Apr 7, 2020

Axios AM

Good Tuesday morning.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,696 words ... 6½ minutes.
1 big thing: Warning of mass death circulated West Wing in Jan.

Image from a memo to President Trump

In late January, President Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios' Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev.

  • By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to 2 million Americans could die of the virus.

Navarro's grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to President Trump. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

  • In the first memo, Navarro makes his case for "an immediate travel ban on China."
  • The second lays the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, with the warning: "This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill."

Why it matters: The memos reveal detailed health and economic calculations meant to grab and hold the president's attention, when there was time to prepare American citizens and officials.

The president quickly restricted travel from China, moved to delay re-entry of American travelers who could be infected and dispatched his team to work with Congress on stimulus funds.

One senior administration official who received Navarro's memos said that at the time, they were skeptical of his motives and thus his warnings: "The January travel memo struck me as an alarmist attempt to bring attention to Peter’s anti-China agenda while presenting an artificially limited range of policy options."

  • "The supplemental memo lacked any basis for its projections, which led some staff to worry that it could needlessly rattle markets and may not direct funding where it was truly needed."

The Feb. 23 memo began: "There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls."

  • Navarro called for an "immediate supplemental appropriation of at least $3 billion" to support efforts at prevention, treatment, inoculation and diagnostics.
  • He described expected needs for "Personal Protective Equipment" for health care workers and secondary workers in facilities such as elder care and skilled nursing.
  • He estimates that over a four-to-six month period, "We can expect to need at least a billion face masks, 200,000 Tyvek suits, and 11,000 ventilator circuits, and 25,000 PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators)."

Flashback: "It's going to have a very good ending for us," Trump said of the coronavirus in a speech on Jan. 30.

  • In a Feb. 24 tweet, he said it was "very much under control" and that the stock market is "starting to look very good to me."
  • The World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11.
  • On March 17, the president said: "I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."

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2. Funerals change in time of virus

lllustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries in hot spots across America cannot keep up with the staggering death toll of the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • Why it matters: The U.S. has seen more than 10,000 deaths from the virus, and at least tens of thousands more lives are projected to be lost. The numbers are creating unprecedented bottlenecks in the funeral industry — and social distancing is changing the way the families say goodbye to their loved ones.
  • "This feels like three years of funerals condensed into a month," says Patrick Kearns, a funeral director in Queens. "So many of us were worried about the front end of this virus. Unfortunately, the back end of it is something people hadn't thought about."

What's happening: Morgues and funeral parlors in cities hit hardest by the pandemic are overwhelmed, with three or four times as many bodies as they're built to hold.

But the supply is running out. Med Alliance Group, an Illinois company that provides refrigerated trailers to serve as overflow morgues during natural disasters and other crises, tells Axios it's been out of stock since early March.

  • "We’re at a point where I can’t serve anyone anymore," Kearns said. "We need to put everything on pause. ... To have to tell a family that you can’t help them? It goes against grain of who we are as funeral directors. We're wired to help people."
  • Funeral directors around the country are also worried about shortages of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment as they tend to the bodies of the dead.

And funerals themselves are rapidly changing. Funeral homes across the U.S. are limiting services to immediate family members, enforcing social distancing, and even holding virtual ceremonies.

  • "How do you tell someone they can't come to a funeral?" says Mike Zuzga, a funeral director in a Detroit suburb. "We jumped from going to funerals to now live-streaming funerals overnight."

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3. Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index: Virus hits home
Data: Ipsos/Axios poll. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The share of Americans knowing someone who's tested positive has more than tripled in just a few weeks, to 14%, Margaret Talev writes from the latest installment of our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • It's still highest in the Northeast, but last week it doubled in the South.
  • It's becoming most pronounced among people who still must leave home to work.

Why it matters: As the U.S. braces for infection rates to peak at different times in different cities, Week 4 of our national survey (1,136 adults, with a ±3.1 margin of error) shows how the pandemic is pervading all of society.

  • "People are literally knowing more people that have the virus," said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs. "It becomes more real."

Regionally, those most likely to know someone who tested positive are still in the Northeast:

Data: Ipsos/Axios poll. Chart: Axios Visuals
4. Pictures of America
Courtesy N.Y. Post
5. U.S. still testing only sickest patients

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus testing capacity is still lagging far enough behind demand that the U.S. continues to only test the sickest patients — a bad omen for future efforts to return to normal life, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Diagnostic testing is the cornerstone of any containment strategy. To even begin talking about resuming social and economic activity, we would have to get testing right first.

The Trump administration said yesterday that at least 1.79 million tests have been completed.

  • More than 665,500 samples were tested last week, according to an HHS spokesperson.

At the same time, tests are still generally being saved for those who need them the most, namely the sickest patients and health care workers — indicating a shortage.

  • People who do get tested often wait a week or longer for their results.

What's next: To successfully transition from the shutdown, the U.S. needs to be able to complete at least 750,000 tests per week, according to a report by former FDA Commissioners Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan, John Hopkins' Caitlin Rivers and Crystal Watson, and Tempus' Lauren Silvas.

The bottom line: It's hard to see the country being able to shut down twice, so the clock is ticking.

6. After the virus: "History is now on fast forward"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many of the changes to the world order that have been slowly creeping in will now be accelerated, Dion Rabouin writes in Axios Markets.

  • "History is now on fast forward," Robert D. Kaplan, managing director at Eurasia Group, said during a teleconference hosted by the CFR.

Why it matters: There will likely be a retrenchment of globalization and international cooperation combined with further cementing of a winner-takes-all climate, in which the biggest and most powerful companies and countries bowl over and eliminate smaller competitors.

  • This is "globalization 2.0," Kaplan said.

Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, foresees:

  • More space between seats at restaurants, cinemas, sporting events and the like, meaning fewer people.
  • Less vacation and business travel, coupled with more global restrictions, at least until a vaccine is developed, holding back consumer and business spending.

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7. $2 trillion wasn't enough

Sunday’s briefing. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

Congress and President Trump agree more spending is needed beyond last month's $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package:

  • "We're going to take good care of our people," Trump said yesterday at his daily White House briefing. "It was not their fault."
  • Why it matters: It's a rare sign of consensus in Washington.

Speaker Pelosi said another $1 trillion is needed. She wants another round of direct payments to Americans, and more money for companies to keep making payroll, AP reports.

  • Pelosi has vowed a House vote this month.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that health care should top the list, signaling his intent to get to work on a new bill.

Trump yesterday repeated his support for an infrastructure bill in "the vicinity of $2 trillion."

8. David Rubenstein distills lessons from world-famous living leaders
Cover: Simon & Schuster

David Rubenstein — a business titan who has developed a sideline as a captivating interviewer — will be out Sept. 1 with a book that captures five years of learnings from his onstage and on-air conversations.

  • "How to Lead: Wisdom from the World's Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers" includes conversations with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Warren Buffett, Oprah and more.
  • Topics include finance ( Jamie Dimon, Christine Lagarde, Ken Griffin), tech (Eric Schmidt, Tim Cook), entertainment (Lorne Michaels, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma), sports (Jack Nicklaus, Adam Silver, Coach K, Phil Knight) and government (President Clinton, President George W. Bush, Speaker Pelosi).

Rubenstein is co-founder and co-executive chairman of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, hosts "The David Rubenstein Show" on Bloomberg TV and PBS, and is chairman of the boards of the Kennedy Center and the CFR.

  • Rubenstein, who spent $10 million restoring the Washington Monument, last year published "The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians."
9. Sean Spicer plans pre-election book

Cover: Center Street

Three weeks before Election Day, Sean Spicer, who now hosts "Spicer & Co." on Newsmax TV, will release his second book, "Leading America: President Trump’s Commitment to People, Patriotism, and Capitalism."

  • "Conservatives have always faced enormous headwinds from the media, Hollywood, academia, and Big Tech," Spicer said in a statement.
  • "[B]ut the resistance to this administration has taken it to new heights even during this crisis. 'Leading America' will expose the reality and hypocrisy of each and how the president’s policies and agenda are fighting back."

"Leading America" will be published Oct. 13 by Center Street.

  • Spicer's first book, "The Briefing," was a New York Times bestseller.
10. 1 smile to go
Photo: Getty Images

"The coronavirus pandemic is turning everyone into a baker. It’s not as easy as it looks on Instagram," write Annie Gasparo and James R. Hagerty in a Wall Street Journal A-hed.

  • "Sales of baking yeast surged 647%, more than any other food, beverage or consumer product in the week that ended March 21, according to market research firm Nielsen, and eventually both yeast and flour became hard to find in grocery stores."

"With social media, posting photos of your bread, commenting on others’ and swapping recipes gives people a connection that they’ve been missing while stuck at home," home baker Amanda Greiwe told the Journal.

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