Mar 22, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Sunday morning, and hope you're finding peace in a worried world.

  • If you value the sanity, insight and companionship of Axios AM and PM, please urge your friends, relatives and remote colleagues to sign up.

🎥 Tonight on a virtual edition of "Axios on HBO" (6 p.m. ET/PT) ... Jonathan Swan interviews China's ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai ... Ina Fried visits with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella ... Dion Rabouin talks to Carnival CEO Arnold Donald ... I pepper Ted Cruz in self-quarantine ... and Margaret Talev sits down with Justice Stephen Breyer.

1 big thing: The workers feeding America

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As worried shoppers buy in bulk, stress is mounting for retailers, warehouses and farms — which need more labor at the very time people are being told to stay at home, Erica Pandey and Joann Muller write.

  • Why it matters: America isn't running out of food. But there's increasing strain on the supply chain as the workers who produce and deliver our groceries are sheltering at home, quarantined, or are (justifiably) too spooked to show up for work.
  • "The supply chain used to flow very evenly, but when you have surges, it takes more people," says Brian Beattie, senior vice president of sales at Lineage Logistics, which runs a large network of cold storage facilities.

Farms are anticipating labor shortages as the State Department delays the processing of H-2A visa workers from Mexico.

  • Truckers are finding it difficult to do their jobs as truck spots, restaurants and motels close their doors, The Wall Street Journal reports.

And as the virus continues to spread, these workers are often in high-risk scenarios, working in close quarters for long hours.

  • Many food producers say they won't be able to operate at full capacity while practicing social distancing.

There are some efforts underway to assist food workers, but not enough, experts tell us.

  • Three states — Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan — have classified grocery workers as "essential" workers, making them eligible for child care and other benefits alongside health care workers, law enforcement and first responders. Look for other states to follow suit.
  • Food workers would be better protected with face masks, but even doctors can't get enough.

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2. If you read only one thing: A doctor's hopeful case
Spotted in Denver. Photo/David Zalubowski/AP

Atul Gawande, a staff writer for The New Yorker who continues to work as a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is out with a hopeful piece about lessons that Singapore’s and Hong Kong’s success is teaching us about the pandemic:

Here are their key tactics, drawn from official documents and discussions I’ve had with health-care leaders in each place. All health-care workers are expected to wear regular surgical masks for all patient interactions, to use gloves and proper hand hygiene, and to disinfect all surfaces in between patient consults. Patients with suspicious symptoms ... are separated from the rest of the patient population, and treated — wherever possible — in separate respiratory wards and clinics ...
What’s equally interesting is what they don’t do. The use of N95 masks, face-protectors, goggles, and gowns are reserved for procedures where respiratory secretions can be aerosolized (for example, intubating a patient for anesthesia) and for known or suspected cases of covid-19. Their quarantine policies are more nuanced, too. ...

Dr. Gawande continues that the "fact that these measures have succeeded in flattening the covid-19 curve carries some hopeful implications" for the U.S.:

One is that this coronavirus, even though it appears to be more contagious than the flu, can still be managed by the standard public-health playbook: social distancing, basic hand hygiene and cleaning, targeted isolation and quarantine of the ill and those with high-risk exposure, a surge in health-care capacity (supplies, testing, personnel, wards), and coördinated, unified public communications with clear, transparent, up-to-date guidelines and data.
Our government officials have been unforgivably slow to get these in place. We’ve been playing from behind. But we now seem to be moving in the right direction, and the experience in Asia suggests that extraordinary precautions don’t seem to be required to stop it.
Those of us who must go out into the world and have contact with people don’t have to panic if we find out that someone with the coronavirus has been in the same room or stood closer than we wanted for a moment. Transmission seems to occur primarily through sustained exposure in the absence of basic protection or through the lack of hand hygiene after contact with secretions.

Keep reading.

3. Now, a reason to worry. And it's about testing
Hong Kong uses these electronic wristbands and an app to enforce a quarantine for incoming airplane passengers. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An illuminating piece in the South China Morning Post, the English-language paper in Hong Kong, reports that classified Chinese government data suggests one-third of coronavirus cases there were asymptomatic "silent carriers."

  • "More than 43,000 people in China had tested positive without immediate symptoms by the end of February and were quarantined."

Why it matters: "The approach taken by China and South Korea of testing anyone who has had close contact with a patient — regardless of whether the person has symptoms — may explain why the two Asian countries seem to have checked the spread of the virus."

  • "Hong Kong is extending testing to airport arrivals in the city, even if travellers have no symptoms."
  • "Meanwhile in most European countries and the US, where only those with symptoms are tested, the number of infections continues to rapidly rise."
4. Pictures of our time
Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP

Above: A couple kiss at the Barcelona airport, Spain.

Below: The White House press room, with new seat assignments to enforce social distancing.

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Hagen/AP

Above: The "Fearless Girl" statue outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Below: An elevator at a shopping mall in Surabaya, Indonesia, enforces social distancing.

Photo: Trisnadi/AP
5. 😷 Quick catch-up
A man stands in the middle of cable car tracks on a near-empty California Street in San Francisco yesterday. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

1 in 4 Americans are under stay-at-home orders: "New Jersey’s governor followed four other states — California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut — that have imposed unprecedented restrictions to slow the spread of infections, which have risen exponentially." (Reuters)

Vice President Pence and Karen Pence tested negative.

🥇 U.S. track and swimming federations, plus a worldwide group representing Olympic hopefuls, are calling on the IOC to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until the pandemic is under control, AP reports.

  • Why it matters: This show of solidarity adds to the dozens of individual athletes who have come out against the IOC's current stance, which is to start the games as scheduled on July 24.
  • The IOC is in consultation with the World Health Organization and has stuck to the position that it's too early for drastic decisions.
  • 🛷 Hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones, one of America's best-known Olympians, said she is hoping the IOC will postpone.

🇰🇵 Kim Jong-un's sister claims that President Trump sent a personal letter to the North Korean leader offering to help the country combat the coronavirus outbreak.

6. Data du jour: All industries are exposed
Reproduced from Moody's Investors Service. Chart: Axios Visuals

Sign up for Dion Rabouin's daily newsletter, Axios Markets, where this first appeared.

7. Remembering Kenny Rogers, 81
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

"Through the years, you've never let me down," Kenny Rogers sang in 1981, The (Nashville) Tennessean writes in "Story Behind the Song" (subscription).

  • "The ballad — about a longtime couple who've stuck together through thick and thin — became one of Rogers' career-defining songs."
  • "You turned my life around/ the sweetest days I've found, I've found with you/ through the years."

Rogers — known for enduring classics like "The Gambler," "Lucille" and "Islands in the Stream" — died Friday night, under hospice care at home in Sandy Springs, Ga., The Tennessean reports.

  • "As early as grade school, I began to see music and singing as a respite from all the awkwardness and embarrassment of growing up poor, shy and often an outsider," Rogers wrote in his 2012 memoir, "Luck or Something Like It."

See Dolly Parton's tearful tribute: "God bless you, Kenny. Fly high!"

8. 1 rant to go: "Now our kids will find out how dumb we are!"
Via N.Y. Post

Israeli mother Shiri Koenigsberg Levy, 41, has gone viral with her take on having four kids at home all day, per the N.Y. Post:

  • "From early in the morning — and we’re only on Day 2 — millions of WhatsApp messages! ... I have four kids, may they be healthy, but just imagine how many messages, how many teachers for each kid, how many subjects for each child!"
  • "I only have two computers at home. They’re fighting from the morning about the computers."
  • "One of my daughter’s teachers is in a dream world and thinks she’ll get up at 8 a.m. to see him on the screen."

Levy says her youngest son’s teacher sent over a musical score:

  • "What am I supposed to do with this? What, do I have a band in the house? I can’t read music!"
  • "He spends the whole day on his cellphone — he’s fine! They don’t stop eating! How’s he feeling? Ask me how I’m feeling! Falling to pieces! I go from one child to the other — here’s science, here’s math — forget it!"
  • "Now our kids will find out how dumb we are! ... If we don’t die of the coronavirus, we’ll die of distance learning. Have a wonderful day!"

Hear the rant (in Hebrew).

Mike Allen

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