May 13, 2020

Axios AM

Join me tomorrow (Thursday) at 12:30 p.m. ET for an Axios live virtual event on the future of workplace safety, with CLEAR chairman/CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker and Scott Rechler, chairman/CEO of RXR Realty, which is building a fascinating system — driven by data and cameras — to help tenants be safe and feel safe when they return.

⚖️ Situational awareness: A federal judge made clear that he won't immediately rule on the Justice Department's move to dismiss its criminal case against Michael Flynn.

⏰ Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,155 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: College students want fall return (vaccine or not)

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly two-thirds of college students say they would attend in-person classes if colleges reopen in the fall, even if there is no coronavirus vaccine or cure, Axios' Neal Rothschild writes from a new College Reaction poll.

  • Why it matters: This is another sign that Americans' tolerance of social distancing is not going to last forever.
  • The results could be good news for the financial survival of colleges and universities, but a huge challenge from a public-health perspective.

By the numbers, from the May 8-10 poll of 835 college students, with a margin of error of ±3.4 percentage points:

  • 65% say they would attend in-person classes.
  • 31% say they would only attend virtually.
  • 4% say they would withdraw from school.

Between the lines: The desire to attend classes in person comes as students report that the virtual education experience is full of pitfalls:

  • 45% say they attend class less often, and more than 70% say they're distracted by their phone, computer and things going on at home.

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2. Slow drip of accepting economic reality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic experts — including Fed Chair Jerome Powell, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath and a multitude of top market analysts and economists — have been saying for weeks that a quick recovery for the U.S. economy is a "fantasy" and likely at least a year away, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • But average Americans aren't listening: They're still banking on a V-shaped bounceback once lockdown orders are lifted.

A new National Federation of Independent Business survey finds that "small business owners remain optimistic ... as more expect the economy to improve ... and expect the recession to be short-lived."

  • Business expectations over the next six months jumped by 24 points from March.
  • Workers have shown similar optimism, with 78% of all unemployed Americans expecting to be rehired in the next six months.

However, a new study by top academic researchers projects that more than 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently since late March, with at least 2% of all American small businesses now gone.

  • At least 3% percent of restaurant operators have gone out of business, according to the National Restaurant Association.
  • Major companies like Neiman Marcus, Forever 21, Gold’s Gym and Modell’s Sporting Goods have announced bankruptcy plans, while 3,000 store closings have been confirmed this year by companies including GNC, Macy's, GameStop and many others.

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3. High-risk states are seeing fewer new coronavirus cases
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins. Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The first stages of reopening haven’t produced a surge in coronavirus cases in most states, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

  • But the reopening process is still in its early stages, so a second wave of infections still remains distinctly possible.

Between the lines: This chart — an update of a popular chart we brought you last week — compares each state's seven-day average of new cases from Monday, and the seven-day average from a week prior, May 4.

  • Comparing the averages of two weeks helps smooth out a lot of the noise in how states sometimes inconsistently conduct and report tests.
  • Total cases are an imperfect measure, in isolation, of an outbreak’s severity, because that count is limited by the amount of testing in each state, as well as differences in reporting.
  • But they're still an important part of the puzzle as federal guidelines call for a steady decline in new cases for any reopening process to proceed.

Some of the states that skeptics were most worried about, including Florida and Georgia, haven’t seen the rise in total cases that some experts feared.

  • Florida’s new cases actually declined by 14% compared to the previous week, and Georgia’s fell by 12%.
  • Nevada leads the pack with a 44% reduction, while several hard-hit states that embraced aggressive lockdowns to help contain early outbreaks — Michigan, New York and New Jersey — all saw reductions of at least 30%.

South Dakota saw a startling 123% increase, likely the result of outbreaks in the meat processing industry.

Bonus: Cover du jour
N.Y. Post
4. Pics du jour: "Dystopian" hearing

Photos (clockwise from top left): Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post, Win McNamee/Getty Images (2), Senate Health Committee via Reuters

N.Y. Times chief TV critic James Poniewozik called yesterday's Senate Health Committee hearing, the first-ever Senate hearing with witnesses and the chair appearing remotely, "a surreal pageant of dystopian government and politicized face wear."

A few scenes (clockwise from top left):

  • Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) greet each other with an elbow bump.
  • Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went maskless.
  • A Senate staffer wears protective gloves.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies from his Bethesda home via Cisco Webex.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Fauci predicted "suffering and death that could be avoided" this fall if states reopen too soon: "We will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks."

5. Coronavirus likely forced 27 million off health insurance

Roughly 27 million people likely have lost job-based health coverage since the virus shocked the economy, Axios' Bob Herman writes from new estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • Why it matters: The virus is blowing up health insurance at a time when people need it most.

Most of these people will be able sign up for other sources of coverage, but millions are doomed to be uninsured in the midst of a pandemic.

  • For the 27 million people who are losing their job-based coverage, about 80% have other options, said Rachel Garfield, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation and lead author of the report.

Speaker Pelosi's latest coronavirus relief bill would fully subsidize the cost of maintaining an employer plan through COBRA — an option that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for many people.

  • But that's a long way from becoming law.

Go deeper: Highlights of Democrats' $3 trillion-plus virus relief bill.

6. ⚡ CDC vs. White House on reopening rules

CDC Director Robert Redfield appears remotely at the Senate Health Committee hearing yesterday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CDC reopening advice, which the White House has delayed for changes as states beg for guidance, includes more restrictive measures than the plan released by the White House last month, AP's Jason Dearen and Mike Stobbe report.

  • Why it matters: The White House's "Opening Up America Again" puts the onus for reopening decisions on governors and local officials.
  • By contrast, the CDC's 63-page draft calls for a coordinated national response: "Travel patterns within and between jurisdictions will impact efforts to reduce community transmission."

CDC Director Robert Redfield testified yesterday that the recommendations will be released "soon."

7. Historic Supreme Court argument held by phone

Screenshot via MSNBC

The Supreme Court appeared likely to reject President Trump's claim that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office, AP's Mark Sherman writes.

  • But the court seemed less clear about exactly how to handle subpoenas from Congress and the Manhattan district attorney for Trump's tax, bank and financial records.

Why it matters: The cases resemble earlier disputes over presidents' assertions that they were too consumed with the job to worry about lawsuits and investigations.

  • In 1974, the justices acted unanimously in requiring President Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor.
  • In 1997, another unanimous court allowed a sexual harassment lawsuit to go forward against President Clinton.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
8. 🇨🇳 China stalls hunt for virus origin

Wuhan's temporary Leishenshan Hospital closed in April. Photo: Sam McNeil/AP

"Beijing now appears to be stalling international efforts to find the source of the virus amid an escalating U.S. push to blame China for the pandemic," the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription).

  • Chinese officials, initially cooperative, "have increasingly questioned whether the virus originated in the country and rejected calls for an international investigation from U.S., Australian and European officials."
9. Anti-Semitic incidents hit all-time high

In December, Orthodox Jewish men in Brooklyn carry the casket of Moshe Deutsch, killed in a shooting in a Jersey City, N.J., kosher food market. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

"The American Jewish community experienced the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents last year since tracking began in 1979, with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment reported across the United States," according to a new Anti-Defamation League report.

10. 🥂 1 smile to go: Micro-weddings
Jake Avery and Kate Whiting, engaged while heli-skiing in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, had planned a 300-person wedding but now will hold it in their backyard. Photo via AP

Couples trying to salvage weddings are feeding a fresh trend in the bridal industry: the "minimony," AP's Leanne Italie writes.

  • Rather than wait, they're getting hitched alone or with a few local loved ones looking on at a safe social distance as other guests join virtually. Then they plan to reschedule larger celebrations when allowed.

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