December 05, 2020

🎂 Happy Saturday! And happy birthday to Axios President Roy Schwartz.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,086 words ... 4 minutes.

🎬 On Monday's Season 3 finale of "Axios on HBO," I interview HHS Secretary Alex Azar. See a clip of his response when I ask if the COVID debacle is sobering.

  • Debuts Monday at 11 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

1 big thing: Biden’s debut nightmare

President-elect Biden speaks in Wilmington on Nov. 24. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

A dim, gloomy scene seems increasingly set for Joe Biden’s debut as president:

  • He'll addressvirtually — a virus-weary nation, with record-high daily coronavirus deaths, a flu season near its peak, and restaurants and small businesses shuttered by wintertime sickness and spread.
  • He'll ask all 330 million Americans to wear masks, avoid crowds, trust the grim science, and wait patiently for vaccination.

Why it matters: I hate to be such a drag on a Saturday. But the data coming in is bleak — and worthy of clear-eyed anticipation, preparation and reaction.

  • The vaccine offers a clear North Star of hope. But the journey there, sadly, will be harder and deadlier than those darkest days of March, officials are screaming to us.

The CDC has this flu forecast: "There is about a 70% chance that the highest flu activity for this season will occur by the end of January and a greater than 95% chance that the highest flu activity will occur by the end of February."

  • Robert Redfield, President Trump's CDC director, predicted this week that December through February will "be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

U.S. deaths, now at 279,000, are forecast to pass 500,000 during Biden's first 100 days, even with a rapid vaccine rollout.

  • It's what Anthony Fauci, who'll be back in the White House inner circle as President Biden's chief medical adviser, warned about as Americans continued to gather and travel for Thanksgiving: "a surge up on a surge."
  • Average daily COVID deaths, nearly 2,000 now, are projected to get as bad as 3,000 a day.

Reality check: It's now clear that the tiniest percentage of Americans will have access to the COVID vaccine as Biden takes office.

  • N.Y. Times Opinion posted a clever calculator (subscription), "Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line," taking into account age, location, occupation and health.
  • The message for virtually everyone: It's going to be awhile.

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2. 💡 A safe, sane survival guide

Photo: Luka Dakskobler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

We all know, it’s getting worse. So here, from Axios CEO Jim VandeHei, are a few things every one of us can do to stay safe and sane in coming months:

  1. Wear masks. Hopefully this dumb debate is ending and we can all agree masks help slow the spread.
  2. Avoid crowds. This, too, is a no-brainer, even if hard practically and emotionally. Listen to scientists: They're not infallible, but are motivated to help us make fact-based calculations. 
  3. Take a not-sharing-is-caring pledge on social media and in conversation. Don't share stories, memes, random B.S. about the virus unless you can authenticate it. We can all agree misinformation is bad.
  4. Order food. Restaurants are getting crushed, and it's going to get so much worse when outdoor seating ends. Help keep these small businesses alive.
  5. Virtually visit family, friends and strangers — especially those in nursing homes, where the virus is making a tough situation intolerable for too many older Americans. 

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3. Apps document police encounters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apps are evolving beyond documenting deadly police encounters with people of color — and now can notify family and lawyers in real time, Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras writes:

  • Why it matters: The apps give victims of police violence new tools for being proactive, rather than having to rely on videos to go viral after incidents have occurred.

How it works: Updated apps allow users to monitor police encounters and send information even if an officer tries to damage a phone.

  • A revamped Legal Equalizer app captures police encounters after the user is pulled over, automatically notifying loved ones and providing basic legal information on the spot.
  • Eventually, the app will allow users to receive on-the-scene legal advice for a fee by calling local attorneys who are part of the app's network. A lawyer near the encounter could monitor via Zoom, and advise users on their rights.
  • The Cop Watch Video Recorder app opens with Siri on iPhones, automatically filming and sending footage to the cloud. The apps film in real time in case the officer seizes or breaks the phone.

The other side: Some law enforcement advocates fear the videos could be manipulated, or that streaming could turn police into targets.

  • "My concern," said Tony Mace, chair of the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, "is that someone turns on an app during a routine traffic stop, and all of a sudden, a mob shows up."

Keep reading.

4. Pic du jour

Photo: China National Space Administration via Reuters

China's flag is planted on the Moon by the robotic Chang'e-5 spacecraft, according to this image provided by the Chinese government.

  • China is the second nation to plant a flag on the Moon, after the U.S. in 1969 — 51 years ago: "Five further US flags were planted on the lunar surface during subsequent missions up until 1972," per BBC.

5. Time capsule: Hiring slows, recovery cools

Graphic: The New York Times

Go deeper: Axios PM lead, "The recovery needs rocket fuel."

6. Data du jour: GOP denial

Supporters of President Trump during an election hearing before the Michigan House Oversight Committee, in Lansing on Wednesday. Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The Washington Post surveyed all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate on Thursday and Friday:

  • Only 25 would acknowledge Joe Biden is president-elect.

222 — 90% of Republicans in Congress — wouldn't say.

  • Reps. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.) say President Trump won.

🥊 Spoiler alert: California yesterday certified its electors, officially giving Biden the Electoral College majority.

7. Barnes & Noble makeover: Round tables

Books about kids and race at a Barnes & Noble in Indianapolis. Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar via Reuters

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt, who took over last year after saving the Waterstones book chain in his native Britain, is giving his stores more local control, The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Trachtenberg reports (subscription):

In recent months, Mr. Daunt has cut the ranks of once-powerful staffers who supervised large groups of stores and fired nearly half of the company’s New York-based book buyers, powerful tastemakers who decided which titles stores should carry. ...
Daunt is passionate about organizing books the proper way, down to the shape of display tables — round ones are the best, he says. He's pushed Barnes & Noble to place books on shelves "face out," so the whole cover can be seen. He believes in arranging by category, not alphabetically by author. ...
[M]any of the large tables that once offered big stacks of new books are gone, replaced with the smaller, round display tables that he prefers.

Keep reading (subscription).

8. 1 smile to go: Seal census

Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA via Getty Images

Seal pup on the Farne Islands in the North Sea off Northumberland, England.

  • Because of lockdown, an annual seal census was conducted by drone.

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