May 21, 2020

Axios AM

🚨 Situational awareness ... Connecticut becomes the 50th state to begin reopening: "Governors face intensifying pressure to reopen their economies, but experts warn it could mean thousands of new deaths." (NYT)

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1 big thing: Restaurants prepare for "distance eating"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Shorter menus, pricier food, less service, servers wearing masks and surgical gloves: The future of dining out looks far from festive, Axios managing editor Jennifer Kingson writes.

  • "It’s not going to be as romantic as it has been in the past," Larry Lynch of the National Restaurant Association tells Axios.

Why it matters: A lot of restaurants that closed because of the pandemic will never reopen. Those that do will have to pour a lot of money into keeping diners away from one another and the waitstaff.

Here's what's changing, according to restaurateurs and industry consultants:

  • Tables and booths will be separated by everything from plexiglass shields to clear shower curtains.
  • Diners may have to wait in their cars or on the sidewalk for a text saying their table is ready.
  • People may have to order their whole meal — from appetizers through dessert — all at once, to minimize encounters with the staff.
  • Paper tablecloths will replace fabric ones, condiments won't be left on the table, and disposable plates and glasses may reign supreme.
  • Less frequent busing of tables, to avoid contact. Patrons will likely be asked to wear masks on their way to their table or when visiting the restroom (though not while actually eating).
  • To meet demand for "distanced" tables, some restaurants are seeking to expand into sidewalk cafes.

Between the lines: While some restaurants have stayed in business during the pandemic by selling takeout food, meal kits and even groceries, the industry's economics are predicated on table service, which will likely look very different.

  • Occupancy restrictions will mean that restaurants can serve only a fraction of the number of people they did before.
  • As a result, there will be pressure to turn tables quickly, and "peak" service hours will be expanded.
  • To make ends meet, restaurants will have to streamline their menus, offering perhaps half as many dishes as they used to — the most lucrative ones, most likely — and prices will have to be jacked up.

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2. Virus cases rise across South
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project. Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Several Southern states are seeing a rise in new coronavirus cases, moving them further away from an important target for safely reopening parts of their economies, Axios' Andrew Witherspoon and Sam Baker write.

  • Why it matters: The Trump administration's reopening guidelines call for a consistent decline in new cases before proceeding with the process — and some states are moving forward even without clearing that threshold.

Between the lines: The total number of cases is an important piece of the puzzle — but it's only one piece.

  • The number of new cases will rise as a state performs more testing, so looking at this metric in isolation can give the false impression of a worsening outbreak.

Some of the states where new cases are increasing — including Arkansas, North Carolina and North Dakota — also fare poorly in a more holistic analysis that accounts for other metrics.

  • South Dakota made the most progress over the past week, cutting its new cases by over half.
  • North Carolina and North Dakota bring up the rear, with spikes in new cases of around 40%.

This analysis uses a seven-day average, to minimize the distortions of reporting delays or similar technical issues, and compares that average to the average from the week before.

  • We're using data from the The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project. Other sources, including the widely used Johns Hopkins database, show different results for some states, including Washington state.

The bottom line: No one measurement tells the whole story, and there are signs that most of the country is moving in the right direction.

P.S. ... Latin America "overtook the U.S. and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally," Reuters reports.

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3. Banks plan shift to the suburbs

Amsterdam Avenue in New York yesterday. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP

One of New York's biggest industries — finance — is considering shifting its workplaces away from city centers in the post-lockdown era, Bloomberg's Michelle F. Davis, Viren Vaghela and Natalie Wong write.

  • JPMorgan will keep its offices at half-occupancy for the "foreseeable future."
  • Goldman Sachs is opening its Paris office at 20% capacity on any given day.
  • Citigroup is eyeing leases in the suburbs around New York.

What's happening: "In the New York region, real estate brokers and landlords with suburban offices have seen a surge in interest from the finance industry, in addition to media and technology companies and law firms."

  • "There’s an overwhelming number of employees that need mass transit to access the urban environment. Nobody knows how that’s going to work in a social-distancing world," Brandon Huffman, a manager at Rubenstein Partners, which owns office space in New Jersey and Connecticut, told Bloomberg.
4. Michigan's "500-year flood" displaces thousands

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Above: A aerial view of floodwaters flowing from the Tittabawassee River into the lower part of downtown Midland, Mich., yesterday after two nearby dams collapsed after days of heavy rain.

Below: Dan Dionne looks over his former deck outside his home in Edenville, Mich., where the floods have forced widespread evacuations.

Photo: Carlos Osorio/AP

The latest: At least 10,000 Michiganders have had their homes destroyed in the disaster — where flood levels reached 35 feet — tearing another hole in the state's economy as it struggles with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, reports the Detroit Free Press.

5. Three terrifying virus stats
Via Twitter
  • "If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died." (NYT)
  • "Front-line health-care workers still experienced shortages of critical equipment needed for protection from the coronavirus into early May." (WashPost)
  • "3 billion people around the world do not have a hand-washing facility with water and soap at home." (World Bank)
6. Inside one gym chain's reopening

Spotted at an Anytime Fitness in El Paso. Briana Sanchez/El Paso Times via Reuters

Anytime Fitness, a national chain which built its brand on being open 24 hours, has reopened 40% of its gyms (1,081 of 2,633) in North America after closing virtually all of them.

  • Why it matters: Many gyms and fitness studios, critical parts of many Americans' routines (and physical and mental health), are reopening as fast as they're permitted to — albeit with post-COVID protocols in place, an Anytime rep tells me.

From the the chain's guidance:

  • "Staff will: ... Be strongly encouraged to wear masks and gloves."
  • "Strategic scheduling will be implemented to minimize the number of staff members who work together."
  • "Gym capacity limited to a certain number of people, for example five people per 1,000 square feet if required by local mandates."
  • "Water fountains for refilling water bottles only."
  • "No equipment sharing will be allowed."
7. Colleges plan shorter semesters
Courtesy TIME

Colleges around the country that have announced that they plan to reopen this fall are coming together around a solution to keep students safe: shorter fall semesters, reports the N.Y. Times' Shawn Hubler.

  • Notre Dame, Rice, the University of South Carolina and Creighton have all announced that they're aiming to end before Thanksgiving — and they're cutting fall break.

Why it matters: "Built into their calculations, university officials say, are epidemiological assumptions that reducing travel will help students avoid contracting and spreading the virus, and that any easing of the pandemic this summer will end with the return of flu season."

8. Astronauts arrive for NASA return to space
Photo: John Raoux/AP

NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived at Kennedy Space Center yesterday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight, AP's Marcia Dunn reports.

  • Why it matters: It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.

  • Since then, the only way to the space station for astronauts has been on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan.
9. Anna Wintour's post-pandemic forecast

Screenshot via CNBC

Vogue editor Anna Wintour told CNBC's "Closing Bell" yesterday that she believes the virus crisis won't derail the fashion world:

  • "Yes, certainly there are going to be a lot more people working remotely and that probably means more of an emphasis on comfortable clothes. But I also think there's going to be a huge desire to dress up and to have fun and to go out and to look your best. So I don't believe that only comfortable clothes are going to be all that we see on the horizon."
  • "I think there's going to be a great demand and a great yearning for beautiful clothes and creativity and self-expression."

🧵 P.S. ... Top designer Christian Siriano has transformed his Manhattan studio into a state-approved essential workspace, sewing and donating 50,000 fabric face masks to first responders. (The Hill)

10. Late-night TV thrives in time of virus

Photo: CBS via Getty Images

Late-night television — "a kind of laboratory where things move fast" — is becoming one of the best records of our new age, L.A. Times TV critic Robert Lloyd writes.

  • "With the host and the guest essentially alone together ... the performance of intimacy that talk shows typically offer grows closer to real intimacy."
  • "There's the fact that we are inside their homes," or as Jimmy Kimmel called it, "the longest and worst episode of MTV's 'Cribs' ever."
  • "Guests are often dressed way down, as if they’re flying coach, but the fact is that famous people tend to look pretty good even without the attention of styling professionals."

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