Mar 27, 2020

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  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,396 words ... 5 minutes.
1 big thing: Advisers steer Trump to drop back-to-work deadline
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in the socially distanced White House briefing room last evening. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Believing the worst is yet to come, some top advisers to President Trump are struggling to steer him away from Easter as an arbitrary deadline for much of the nation to reopen, Jonathan Swan reports.

  • The operating assumption among administration officials involved in the coronavirus planning is that the April 12 mark — 16 days away — will not, in fact, turn out to be the starting gun for businesses across America to reopen.
  • But Trump is far from chastened. "I don’t think he feels in any way that his messaging was off," a top official said. "He feels more convinced than ever that America needs to get back to work."

One person close to Trump expressed concern about market reaction the day after Easter, if the president allows that to be set up too rigidly as Open Day.

  • If the reality is worse than Trump hopes — and large numbers of Americans have to stay isolated — some close to Trump think a false Easter expectation could send markets downward.

Between the lines: The reality is that the administration is unlikely to go from red light to green light.

  • More likely it’s a step-by-step process — a "tiered" approach, different guidelines based on geography and other factors, as Trump has been foreshadowing.
  • Trump sought yesterday to provide himself more flexibility, given internal expectations that awful data will only mount.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN last night that Easter was Trump's "aspirational projection" to "give people some hope." But Fauci said Trump is "listening to us when we say we really got to reevaluate it, in real time."

But weaning Trump from setting a date for millions of Americans to get back to work is a delicate, ongoing process.

  • Despite the blowback for imposing an unrealistic and artificial deadline on a virus that knows no deadline, Trump remains impatient.
  • On Monday, he faces his first self-imposed deadline — the end of the White House's "15 days to slow the spread."

The bottom line: With states including Louisiana and Florida showing increasingly alarming signals, a senior White House official told Swan there’s a sense that a rolling disaster awaits.

2. Emerging hot spots
Data: Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, Census Bureau. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A second wave of cities — including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia — are seeing increases in confirmed coronavirus cases, and could become new hot spots if they're not able to bring their cases under control soon, Caitlin Owens and Andrew Witherspoon write.

  • Why it matters: Whether these cities can prevent their outbreaks from spiraling out of control will be a major test for the U.S.' ability to contain the virus.

New Orleans in particular is nearing a crisis, with hospitals already becoming overwhelmed and supplies of medical safety gear running low.

  • "[T]here is a rising suspicion among medical experts that the crisis may have been accelerated by Mardi Gras ... which this year culminated on Feb. 25," per the N.Y. Times.
  • Orleans Parish has had the highest number of deaths per capita of any county in the U.S.

🐦 Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner under President Trump who has been closely tracking the pandemic, tweeted last night:

  • "I’m worried about emerging situations in New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, among others."
3. Off-ramp from isolation nation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are looking for an exit ramp away from the extreme social distancing brought on by the coronavirus. But that will require steps we're not yet prepared for, Caitlin Owens and Bryan Walsh write.

  • Responsibly easing off of social distancing will only be possible as the number of new cases levels off, and will depend on extensive testing to avoid another surge in infections.
  • "If we let up, we’ll be back to where we were before social distancing," said Ali Khan of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The off-ramp requires fast, widespread testing, which the U.S. still doesn't have.

  • We’re still facing shortages of some supplies needed to make and conduct tests, and it still takes several days — to a week or more — to get results.

What's next: Syndromic surveillance — testing a random portion of the community — might help the U.S. get a better handle on the true prevalence of COVID-19.

  • Seattle has launched such an effort, adapting an existing program that checks for influenza prevalence.

The bottom line: Life won’t go back to normal for a long time. Normalcy will return in doses, and at different paces in different parts of the country.

  • “It’s not like a switch that’s going to be flipped," John Hopkins’ Joshua Sharfstein said.

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4. 🗞️ For the time capsule
Via The New York Times

The front page of today's New York Times tells a first-ever story in a first-ever way:

  • The whole sixth column, usually the lead story, is taken up by the spike of a graphic showing the biggest surge in jobless claims in U.S. history.
  • 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — almost five times the previous record, set in 1982.

See the grim jobless graphic.

5. The plan to fight coronavirus with trillion-dollar platinum coins
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The growing throng of critics who have assailed the Senate's $2.2 trillion spending bill as avarice, insufficient and disappointing have an alternative, Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • Enter Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and the Automatic BOOST to Communities Act, a bill so massive, audacious and unparalleled in scope that one of its primary authors asserts: "There is no number that would be meaningful to estimate" its cost.

Details: Tlaib proposes sending a debit card to every single person in the U.S. loaded with $2,000, then reloading that card every month with $1,000 "until one year after the end of the Coronavirus crisis.

  • The #MintTheCoin plan proposes to account for the direct payments — a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests $6.5 trillion is a conservative cost estimate — by having the U.S. Treasury mint a series of "$1 trillion platinum coins."

Why it matters: There is rising opposition to the idea that government debt is harmful. Tlaib's bill currently has very limited support in Congress, but that could change.

6. Parks suddenly more popular
Central Park on March 20. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Closed businesses, home offices and schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has translated into an influx of outdoor recreation in parks, despite states' advice for people to stay home, Marisa Fernandez and Kim Hart write.

  • Why it matters: So many people are visiting city parks to escape the stuck-at-home monotony that the public spaces have become crowded.
  • Some people are doing group exercise and playing contact sports.

State of play:

  • New York City is banning cars during the daytime on one stretch of street in each borough except Staten Island, to help residents to walk at a safe distance.
  • In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee closed all state parks under his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order. (Seattle Times)
  • Some Florida beaches in Clearwater and Miami have closed to keep spring breakers away.
  • In D.C., police blocked off roads to the Tidal Basin to stem the cherry-blossom frenzy.

Three of the Grand Canyon's most popular trails — Bright Angel, South Kaibab and North Kaibab — will temporarily close at noon today.

  • Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Great Smoky Mountains are closed, but many national parks remain open.
7. Data du jour: Spain death slope outpaces Italy
Sources: National health departments. Graphic: Reuters

Spain now has the second highest number of coronavirus deaths after Italy, with China third.

8. Wildlife, humans teamed up to ignite pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Humans are root drivers in pandemics like this one, Axios climate and energy columnist Amy Harder writes.

  • Buying, selling and consuming wild animals, as was done at the Wuhan, China, market where this novel coronavirus is believed to have originated, is increasingly spreading deadly infectious diseases, experts say.
  • Zoonotic diseases — those spread from animals to humans — have "quadrupled in the last 50 years, mostly in tropical regions," according to a letter 100 wildlife and environmental groups sent Congress this week.

How it works: "We know that tropical diseases tend to have wildlife as reservoirs more than temperate diseases," said Lee Hannah, a senior scientist in climate change biology at the nonprofit Conservation International.

  • Bats and pangolins (scaly anteaters) have especially been linked to this coronavirus and prior ones.
  • So when you take animals like that out of the wild and move them into cities, Hannah said, "that’s just crazy."

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9. "A grace note from another era"

That's what Peter Wehner called this moment from 13 years ago, as Speaker Pelosi celebrated 8-0 yesterday:

Via Twitter

President George W. Bush: "Tonight I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own, as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: "Madam Speaker."

10. 1 smile to go
Photo: William J. Kole/AP

Spotted in Providence, R.I.

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