Mar 31, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

⚡ Situational awareness: Today is the first day as White House chief of staff for former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

☘️ Today is the last day of March — good riddance.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,477 words ... 5½ minutes.
1 big thing: Race to change how America votes
Data: RepresentUs and NCSL. Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

With in-person elections on Nov. 3 looking iffier, states are racing to chip away age-old barriers to alternatives in time for the general election, Axios' Stef Kight and Alexi McCammond write.

  • Why it matters: State laws and political calculations remain formidable obstacles to expanding voting options.
  • And the price tag for changes could top $2 billion.

The state of play: 12 states still don't let all voters cast ballots by mail.

  • Massachusetts may not have time to change its state constitution to allow for more people to vote from home, the Massachusetts State Department told Axios' Dan Primack. The spokesperson said they hoped the state legislature could figure out a fix.

All 50 states have declared state or public health emergencies, according to the National Governors Association (NGA) — and that's allowing some states to delay some election-related timing and change polling locations.

  • Virginia previously didn't allow vote-by-mail without an excuse. A new law will allow no-excuse absentee voting in November, and a temporary measure also allows it for local May elections.
  • West Virginia, Indiana, Alabama and Delaware are temporarily allowing anyone to vote absentee in elections this spring and summer because of the coronavirus — but that hasn't yet been extended to November. They're among 17 states that typically demand specific reasons for voting by mail.

States are looking at other elections changes as well, Paul Pate, Iowa's secretary of state and the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, told Axios.

  • Iowa is consolidating voting precincts to reduce the number of poll workers, who tend to be older and thus at higher risk.
  • States are also considering extending early-voting periods and moving voting locations away from vulnerable populations.

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2. Silicon Valley tries to hack the virus

Cable-car tracks on Powell Street in San Francisco. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

Tech companies, entrepreneurs, and investors have rushed to find ways to apply their skills, resources and creativity to tackling the coronavirus and its public health and economic impact, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva writes from S.F.

Several health-care startups shifted quickly to developing COVID-19 testing kits.

  • Flexport, a freight logistics unicorn, used a supplier network in China to track down surgical masks, gloves, gowns and thermometers that the city needed.
  • HP and Carbon are using 3D printing technologies to speed production of medical equipment.

Bloom Energy, a fuel-cell generator company based in San Jose, is repairing broken ventilators for the state.

  • "[A]n engineer quickly downloaded the service manual and learned how to construct and deconstruct the machines," the L.A. Times reports. "Within 24 hours, a small 'tiger team' of employees had refurbished the ventilators and the machines are just waiting on certification."

Investors also jumped in:

  • Y Combinator expedited the acceptance of startups into its incubator program.
  • Others are sponsoring delivery of restaurant meals to health care workers.
  • Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger created a gift card mall aimed at getting cash into the hands of restaurants and businesses that can't operate normally.

Tech giants are rushing out new products:

  • Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and other companies sponsored a coronavirus-focused hackathon.
  • Apple and Google set up informational sites.
  • Facebook banned ads for face masks and cures, while Twitter issued strict rules about spreading misinformation about the pandemic.

The context: Yesterday, seven Bay Area countries extended their shelter-in-place edicts, begun March 17, from April 7 to at least May 1.

  • Sara Cody and Scott Morrow — health officers for Santa Clara County and San Mateo County, respectively — have served as the region's own versions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, delivering regular updates and pushing elected officials to make bold moves.
  • Signs suggest the early moves helped: The number of cases in one of the city’s main hospitals has remained low and steady, according to daily Twitter reports from Bob Wachter, UC San Francisco's department of medicine chair.

Share this story. ... Go deeper: "The San Francisco Bay Area's virus vigil."

3. Behind the scenes: Why Trump changed his mind about Easter

President Trump shows off a COVID-19 test kit by Abbott in the Rose Garden yesterday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Scenes out of New York, including bleak hospital images played on Fox News, struck a nerve with President Trump and caused him to drop his aspiration of reopening America by Easter, senior administration officials tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Trump the Fed's actions and the $2.2 trillion congressional rescue bill would sufficiently cushion the short-term blow once the money gets into people's hands.
  • And political advisers described "polling that showed that voters overwhelmingly preferred to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work prematurely," per the N.Y. Times.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, his top medical advisers on the virus, made presentations in the Oval Office on Sunday.

  • Birx showed a few slides, and shared with Trump the modeling of predicted deaths that he disclosed shortly thereafter in the Rose Garden.
  • That meeting was the official "decisional" meeting. And the stats left a dramatic impression on Trump.
  • But the New York scenes on TV had personalized the situation. And Mnuchin's input had convinced him that giving the shutdown more time was the less risky course.
  • So Trump's mind was already made up. It was a very short meeting.

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4. Pic du jour: What the pope sees

Photo: Vatican News via AP

Pope Francis delivers his blessing Sunday from the window of his studio overlooking an empty St. Peter's Square.

5. Projected virus peak dates
Data: IHME COVID-19 health service utilization forecasting team. Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Although the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S. in two weeks (April 15), many states will see their individual peaks well after that, according to a model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, writes Caitlin Owens, author of the daily Axios Vitals newsletter.

  • Why it matters: States like Maryland (May 1) and Virginia (May 28) have more time to prepare for their systems to be maximally strained — if they make good use of that time.
  • Other peaks: New Jersey: April 8 ... New York: April 9 ... Louisiana, Michigan: April 10 ... Connecticut: April 13 ... Massachusetts: April 15 ... Pennsylvania: April 16 ... D.C.: April 17 ... Washington State: April 19 ... N.C.: April 23 ... California, Wisconsin: April 27 ... Florida: May 3 ... Texas: May 5.

States' coronavirus peaks are defined as the point at which there is the most demand for resources, namely hospital beds and ventilators.

  • This is also the point at which the most health care workers will be needed to care for coronavirus patients.

Some experts warn that states expected to face the hardest hit later in the year aren't using their lead time well.

  • "The states that are going to be affected last need to start husbanding resources now, because the feds could get tapped out...by some of these early states, particularly New York, which has absorbed a lot of federal resources," former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Axios.

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6. Kids' screen time soars
Data: Super Awesome. Chart: Axios Visuals

With almost all schools closed, most U.S. children ages 6 to 12 say they're spending at least 50% more time in front of screens daily, Axios' Sara Fischer writes from new data from SuperAwesome, a kid tech company.

  • Why it matters: Parents were already struggling to limit screen time for kids when they were in school, let alone trying to pull them away from devices while they are forced to stay home away from friends and peers.

A majority of 6- to 12 year-olds say that during the pandemic, they're using screen devices either a lot more (at least 50% more), twice as much, or for what feels like "most of the day."

7. Tracking epidemics from space

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Satellite companies like Planet and Maxar are able to track empty parking lots, roads and businesses to understand the pandemic's economic impact, writes Miriam Kramer, author of the weekly Axios Space.

  • Satellites are also able to see the flow of people, which could allow scientists to trace outbreaks of the disease in densely populated areas.

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8. 😱 Stunning projection, alleviated by stimulus

Without the stimulus passed last week, the coronavirus economic freeze could have cost 47 million jobs and sent the unemployment rate to 32.1%, CNBC writes from St. Louis Fed projections.

  • The caveats on those "back-of-the-envelope" calculations: "They don’t account for workers who may drop out of the labor force, thus bringing down the headline unemployment rate, and they do not estimate the impact of recently passed government stimulus, which will extend unemployment benefits and subsidize companies for not cutting staff."
9. Tokyo 2021

Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

The countdown clock outside Tokyo Station was reset — 479 days! — after the 2020 Summer Olympics were rescheduled to run July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

  • This is the first Olympics to be postponed since the modern games began 124 years ago.

There was brief talk of running the games in spring, per AP: Summer in Tokyo means intense heat and humidity for the 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes.

  • David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the Olympics in 2021 — they will still be officially called the 2020 Olympics — could become a symbol for a world pulling together after the pandemic.
10. 1 good thing
In 1960, a polio patient types with her tongue as her breathing is assisted by an Emerson Respirator, or iron lung. Photo: Popperfoto via Getty Images

"Two extraordinary women — one 101, the other 95 — lived through the worst of the 20th century," and they're facing down the coronavirus outbreak together, writes N.Y. Times "Big City" columnist Ginia Bellafante.

  • Naomi Replansky, 101, a poet and labor activist, was born in the Bronx in May 1918 — the start of the Spanish flu outbreak — and saw her baby sister stricken with polio.
  • Eva Kollisch, her 95-year-old wife and a former professor of comparative literature at Sarah Lawrence, fled the Holocaust in Austria via the Kindertransport in 1939 before her family reunited in New York the following year.

Now, "they find themselves longing for what has been lost more than they dread whatever might come, and they worry more for their 'generation,' as Naomi put it, than they do for themselves."

Mike Allen

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