Apr 26, 2020

Axios AM

🎬 "Axios on HBO" returns tomorrow with a more frequent schedule (every other week) and new time: Mondays at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

  • On tomorrow's episode, Jonathan Swan elicits some surprising reflections from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Jim VandeHei interviews Doug McMillon, who basically runs an economy as president and CEO of Walmart.
  • Plus surprises from the homes of Ina Fried and Felix Salmon.

🏀 Situational awareness: NBA players will be allowed to return to team training facilities starting Friday, provided their local governments don't have a stay-at-home order prohibiting such movement. AP

1 big thing: Changes that will outlast the crisis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is already changing American life in ways that will far outlast the pandemic itself, for better and worse, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

Our health care system will have to adapt:

  • Insurers and the federal government have stepped in to cover coronavirus-related medical bills, but a slow economic recovery will leave millions of people uninsured while their financial situation remains precarious.
  • Medicaid will cover many of them, but that will strain state budgets at a time when they are most precarious.
  • If we do things right, we’ll start building up bigger, better stockpiles of the things we need in a pandemic, including masks and other protective gear for hospital workers.

Our economy will take a long time to recover, Axios markets editor Dion Rabouin writes:

  • Many companies, large and small, simply will not survive.
  • History shows that when employees are laid off in large numbers, they come back in stages, rather than all at once. That will be doubly true for this recession. Customers will be slow to return, which will mean companies will be slow to bring back workers.

Our cities will be reeling from these twin health and fiscal crises for a long time, Axios cities editor Kim Hart notes:

  • Tax revenues have cratered, and they will come back slowly and unevenly. Some local governments will furlough or lay off their workers and cut public services including police or K-12 education. They may need to raise taxes.

Our politics will have a new center of gravity:

  • The coronavirus has almost killed more Americans than the Vietnam War. It will likely eliminate more jobs than the Great Recession. Washington has shoveled trillions of dollars out the door in record time, with little oversight.
  • We haven’t even scratched the surface of the political fallout: This is the kind of all-encompassing crisis that can not only affect an election or two, but alter the focus of politics for a generation.
  • Voting by mail will be the next big voting-rights battleground.

Our information ecosystem is convulsing, Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer explains:

  • Local news, already hanging by a thread, has been devastated. Tens of thousands of journalism jobs have been lost just in the past month.
  • The virus has weakened the growth of partisan publishers. They’ll probably rebound, but for now, it's pushed people toward higher-quality news — habits they make take with them after the pandemic.

Between the lines: Some of these adaptations could be good for us, if we stick with them, including getting our flu shots and washing our hands.

  • Many public health experts would be perfectly happy if we never shake hands again.

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2. Hearing out the shutdown skeptics: "You can see what happens"
Protesters gather at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus last Monday to protest stay-at-home order. Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

I get emails from readers who think health experts are relying on imperfect data to make doomsday proclamations which so far have been vastly overstated.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Chris Wallace today on "Fox News Sunday": "I think as we begin to reopen the economy in May and June, you're going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September."
  • N.Y. Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote yesterday (subscription): Non-New Yorkers need "to get back to life." 

This school of thought has two main arguments:

  1. Early projections for deaths in the U.S. have, so far, been high. Of course, the whole point of severe social distancing was to bring those numbers down.
  2. Insufficient weight is being given to the cost of bringing on another Great Depression vs. more virus deaths. One problem: Experts say testing needs to triple before the U.S. can reopen, but it plateaued in mid-April.

Two opinion pieces in yesterday's Wall Street Journal have sparked conversation in the business community and on the right:

1. One is headlined, "The Bearer of Good Coronavirus News" — an interview with John Ioannidis, a Stanford School of Medicine professor in disease prevention, who "finds himself under attack for questioning the prevailing wisdom of lockdowns":

  • "[D]ismissing real data in favor of mathematical speculation is mind-boggling," Ioannidis tells Allysia Finley of the Journal's editorial board.
  • "[D]ata-driven feedback will be the best. So you start opening, you start opening your schools. You can see what happens."

The Journal's interview is by subscription. But STAT posted a piece by Ioannidis on March 17 that's available free: "A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data."

2. Wall Street Journal "Business world" columnist Holman Jenkins, "The Lockdowns Were the Black Swan" (subscription):

U.S. politicians ... are stuck trying to save their constituents simultaneously from the virus and poverty, and get only cheap shots from the media.

Reality check ... Julia Coronado, founder and president of the research firm MacroPolicy Perspectives, told Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin that economy vs. public health is a false choice:

  • "If we go back to work and the disease continues to spread not only will people die ... but people won't have the confidence to resume normal activity."

Or as Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf put it (subscription):

  • "Maintaining the lockdown and saving the economy are mutually compatible ... In the longer term, the right thing to do is also going to be the least politically unpopular thing to do."

Axios thought bubble: Underlying all of this is the fact that we're relying on numbers that we know aren't accurate. We have a very limited number of tests, and coroners say the deaths attributed to the virus are understated.

3. Harried parents rebel: "I just can't do this"
Photo: Alexandra Nicholson via AP

Frustration is mounting as more families enter their second or even third week of distance learning — and some overwhelmed parents say it will be their last, AP's Gillian Flaccus and Jocelyn Gecker report:

  • Amid the barrage of learning apps, video meet-ups and e-mailed assignments that pass as pandemic home school, some frustrated and exhausted parents are choosing to disconnect entirely for the rest of the academic year.
  • Others are cramming all their children's school work into the weekend or taking days off work to help their kids with a week's worth of assignments in one day.

Why it matters: The stress is only compounded for families with multiple children in different grades, or when parents work long hours outside the home.

  • In some cases, older siblings must watch younger ones during the day, leaving no time for school work.
4. Pic du jour: Hubble @ 30
"The Cosmic Reef." Photo: NASA, ESA and STScI

NASA marked the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, launched into earth orbit from the space shuttle Discovery in April 1990 and still feeding images, by releasing this Hubble shot, "resembling a cosmic version of an undersea world teeming with stars."

  • "[T]he giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away," NASA says.
  • "The image is nicknamed the 'Cosmic Reef," because NGC 2014 resembles part of a coral reef floating in a vast sea of stars."

Why Hubble matters: "Unlike any space telescope before it, Hubble made astronomy relevant, engaging and accessible for people of all ages. The space telescope's iconic imagery has redefined our view of the universe and our place in time and space."

  • "Hubble has ... provided data that astronomers around the world have used to write more than 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications, making it the most prolific space observatory in history. Its archival data alone will fuel future astronomy research for generations to come."

What's next: Hubble is expected to stay operational through the 2020s, in synergy with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

5. Tweet du jour
6. 1 smile to go: "SNL" salutes Dr. Fauci
Screenshot via NBC

A gravelly voiced Dr. Anthony Fauci, played by Brad Pitt, translates President Trump in the "Saturday Night Live" cold open:

  • "A miracle would be great. Who doesn't love miracles? But miracles shouldn't be Plan A. Even Sully tried to land at the airport first."
  • "When he said everyone can get a test, what he meant was: Almost no one."

"So, yeah, I'm gettin' fired," the Fauci character concludes.

  • "But until then, I'm gonna be there, puttin' out the facts for whoever's listening. And when I hear things like, 'The virus can be cured if everyone takes the Tide Pod Challenge,' I'll be there to say: 'Please don't.'"

Pitt dropped character to say: "And now, live — kinda — from all across America, it's Saturday night."

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