Mar 11, 2021

Axios AM

☕ Good Thursday morning. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,176 words ... 4½ minutes.

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1 big thing: America's nightmarish year is finally ending
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Data: CDC. Chart: Danielle Alberti and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Today, one year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the end of that pandemic is within reach.

  • The death and suffering caused by the coronavirus have been much worse than many people expected a year ago — but the vaccines have been much better, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

A year ago today, the U.S. had confirmed 1,000 coronavirus infections. Now, we’re approaching 30 million.

  • In those early days, Americans were terrified by White House projections — informed by well-respected modeling — that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus. That actual number now sits at just under 530,000.
  • Many models thought the virus would peak last May — nowhere close. The deadliest month of the pandemic was January.

But last March, even the sunniest optimists didn’t expect the U.S. to have a vaccine by now.

  • They certainly didn’t anticipate that 300 million shots would already be in arms worldwide. And they didn't think the eventual vaccines would be anywhere near as effective as these turned out to be.

Where it stands: President Biden has said every American adult who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the end of May — and the country is on track to meet that target.

  • The U.S. is administering an average of 2 million shots per day. Roughly 25% of the adult population has gotten at least one shot.

The federal government has purchased more doses than this country can use: 300 million from Pfizer, 300 million from Moderna and 200 million from Johnson & Johnson.

  • The Pfizer and Moderna orders alone would be more than enough to fully vaccinate every American adult (the vaccines aren’t yet authorized for use in children).
  • But millions of Americans are still awaiting their first shot — and navigating signup websites is frustrating and awful.

The big picture: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling sharply at the same time vaccinations are ramping up.

  • USA Today declared: "Hospitals report third wave is over."

The bottom line: Measured in death, loss, isolation and financial ruin, this year felt like an eternity. Measured from the declaration of a pandemic to 60 million Americans vaccinated, the year was an instant.

🎧 On today's episode of "The Week America Changed," NewYork-Presbyterian CEO Steven Corwin tells Dan Primack how the hospital managed the "tsunami" of COVID cases last spring. Sign up.

2. Native American tribes lead way on vaccinations

In Shiprock, N.M., Northern Navajo Medical Center staff were among the first in the Navajo Nation to receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations. Photo: Micah Garen/Getty Images

Despite severe technological barriers, some Native American tribes are vaccinating their members for COVID so efficiently that they've been able to branch out and offer vaccines to people outside of their tribes, Axios' Shawna Chen and Russell Contreras write.

  • Why it matters: Native Americans are one of the most at-risk groups for contracting and dying from COVID-19. But tribal nations have rallied to get members vaccinated and helped nearby communities while major cities have struggled with rollouts.

Three Indigenous principles have helped provide the impetus to get vaccinated, according to activist Allie Young, a citizen of the Navajo Nation:

  • Recognize how Native Americans' actions will impact the next seven generations.
  • Act in honor of ancestors who fought to ensure their survival and elders who carry on their traditions and cultures.
  • Hold on to ancestral knowledge in the ongoing fight to protect Mother Earth.

Share this story.

3. Biden to sketch hopeful "next phase"
Speaker Pelosi signs the $1.9 trillion COVID bill, joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, during an enrollment ceremony yesterday. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

In President Biden's first primetime speech (8 p.m. tonight), he'll "launch the next phase of the COVID response, and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people.

  • In a sneak peek, Biden said the speech — expected to run under 20 minutes — will "talk about what we went through as a nation this past year. But more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next."

A White House preview says Biden will speak about how this has been the greatest operational challenge the country has faced.

🗞️ How it's playing ...

Go deeper: What's inside the bill, which Biden is expected to sign tomorrow.

4. Pictures of America
Photo: Erin Scott/Reuters

Sgt. Hannah Boulder of the Michigan National Guard sings while playing guitar in the Capitol Rotunda yesterday.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

In Chicago, a drone's-eye view of white tents — in a parking lot at the United Center, home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks — that opened yesterday as a mass vaccination site (6,000 residents per day).

5. First look: New report urges reopening of schools

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a dire need to reopen schools as quickly as possible — and it can be done without endangering teachers, families or the community, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes from a report to be presented to Congress.

The report — commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, AEI and five other nonprofits — analyzed the conclusions of 130+ studies:

  • Any benefits to closing schools are far outweighed by the grave risks to children from remote-only schooling, the report says.
  • The harms include academic loss — so severe children could be set back for life — and mental health issues from loneliness and isolation.
  • There are also severe hardships on parents — mothers in particular, about 2 million of whom have left the workforce to care for their kids as part of remote learning.

Keep reading, for Jennifer's conversation with the report's author.

6. Dow sets record in "catch-up rally"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Dow set its 11th record of 2021, closing above 32,000 for the first time in what Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin calls a catch-up rally for stocks that were unloved during the pandemic:

  • In 2021, the Dow's mix of financial, health care and retail companies has outperformed the tech-heavy Nasdaq.
  • Investors are betting big on oil, banks and airlines.
7. Rising global food prices could foreshadow social unrest
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Global food prices rose for the ninth straight month in February, bringing the Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Price Index to its highest level since July 2014, Axios Future author Bryan Walsh writes.

  • Why it matters: Past spikes in the price of food staples put pressure on the world's poorest and have been connected to periods of social unrest, including the Arab Spring.

Keep reading.

8. Cuomo faces sixth allegation
New York Executive Mansion in Albany. Photo: Hans Pennink/AP

An unnamed aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Albany Times Union that he groped her in the governor's mansion — the most serious allegation yet by a half-dozen women.

  • The paper reported that the staffer "had been called to the mansion under the apparent pretext of having her assist the governor with a minor technical issue involving his mobile phone. They were alone in Cuomo's private residence on the second floor when he closed the door and allegedly reached under her blouse and began to fondle her."

Cuomo said in a statement: "I have never done anything like this. The details of this report are gut-wrenching."

9. A stark story

Graphic: MSNBC

10. Students plot rogue graduation

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

University of Tampa students and parents — upset with the private school's decision to hold a virtual commencement — plan to throw a graduation of their own, Selene San Felice writes in Axios Tampa Bay.

  • Why it matters: As more people get vaccinated — and cities like Tampa prove big events (Super Bowl and victory boat parade) can happen relatively safely — schools face new pressure for real-life tassels.

A group of students started a petition to pressure the school into having an in-person commencement. There's a GoFundMe to help pay for the venue and live-streaming costs.

  • Take the local: Sign up here for Axios Charlotte, Denver, Des Moines, Tampa Bay or Twin Cities — or to be notified about future cities.

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