Apr 6, 2020

Axios AM

Good Monday morning.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,485 words ... 5½ minutes.
1 big thing: What top CEOs fear telling America

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Top CEOs, in private conversations and pleas to President Trump, are warning of economic catastrophe if America doesn't begin planning for a phased return to work as soon as May, corporate leaders tell Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and me.

  • Several of these leaders told us they want to have a hard national conversation about tradeoffs involved in any widespread lockdowns beyond the middle of next month.

Why it matters: The CEOs say massive numbers of companies, big and small, could go under if business and government don't start urgent talks about ways groups of workers can return.

  • They know most wouldn't return until June or later, but fear a lack of urgency on many going back sooner.
  • They realize it sounds callous to talk about work when people are scared of death, but believe it's an urgent debate the nation needs. Several are debating going public with this concern, but fear the optics and timing look discordant.

A return to work might start by geography, demography or type of work.

  • The plan likely would include guidelines about use of gloves and masks.
  • It would also err on the side of people who had the virus and healed, as well as those who pass instant antibody tests.

Reality check: Large parts of the South and central U.S. may not hit their peak until May.

  • Dr. Fauci said last week: "I think if we get to the part of the curve ... when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you’re going to have to relax social distancing."

Gary Cohn, the first White House economic adviser under Trump, told us that startup founders and CEOs are pleading privately: "We just need a realistic timeframe, and we need to talk honestly about it so we can tell our employees."

  • "There are a lot of conversations going on: At what point does a business become unrecoverable?" Cohn said.
  • "Business owners are asking: 'At what point do I just lay my people off and shut down and give the landlord the key?'"
  • "Businesses worry that their employees will be forced to jump at the first job offer, so they can't count on them to come back."

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, agreed it's a hot topic of private chats:

  • "A lot of people are concerned," he said Friday at an Axios virtual event.
  • But he said he'll "err on the side of safety, every single time."

Cohn, former president and COO of Goldman Sachs, said entrepreneurs and business titans also worry about the depression and addiction issues that have accompanied past economic downturns:

  • "No one wants to talk about this, but can you even get workers back who aren't so addicted or depressed they can actually function?"

What's next: Look for business groups to begin to broach these topics publicly in the next few weeks.

  • "If this goes on too long, the fear builds more and more," a top executive of a global company told us. "We need to lay the groundwork for the fear to ebb."
  • As Bloomberg put it, some investors are "willing to risk some horrors to avoid others."

Share this story. ... Go deeper: Economists call reopening vs. health a false choice.

2. Health care workers vs. the virus

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Getty Images

Thousands of health care workers in China and Italy have fallen sick from the coronavirus, a warning sign for the U.S., Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • 'Two nurses in New York City died earlier last month, the New York Times reported, and health care workers said they were afraid more would follow.

"Years of honing our clinical instincts — observing patterns in disease pace and trajectory — suddenly seem insufficient and unreliable," Dhruv Khullar, a doctor in New York City, writes in The New Yorker.

  • "We’re learning what to do, and when to do it, as we go," Khullar adds.
  • Keep reading.

🚨 Both the WashPost and N.Y. Times have front-page investigations today that document a vast undercount in U.S. deaths attributed to coronavirus.

3. Britain's extreme social distancing
Photo: Matt Dunham/AP

This sunbather in London was told to go home yesterday by an officer enforcing the British government's guidance of social distancing:

  • Parks can only be used for dog walking and one form of exercise a day — a run, walk or bike ride, alone or with household members.

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has tested positive, said sunbathing was "against the rules" and warned of stricter measures to come, AFP reports:

  • "I don't want to have to take away exercise as a reason to leave home because people are not following the rules," Hancock told Sky News.
  • "If ... too many people go out and flout the rules, I'm afraid we'll have to take action."
4. Pics du jour
Photos: Maxar Technologies via Reuters

These are satellite views of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square in 2011 (top), and the square yesterday.

  • Pope Francis celebrated Mass behind closed doors in St. Peter's Basilica.
5. Coronavirus crisis tests Trump’s love for cheap oil

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President Trump is working to help an oil industry imploding as the coronavirus crisis chokes demand. But listen closely, and you’ll hear his enduring love for cheap prices, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

The big picture: Trump often says — wrongly — that the oil industry was doing great before the pandemic.

  • Companies have been producing more oil and gas than ever, which empowered Trump’s tagline of "energy dominance."
  • But all of that supply is actually a core reason many were already struggling.

The bottom line: The irony is that most of us can't take advantage of these rock-bottom prices, since we're locked down. When we can drive and fly again, prices are poised to rise.

6. Data du jour
Sources: JPMorgan, CBO. Graphic: Hamilton Place Strategies

Everyone needs to change their mental model of the scope of the coronavirus rescue package, Hamilton Place Strategies partner Matt McDonald tells me:

  • Federal spending as a share of GDP this year is already closer to World War II levels than it is to the financial crisis, and that is only going to increase.

Why it matters: This event will result in big societal changes, big policy changes, and big political changes, Matt says.

  • We're going to see reflection, investigation, accountability and reform. 
  • The changes to come will be commensurate with the size of the event. For example, WWII resulted in the establishment of the Defense Department.

Share this graphic.

7. Short-form streamer Quibi launches
Courtesy Quibi

Quibi ("quick bites"), the mobile-only video subscription streaming service, made its highly-anticipated consumer debut at midnight, launching its new app globally in the middle of the pandemic, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: Executives at Quibi — where Jeffrey Katzenberg is founder and chairman, and Meg Whitman is CEO — say they feel confident about launching in this work-at-home moment, even though the product was built to be consumed on the go.
  • While many of Quibi's documentaries and entertainment shows have already been produced, its "Daily Essentials" — 5- to 6-minute news and information shows — are now mostly being shot in the homes of the hosts.

Axios demoed the app over the past few days. Here are our takeaways:

  • Quibi's flagship "Turnstyle" function, which changes video from vertical viewing to horizontal viewing as you rotate your device, is seamless.
  • Stars out front: Within seconds of scrolling through the app, we encountered a satirical show starring Chrissy Teigen, a doc with LeBron James, and a revamped version of MTV's 2000s hit "Punk'd," starring Chance the Rapper.

Share this story. ... Try the app.

8. Bronx tiger tests positive
Nadia. Photo: Bronx Zoo via Reuters

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for coronavirus, in the first known infection of an animal in the U.S. — or a tiger anywhere, AP reports.

  • The 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia — and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill — are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn't yet showing symptoms.
9. Queen invokes Blitz spirit
Cover: The Sun

In a taped, 4-minute message from Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth, 93, invoked the spirit of World War II in a rare address to the nation, Reuters writes.

  • "We will meet again," she said, referring to the most famous British song from the war years of the 1940s, when she was a teenager. "Better days will return."

🇬🇧 Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital for tests, 10 days after testing positive for coronavirus, Downing Street said.

  • He was taken to a London hospital on Sunday evening with "persistent symptoms," including high temperature. (BBC)
10. 1 shining moment: March memories
"The Shot": On March 28, 1992, Duke's Christian Laettner takes the winning shot in overtime over Kentucky's Deron Feldhaus for a 104-103 win in the East Regional final in Philadelphia. Photo: Charles Arbogast/AP

Tonight would have been the NCAA men's championship game in Atlanta.

  • So here's a treasury from the "March Madness memories" AP has been running to help fill its sports pages.

🏀 Best of the best ... Here are the original AP game stories (gamers!) from the top-10 games in tournament history, as voted by a panel of sportswriters:

  1. Villanova and UNC swap 3-pointers in the final seconds as the Wildcats come out on top in the 2016 title game.
  2. "The Shot": Christian Laettner's dagger at the overtime buzzer against Kentucky sends Duke to the Final Four. in 1992.
  3. N.C. State stuns Houston on last-second dunk in 1983 title game.
  4. Villanova upends top-ranked Georgetown in 1985 title game. (Sorry, Nick!)
  5. Duke ends UNLV's run in Final Four in 1991.
  6. Kansas beats Memphis in OT in 2008 title game.
  7. Duke hangs on to beat Butler in 2010 title game.
  8. N.C. State beats UCLA in the 1974 national semifinals.
  9. UNC beats Georgetown for '82 title.
  10. UNC beats Michigan for '93 title.
On April 4, 2016, Villanova's Kris Jenkins makes the game-winning three-point shot in championship game against UNC, 77-74, in Houston. Photo/David J. Phillip/AP

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