google and Facebook. But Erika, if the privacy landscape continues to change, for example, if a national privacy law were to be passed, they might have continued support from lawmakers and momentum with consumers that maybe can allow them to compete one day.

ERICA: That's Sara Fischer, Axios media reporter. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you.

ERICA: Climate has of course been on the global stage with world leaders in Glasgow for Cop26. At the same time, cities are making their own plans to fight climate change at the local level. Cities are after all on the front lines of the climate crisis, as they deal with power outages, floods, and fires, and they often have to move fast to prevent.

I've been reporting on this this week and wanted to share with you some of what I'm finding. Here's one example, Kansas city, Missouri is considering building a solar farm that's half the size of Manhattan on huge stretch of unused land next to its airport. That farm would produce so much electricity that it would not only power all city buildings, but a ton of residential buildings and private buildings as well.

Another example is San Diego, which has a comprehensive plan to improve its climate resilience with steps like updating its public transit systems to withstand rusting from floods or planting more trees in low-income neighborhoods for relief from extreme heat.

Local action like this is essential because it's often cities and states that have control over the infrastructure that's vital to fighting climate change, but often cities lack the resources that countries have to do what they need.

The newly pass infrastructure bill could change things for cities. The bill allots tens of billions of dollars specifically for climate resilience. And that could be the money needed to supercharge some of these cities' ambitious plans for the future.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at or reach out to me on Twitter. I’m Erica Pandey, in for Niala Boodhoo. Niala is back tomorrow with a special Veteran’s Day episode of Axios Today.

Thanks for listening - stay safe and have a great day.

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