Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

By letting the coronavirus surge through the population with only minimal social distancing measures in place, the U.S. has accidentally become the world’s largest experiment in herd immunity.

Why it matters: Letting the virus spread while minimizing human loss is doable, in theory. But it requires very strict protections for vulnerable people, almost none of which the U.S. has established.

The big picture: Cases are skyrocketing, with hospitalizations and deaths following suit in hotspots. Not a single state has ordered another lockdown, even though per capita cases in Florida and Arizona have reached levels similar to New York and New Jersey’s in April.

  • Most states never built up the testing, contact tracing and isolation systems it would take to prevent the virus from spreading widely, and and health care workers are once again facing shortages of protective medical gear.
  • The Trump administration is generally ignoring or downplaying soaring caseloads across the South and West, and is pushing schools to fully reopen in the fall.
  • In Florida, where infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging, Gov. Ron DeSantis “has repeatedly ruled out a sweeping mask mandate or taking the state back into a lockdown to stem the virus, although local governments have acted on their own,” per Bloomberg.

Between the lines: Separating older, sicker people from younger, healthier ones while the virus burns through the latter group could be a way to achieve herd immunity — assuming immunity exists — without hundreds of thousands of people dying.

  • But the U.S. hasn’t adopted such a strategy with any planning or foresight. Although younger people make up a larger portion of coronavirus cases now than they did earlier in the pandemic, vulnerable people still go to work or live with non-vulnerable people.
  • Frontline workers have generally been left unprotected, contributing to disproportionate caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths among people of color.
  • Even nursing homes are still vulnerable to outbreaks. Nursing home deaths have continued to climb in Florida, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and California, the Atlantic recently reported.

Yes, but: Some cities and states, particularly in the Northeast, are focused on containing the virus rather than living with it.

  • "We're not going to go back to that dark place because local government didn't do its job or because some individuals exploited the situation besides the legal violation," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last month, following tens of thousands of complaints about businesses not abiding by public health restrictions.

The bottom line: The U.S. may become the world’s largest herd immunity experiment, but it’s not the first.

  • The United Kingdom briefly flirted with this strategy before abandoning it in favor of containment.
  • Sweden embraced the model and, as the NYT reported earlier this week, saw thousands more deaths than its neighbors with nothing to show for it economically.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging. Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic"
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  4. World: Australian city to exit one of world's longest lockdowns — In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe
  5. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine after possible COVID-19 exposure
  6. Nonprofit: Rockefeller Foundation commits $1 billion for COVID-19 recovery

The industries that won’t recover without a vaccine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Industries that were once expected to recover after the initial coronavirus lockdowns lifted are now unlikely to bounce back until a vaccine arrives.

Why it matters: In the absence of a widely-adopted vaccine, businesses in the entertainment, travel, restaurant and other industries are struggling to overcome consumer skepticism around indoor activities — even with new safety protocols in place.

Updated 6 hours ago - World

In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe

A skeleton is placed at a restaurant table in Rome on Oct. 25 to protest Italy's restrictions that'll see gyms, movie theaters and pools close and bars and restaurants required to shut by 6 p.m. until at least Nov. 24. Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Restrictions are returning across much of Europe as the continent faces a second coronavirus wave.

The big picture: Spain and France each surpassed 1 million cases last week, and both countries have implemented further restrictions on citizens. Italian officials announced strict new measures, effective Monday, to combat another cases spike. From Denmark to Romania, take a look at what steps countries have been taking, in photos.