Mar 26, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Thursday morning. It's Opening Day!

  • Alas, there are no games, of course. Major League Baseball is offering "Opening Day at Home": 30 classic games (one for each club) on various platforms, including digital streaming and social media, creating a full-day event. See the lineup.

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1 big thing: When $2 trillion isn't enough
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Perhaps the most important thing about the $2.2 trillion, 883-page stimulus bill the Senate passed at 11:50 p.m. is that it's not a stimulus bill at all, Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • It's not intended to stimulate growth and spending to offset a potential downturn. It's designed to prevent mass homelessness, starvation and a wave of business closures not seen since the height of the Great Depression.
  • The Senate vote was 96-0. The House is expected to vote tomorrow.

Why it matters: The bill's price tag is around 10% of U.S. GDP, and Congress is already bickering internally about whether it goes far enough.

We're likely to be in this same situation again, economists say — and soon.

  • 🥊 Another stimulus bill will likely be necessary to get the economy running after the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained.
  • 🥊 More immediately, it's possible that a second massive spending bill will be needed just to stop further bleeding.

How to think about it: "This should not be thought of as a stimulus bill — this should be thought of as social insurance in a disaster state of the world for the most hard hit," Jonathan Parker, professor of finance at MIT, told Axios.

  • "The idea is to freeze time for a month or six weeks and let people emerge with not a huge amount of debt — not starving, not being evicted."
  • This would ideally produce "a V-shaped recovery where people find themselves roughly where they were when we went in."

What's inside: The bill includes unprecedented direct payments to individuals: Up to $1,200 a person and $500 per child, even for those who have no income, plus extended and upgraded unemployment insurance, even for gig workers.

  • It includes $350 billion for small businesses and $500 billion for large companies in loans, loan guarantees and other investments.
  • But Moody's, the ratings agency, warns that outright debt defaults and liquidations are still likely for many businesses, especially smaller firms and those with speculative grade credit ratings.

What's next: This morning, the Labor Department is expected to announce that as many as 3.4 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week.

  • Not only would that be the highest level in history, it would be nearly five times the highest level of claims seen during the Great Recession.

The bottom line: This is likely just the first data point in a string of previously unfathomable reports on the U.S. economy.

Go deeper: How the bill helps you. .... Read the 883-page bill.

2. Dangerous backlog: Test results can take a week or more
Waiting for drive-thru testing on Staten Island. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

Even if you’re able to get tested for the coronavirus, it’ll still take about a week to get the results back — which means the U.S. still doesn’t have a real-time handle on the number of infected people, health care editor Sam Baker writes.

  • Why it matters: We need to know where the virus is spreading in order to get a lid on those outbreaks before they become catastrophic.
  • Testing more people is part of that, and the U.S. is improving on that. But we’re still working with outdated data.

What we’re hearing: An Arlington, Va., resident told Axios he got tested a week ago, but his results have now been delayed twice; he’ll likely end up waiting nine to 10 days for his results.

  • There are other anecdotal reports of test results taking about seven days.
  • Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, the two private companies that have helped the U.S. ramp up its testing, both say they deliver results in an average of four to five days.

What’s next: The FDA signed off last week on a new test that can deliver results within about 45 minutes.

  • At least for now, that test will be somewhat limited. Hospitals will use it to quickly diagnose patients with severe symptoms who are likely to be admitted and need a fast, accurate diagnosis to begin treatment.

Share this story.

3. What could happen in a rushed return
Graphic by kind permission of The New York Times. Methodology.

N.Y. Times columnist Nick Kristof and Times Opinion writer Stuart Thompson worked with epidemiologists to create this interactive model:

  • "These numbers offer a false precision, for we don’t understand Covid-19 well enough to model it exactly. But they do suggest the point that epidemiologists are making: For all the yearning for a return to normalcy, that is risky so long as a virus is raging and we are unprotected."

Why it matters: "[H]ealth experts advise giving current business closures and social distancing a month to slow the pandemic, buying time to roll out mass testing and equip doctors with protective equipment."

  • "Then, depending on where we are, we can think about easing up — while prepared for a new burst of infections that will then require a new clampdown."

Explore the model.

4. The pandemic, as seen from space
Photos: Planet Labs Inc.

Miriam Kramer, author of the weekly Axios Space Newsletter (sign up here) treats us to these stunning views:

  • Above: Miami Beach in 2019 — and now.
  • Below: The site of an emergency field hospital in Wuhan in 2017 — and now.
Photos: Maxar Technologies
5. Blue America is shut tighter than red
Data: Axios reporting. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

If President Trump follows through on his push to reopen big parts of the U.S. by Easter (April 12 — 17 days away), the spotty shield of state "stay at home" orders would look like even more of a patchwork, managing editor David Nather writes.

  • Just 21 states have ordered people to stay at home, and most of those are states with Democratic governors.
  • Only six — Ohio, Indiana, Idaho, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Vermont — have Republican governors.

If Trump declares it's time to start getting back to normal, those GOP governors could face pressure to start easing their own social restrictions.

6. Road not taken
Via Politico

I was led to this Politico scoop by this tweet:

Sure enough, Dan Diamond and Nahal Toosi report that "the pandemic playbook" was written in 2016 "by career civil servants as well as political appointees, aware that global leaders had initially fumbled their response to the 2014-2015 spread of Ebola."

  • "The Trump administration was briefed on the playbook’s existence in 2017."

Why it matters: Per the playbook, "the government should’ve begun a federal-wide effort to procure [more] personal protective equipment at least two months ago."

A Trump NSC official said: "We are aware of the document, although it's quite dated and has been superseded by strategic and operational biodefense policies published since."

  • "The plan we are executing now is a better fit, more detailed, and applies the relevant lessons learned from the playbook and the most recent Ebola epidemic in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to COVID-19.”

See the 69-page playbook.

7. Coronavirus cases by metro area
Data: Johns Hopkins University. Graphic: Phil Holm, Nicky Forster/AP

Interactive county-by-county map.

8. 1 good thing: Opening Day memories
Photo: AP

Above: On April 7, 1969, Washington Senators manager Ted Williams (left) joined President Richard Nixon and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn before POTUS tossed out the first pitch at RFK Stadium in Washington.

Below: The Washington Senators' 1969 opening day program (Ted Williams on cover), garnished with ticket stubs from opening days in the 1980s.

  • Go deep! AP sportswriters, past and present, recall their favorite Opening Days.
Photo: Ben Walker/AP
Mike Allen

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