Jul 31, 2020

Axios AM

Situational awareness: The Senate adjourned until Monday, with Congress failing to extend the extra unemployment benefits that expire today.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,139 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Tests may get even scarcer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. has such a coronavirus testing shortage that experts say we may need to revive tighter standards about who can get tested, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Although testing has gotten a lot better over the course of the pandemic, the pandemic has gotten worse.
  • That might mean that frequent testing solely to help open businesses or schools just isn't feasible.

The U.S. is conducting more than 800,000 tests per day, on average — an enormous leap from the severe testing shortages the country experienced in the spring. But it's still not enough to keep up with demand:

  • Getting results often takes longer than a week, and sometimes almost two weeks, which makes them a lot less helpful. The longer it takes to identify positive cases, the more time the virus has to spread.

Two factors are driving demand for tests higher than the system can handle — the high U.S. caseload, and precautionary testing tied to reopening.

  • Reducing turnaround times will require doing fewer tests, "and that’s in some ways taking a step backward," said Johns Hopkins’ Caitlin Rivers. "[T]here is a need to identify: Who really does need a test? And for whom should that be high quality?"

Between the lines: All that may dash the hopes of using frequent testing as a tool to resume work, school, travel and other elements of pre-pandemic life.

  • Even as capacity continues to grow, including through new tests coming on the market, it's hard to imagine a world where every sports team, business and university is able to regularly test asymptomatic people indefinitely.

The bottom line: Ultimately, the best way to reduce pressure on our testing infrastructure would be to reduce the number of cases.

2. Mail delays raise ballot fear
USPS worker in El Paso. Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country after Trump fundraiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy "put in place new procedures described as cost-cutting efforts," the WashPost reports.

  • Postal workers are warning "that the policies could undermine their ability to deliver ballots on time."

Why it matters: "The backlog comes as the president ... has escalated his efforts to cast doubt about the integrity of the November vote, which is expected to yield record numbers of mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic."

The context, from The Post on July 14, "Postal Service memos detail 'difficult' changes, including slower mail delivery: Analysts say the memos recast the USPS as a business rather than a government service."

  • Read a two-page internal memo.

Go deeper: Trump floats delaying November election.

3. Congress approval drops double digits
Graphic: Gallup

As lawmakers dither on a new rescue package, Gallup finds that America's approval of Congress has fallen back to its normal abysmal level — 18% — after hitting 20-year highs in April and May.

Congressional approval in July was down at least 10 points across the board since May:

  • Democrats' approval fell the most — from 39% to 20%.
  • Republicans' dropped from 24% to 14%, and independents' from 32% to 21%.

President Trump's approval in Gallup held steady from June to July, at 41%.

  • That's down from 49% earlier this year, "when the economy was in good shape, and Trump was enjoying a post-impeachment bounce."
4. 🏀 Pic du jour: NBA is back
Photo: Ashley Landis/AP

On the NBA's reopening night, the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz kneel together during the national anthem.

  • Many locked arms with the man next to them, and some shut their eyes tightly, AP's Tim Reynolds reports from Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

A few — including LeBron James at the night's second game, L.A. Lakers vs. L.A. Clippers — briefly raised a fist or pointed skyward.

  • Why it matters: This was the players' way of joining the chorus demanding racial justice and equality.
5. Time capsule
The New York Times

"[T]here is mounting evidence that the attempt to freeze the economy and defeat the virus has not produced the rapid rebound that many envisioned," the N.Y. Times' Ben Casselman writes (subscription).


  • Go deeper: Pandemic pushes U.S. economy to worst-ever contraction.
6. Google's new search
Courtesy The Economist

At 21, Google faces the "hard trick" of being both innovative and mature, The Economist writes in its cover editorial:

History is littered with failed attempts. ...
[Google] could decide its mission is helping consumers trade their personal data for goods and services; or using ai to solve more of the world’s problems; or being the data processor of net-enabled gadgets. At the moment it is betting on almost everything. ...
Google’s best way forward is to follow the advice often given to victims of a mid-life crisis: slim down, decide what matters and follow the dream.
7. Airlines pivot to cargo

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Passenger airlines are making up some of their lost revenue by strapping cargo into seats and overhead bins that would otherwise be empty, Axios' Joann Muller writes from Detroit.

  • Global demand for medical supplies, along with disruptions in manufacturing supply chains and increased e-commerce, have granted airlines a chance to offset some of their losses.

United's total revenue plunged 87% in the second quarter, but its cargo revenue was up 36% as it flew 3,800 international cargo-only flights during that period.

8. Remembering Herman Cain, 74

Herman Cain holds up a 9-9-9 cupcake in 2011. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

"Herman Cain, with his rich baritone voice and natural showman’s instinct, reinvented himself multiple times over his lifetime: computer analyst, millionaire business executive, political lobbyist, broadcaster, motivational speaker, author and presidential candidate," his hometown Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes.

  • "Cain had been hospitalized since July 1 after traveling to multiple places in June, including a rally for his close ally President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20 in which he was photographed not wearing a mask."
  • "His death immediately prompted sharp comments on social media over the GOP’s attitudes toward masks and racial inequalities surrounding COVID-19."
9. ⚾ MLB's doubleheader deal

Mets manager Luis Rojas and Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke maintain social distance during a meeting at home plate Wednesday in New York. Photo: John Minchillo/AP

Shortened baseball season, shorter games, AP's Ben Walker reports:

  • Big league doubleheaders will now become a pair of seven-inning games, baseball's latest radical rule change during a season reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Baseball is filled with examples going back more than 100 years of major league games being shortened on the fly because of weather, darkness or a team's travel schedule. But this is believed to be the first mandate across the sport to play games shorter than nine innings.

  • Seven-inning doubleheaders have been commonplace for years in the minor leagues and college.
10. 🎧 Listening to John Lewis
President Obama eulogizes Rep. John Lewis. Photo: Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Video: For MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," Morgan Freeman reads the last essay of his friend, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

  • Lewis sent his final words to the N.Y. Times two days before his death, for publication on the day of his funeral:
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Spotify posted the tributes from Presidents Clinton and Bush as well as President Obama's eulogy from the funeral for Congressman Lewis in Atlanta yesterday.

  • Video ... Obama: "John Lewis will be a founding father" of America's better future.

📱 Thanks for reading Axios AM. Please invite your friends to sign up here.