Mar 17, 2020

Axios AM

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  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,157 words ... 4½ minutes.
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1 big thing: A new era of public pain

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster with no modern parallels, with no escape and no safe harbor, Axios Future correspondent Bryan Walsh writes.

  • The big picture: Even the worst calamities — from natural disasters to terrorist attacks — have happened in one place, at one time.
  • But the truly global catastrophe of the coronavirus will touch everyone, everywhere, for a long time.

You could hear new urgency yesterday from President Trump, as he ditched the hopeful talk and warned at a White House briefing: "I’ve spoken, actually, with my son. He says: 'How bad is this?' It's bad. It's bad."

  • The crisis was once expected to last weeks or two months. Now even Trump fears a long, sad summer: "[T]hey think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that."
  • Six counties in the Bay Area have issued shelter-in-place warnings, the strongest U.S. clampdown yet as a host of cities and states force bars, gyms and other public places to close.

As America comes to grips with the extent of these social-distancing measures, it’s natural to reach for historical comparisons: Those examples can offer the comfort that the U.S. has made it through dark times before.

  • But we're used to seeing terrible events befall a city, or a region — not the whole country all at once, let alone the whole world.

It may be more instructive to go all the way back to World War II, which saw the strict rationing of consumer goods, full-scale mobilization of civilian industry, even "dimouts" of New York's skyline.

  • The American public, of course, rose to the occasion.
  • The question is whether we can do the same now, at a time when the muscle memory of sacrifice has atrophied.

The bottom line: We're just beginning an endurance test that has no clear end.

2. 🦠 Coronavirus quick catch-up

Grand Central Station yesterday. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Chilling new projections: The White House's tougher line yesterday appears "to draw on a dire scientific report warning that, without action by the government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus, ... 2.2 million people in the United States could die," reports the N.Y. Times' Sheri Fink, an M.D. and Ph.D.

  • The group projects that 8% to 9% of people in the most vulnerable age group, 80+, could die if infected.
  • The report was released yesterday by an epidemic-modeling group at Imperial College London.

The lead author told the Times "that his group had shared their projections with the White House task force about a week ago and that an early copy of the report was sent over the weekend."

  • Trump's new recommendations: "Avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Avoid discretionary travel. And avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and public food courts."
Courtesy N.Y. Post
3. Looming global Great Recession
Data: Yahoo Finance. Chart: Axios Visuals

Economists have removed their rose-colored glasses in recent weeks and are beginning to price in scenarios for the world that are as bad or much worse than the global financial crisis, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

The big picture: The U.S., the world's biggest economy, is likely to have a recession this year and the #2 economy, China, has already undergone a significant slowdown.

  • That alone would have been enough to weigh on global growth. But because major economies like Italy, Germany, the U.K., France and Japan also are facing major outbreaks of their own, there is growing fear of the entire world's GDP growth turning negative for multiple quarters this year.
  • As of Monday night, 15 countries had at least 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 12 of those were among the world's 25 largest economies.

Worse, many of the countries expected to be hardest hit by the outbreak are in some of the weakest economic positions, especially those in the eurozone.

The bottom line: A major struggle for policymakers is that much of the outbreak's economic impact is not yet measurable. That makes preparing for and assessing the potential for damage a new challenge.

4. Tech creates new stay-at-home economy

In a new work-from-home world, the tech industry is swooping in to reshape how we shop, eat and entertain ourselves, Axios' Scott Rosenberg, Kia Kokalitcheva and Ina Fried write.

  • Why it matters: Trends toward e-commerce, delivery services and online entertainment have long been underway. This moment is accelerating them — and pushing the companies behind them to a new position of dominance.

E-commerce: Amazon announced yesterday that it plans to hire 100,000 new full- and part-time employees in the U.S. to meet surging demand. It also said it's increasing pay by $2 an hour through the end of April.

Food: Instacart said earlier this month that its sales during the past week were 10 times higher than the prior week — and 20 times higher in states like California and Washington.

  • Restaurants are shifting to deliveries and curbside pickups as a way to stay in business.
  • GrubHub and Uber Eats are temporarily suspending commission fees to help smaller restaurants as they work to stay afloat via delivery.
  • They're also rolling out no-contact delivery options so customers and drivers don't have to interact with each other.

Entertainment: As Americans at home search for a way to break their boredom, Universal announced it would make its in-theater movies available online — abandoning the "theatrical release window" and breaking what may be Hollywood's last taboo.

5. Exclusive poll: Public trusts health agencies more than Trump
Data: SurveyMonkey and Axios survey. Table: Axios Visuals

Strong majorities of Americans trust major health agencies to protect the country from the coronavirus, while fewer trust President Trump, Axios managing editor David Nather writes from an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

  • Why it matters: The results suggest that health officials have a high degree of credibility in this crisis — and that Trump is on safer ground when he closes ranks with them, as he did in his unusually candid remarks at yesterday's press conference.

Between the lines: There's no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of trust in agencies like the CDC, the NIH and state health departments.

  • With Trump, however, the partisan differences on trust are pretty much what you'd expect. However, independents aren't split down the middle — only about three in 10 trust him.
  • Trump's trust level on the coronavirus is slightly lower than his approval rating in the same survey: 47%. His average approval rating usually hovers around 42%, per FiveThirty Eight.

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6. Read what Obama's reading

Graphic: Harry Stevens/The Washington Post. Used by permission.

The internet loved an interactive article by the WashPost's Harry Stevens, an Axios alumnus, that uses bouncing balls to show how to slow coronavirus: "Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to 'flatten the curve.'"

  • Why it matters: "[W]ithout any measures to slow it down, COVID-19 will continue to spread exponentially for months."
  • "To understand why, it is instructive to simulate the spread of a fake disease through a population. We will call our fake disease simulitis."

Try the simulator. En español.

Via Twitter
7. Mail ballots become states' saving grace

Some voters wore gloves to cast early ballots Saturday in Chicago. Photo: Noreen Nasir/AP

An old-school form of communication — the mail — is becoming a saving grace as coronavirus forces states to scrap in-person voting, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes.

  • Three states vote today — Arizona, Florida and Illinois. All have multiple confirmed cases of coronavirus, and are scrambling to go ahead with primaries that rely heavily on mail ballots.
  • Ohio called off its primary late last night, after its health director declared a health emergency.
  • Louisiana and Georgia have postponed their primaries, originally scheduled for later this year.

Why it matters: Caucuses were the first electoral tradition on the chopping block after the Iowa debacle. Polling places and voting lines could soon be next.

🗳️ AP last night declared Joe Biden the winner of last week's all-mail Democratic primary in Washington state, giving him five of six wins for March 10.

  • Bernie Sanders won North Dakota.
8. 1 smile to share
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Hat tip: Axios' Dominique Taylor

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