Apr 25, 2020

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1 big thing: It's way worse than feared

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's deflating, but it would be derelict to ignore: The hope of anything approximating normal in the coming months — and probably well beyond — is gone. 

  • Why it matters: It's great and normal to cheer for a miracle cure or sudden coronavirus retreat. But the experts who study the virus closest seem unanimous in their verdict that our health, economic and social pain will persist for many months to come. 

It’s time to recalibrate expectations based on this stark reality, Jim VandeHei points out:

  • Bill Gates warned in a blog post this week: "[I]t is impossible to overstate the pain that people are feeling now and will continue to feel for years to come."
  • Gates said full stadiums and big concerts, both of which will be signs of true normal, "probably will not make the cut for a long time."
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci sketched for Snapchat a best-case vision of stadiums without spectators, and whole teams quarantined in hotels for the season, undergoing frequent testing.
  • Fauci is among the experts who keep telling us that even if the virus recedes in coming weeks, it won't be gone: "[W]e will have coronavirus in the fall."
  • Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, told the WashPost he imagines a one-two punch this winter of "the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time."
  • Every big business and school in America is privately planning for the possibility of working and learning at home this fall. Schools have no choice but to contemplate the risks of kids picking up the virus in school, and infecting parents and grandparents at home. CEOs are having the same conversations about the workplace.

The true U.S. unemployment rate is estimated at 20% to 45% — possibly exceeding the Great Depression peak of 25% in 1933.

  • S&P now says the jobs recovery will take until next year, and we likely won't get back to pre-coronavirus levels for a couple of years.

We cheer the idea of restaurants reopening — but, according to Bill Gates and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, likely with half as many tables.

  • Ask yourself this: How many restaurants, which already operate on thin margins, can survive with half the business?
  • "The whole business model, the whole point of a restaurant, is to get as many people as possible into the space on a given night," Edouardo Jordan, owner JuneBaby and other restaurants in Seattle, told the N.Y. Times.

Airlines, if and when they return to the skies, may have to leave middle seats open.

  • Ask yourself this: Would you travel if the threat of the virus remains?
  • If so, ask yourself: Can these airlines, already flirting with bankruptcies, survive with 33% fewer seats to sell?

The big picture: One of the most sobering reads of the past week was a synthesis by the N.Y. Times' Donald McNeil of his gloomy conversations with 20+ experts about the next year or two:

  • "[T]he scenario that Mr. Trump has been unrolling at his daily press briefings — that the lockdowns will end soon, that a protective pill is almost at hand, that football stadiums and restaurants will soon be full — is a fantasy, most experts said."
  • 🥊 "All the experts familiar with vaccine production agreed that even [Fauci's timeline of at least a year to 18 months] was optimistic."
  • National Geographic notes: "The mumps vaccine—considered the fastest ever approved—took four years to go from collecting viral samples to licensing a drug in 1967. "

Plus there's little evidence of heat killing the virus.

  • High hopes for an experimental treatment by Gilead Sciences were set back by inconclusive results.
  • And the World Health Organization said today there is "no evidence” that people who recover from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection, per Reuters.

What’s next: Based on the science and scientists, it seems wise to plan for the surreal and painful past two months to last most if not all of 2020.

2. Focus group: Ohio swing voters want Trump to act more like a governor

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Some swing voters in Canton, Ohio, who were won over by President Trump's say-anything bravado in 2016, now wish he'd be less partisan and more expert-driven — like a governor, Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Concerns over Trump's ego and how he talks about the public health crisis were some of the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group with 10 voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

Why it matters: National polls show a majority of Americans feel better about their state executives' handling of the crisis than Trump's.

  • The focus group was conducted Tuesday night in two online panels.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, these responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.

What they're saying: There's little appetite for partisan politics among these voters when it comes to a crisis with life-and-death consequences.

  • They want a leader who will work with health and science experts, find solutions, and activate in a way that won't polarize the country.
  • Across the board, they gave glowing reviews to the way Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has handled the crisis.

Asked for the leadership qualities they admire in other governors around the country managing the crisis, these voters offered words including "patience," "sympathetic" and "sincere."

  • These voters haven't entirely abandoned Trump — they signaled they wouldn't blame him for an economic recession triggered by the virus.

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3. First look: Business to warn against patchwork rules
Maryland State Police Detective Steve Dulski gets a trim at Old Line Barbers in Bel Air after Gov. Larry Hogan let essential employees get haircuts. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will send a letter next week urging President Trump, governors, mayors and county officials to work together on consistent rules for a staged reopening, Neil Bradley, the chamber's executive vice president and chief policy officer, told me in a phone interview.

  • "As much as possible, we want them to mirror each other, and not have needless differences" on such matters as temperature checks, Bradley said.

A draft of the letter says: "[W]e urge you to refrain from converting public health and safety guidance into regulations."

  • "Second, we encourage you to the maximum extent possible to ensure guidance is generally consistent across our federal, state, and local governments.”

Bradley told me that after consulting businesses and partners in all 50 states, he sees three ways that reopening America could be fumbled:

  1. Substituting bureaucracy for proven best practices, with "overly prescriptive" guidelines or regulations about new rules for the workplace.
  2. Business could quickly "become paralyzed by a patchwork of differing requirements at different levels of government." On a conference call with Bradley yesterday, a utility executive talked about tracking requirements in 2,000 jurisdictions, each with its own little twist.
  3. Employers could be frozen by fear of what Bradley called "frivolous lawsuits," such as employees or customers saying they were exposed to the virus in a workplace. Federal or state legislation may be needed, Bradley said.
4. Pic du jour: What the gym sees
Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

Alexis Garrod, a CrossFit coach in San Francisco, holds a class over Zoom.

5. Time capsule

President Trump plans to pare back his virus pressers, Jonathan Swan scooped:

  • POTUS may stop appearing daily, and make shorter appearances when he does — starting with yesterday's 22-minute, no-questions briefing.

Public service announcement tweeted yesterday by the CDC:

  • "Household cleaners and disinfectants can cause health problems when not used properly. Follow the instructions on the product label to ensure safe and effective use."
6. 🗞️ 1 smile to go: Boom in cocoon coverage
Cover: Eleanor Davis for The New York Times

The Washington Post's Food section did a cover story on substituting ingredients. (Out of ground beef? Try lentils!) A WashPost special section, Voraciously, was headlined: "So you need to learn how to cook ... ."


Tomorrow, the N.Y. Times will debut a new weekly section, "At Home," as part of a temporary shift in the paper's Sunday architecture.

  • Executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn wrote in a note to Times employees: "At Home will help our readers enrich their lives at home even while quarantined by guiding them on what to watch, listen to, read, cook, make and play. It speaks to the resiliency and essential nature of The Times in print during a moment of upheaval and uncertainty."
  • Sam Sifton, assistant managing editor for culture and lifestyle news, emailed home-delivery subscribers: "At Home will replace ... our print Travel section, which will return after the coronavirus pandemic has eased, and Sports Sunday will move into the first section of the newspaper, also temporarily."

See the digital version here.

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