Apr 30, 2020

Axios Cities

Welcome back to Axios Cities. From now on, we'll be coming to your inbox on Thursdays.

  • ⏰ Axios is hosting a live virtual event on COVID-19's impact on education and the jobs of the future. Join me Tuesday, May 5, at 12:30pm ET for a conversation with Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and CEO and chairman of Revolution and co-founder of AOL Steve Case. Register here.
  • 🏙 Next Thursday, May 7, I'll be moderating a virtual panel, "Smart cities in the era of COVID-19." Register here.
  • Today's edition is 1,813 words, a 7-minute read.
1 big thing: Our lost summer

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In the beginning, we thought we would just miss out on a few weeks of spring. Now it’s becoming clear that a large chunk — if not all — of summer will also be lost to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The big picture: Even as some states take steps to open up their economies, huge parts of our lives will stay shuttered well through August and possibly beyond.

  • Summer rituals like trips to the pool, baseball games, BBQs and vacations may be gone for another year. Many cities have had to cancel summer camps and recreational programs.

Education: The lost summer could turn into a lost year academically.

  • Northwest Evaluation Association researchers predict that, for students who received limited or no instruction during the school closures from March through August, they may only retain about 70% of their reading progress compared to a normal year. In math, students may lose from half to a full year of academic growth.
  • Some school districts, such as in Marietta, Georgia, are launching virtual summer programs to reduce summer slide. Others are considering mandatory remedial programs.

Businesses: Summer is a make-or-break period for many small businesses in tourist-reliant areas. Summer vacations are as vital to the hospitality industry as Black Friday is to retail.

  • "I think in the next 30–60 days, we're going to see a lot of small businesses fail and it's going to be tough," Sofia Dickens, founder of EQtainment, told Axios' Mike Allen last week.

Families: The strain on families on all levels will have a cumulative effect.

  • Parents working outside the home may have three more months of cobbling together child care arrangements, and remote workers face more impossible juggling.
  • Stress and anxiety are also worsening for those out of work whose jobs will not immediately bounce back as some businesses partially reopen.

Work routines: Virtual work fatigue is setting in, and by September, our patience, routines and willpower will be frayed and weak. 

  • The burnout potential is real for working couples, but also for anyone trying to maintain productivity while under stress about their health and worrying about their jobs in this economic environment, said Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology at Manchester Business School.

What to watch: Summer also brings some level of complacency risk when it comes to COVID-19.

  • If the virus has high seasonality, meaning it subsides with warmer weather, we may be lulled into a false sense of security.
  • Public health officials fear that could set us up for a second wave to roar back come fall, possibly leading to the loss of yet another season — or two.
2. Contact tracing requires a lot of humans ...

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Public health officials and local governments are trying to aggressively ramp up contact tracing to track the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and I report.

Why it matters: Identifying who has come in contact with people infected with the disease is critical to isolating the coronavirus while also allowing some semblance of daily life to resume.

Between the lines: State and city budgets are being hammered, making it harder to find the resources to hire and train people to contact trace or acquire needed technologies.

  • Some governments are recruiting volunteers, retirees and students to do the work. But the sheer number of people needed — at least 100,000 across the U.S., per Johns Hopkins — and the open-ended duration of the work makes that a very daunting task.
  • "We haven't seen a big push coming from the federal government in either traditional contact tracing or these technology-based approaches," said Josh Michaud, associate director for Global Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "That leaves most of the legwork and decision-making to the states and local authorities."

State and county public health officials are ramping up tracing efforts now that testing availability is improving — since tracing only works with widespread testing.

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker allotted $44 million to an ambitious contact tracing program, which is training 1,000 tracers to staff a virtual call center to track people who came in close contact with those who've tested positive for the virus, starting from 48 hours before the symptoms emerged, per the Boston Globe.
  • Texas' Harris County — the nation's third-most populous county with 4.7 million people, including the city of Houston — this week approved the hire of 300 contact tracers.
"For every case, we have an average of about 20 people to contact. ... So if you have 100 cases, you've got 2,000 contacts you've got to handle for that day because you know the next day you'll have maybe another 100–150 cases."
— Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health
3. ... and smartphone apps people trust

Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Other countries are relying on tech to varying degrees to augment contact tracing, allowing people to be notified when they come in contact with someone who tests positive.

  • In March, Singapore launched TraceTogether, an app that uses Bluetooth signals to help users learn whether they've been in contact with someone who tests positive. More than 1 million people have downloaded it, and Singapore has made it available to other countries.
  • Australia said more than 1 million people downloaded its Bluetooth contact tracing app, based on Singapore's version, within hours of the government making it available.
  • South Korea used phone GPS records, credit card transactions and closed-circuit television to augment patient interviews for its contact tracing effort.
  • Iceland claims a 93% success rate of voluntary contact tracing through a smartphone app.

In the U.S., the most likely scenario for widespread, tech-enabled contact tracing lies with work done by Google and Apple.

  • The two companies are sharing an early version of what they're calling COVID-19 exposure notification technology with certain developers working with public health authorities.
  • Marc Zissman, associate head of the Cyber Security and Information Sciences Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, said Google and Apple's effort appears to be incorporating the privacy principles researchers have called for, including sending randomized data that is not personally identifiable.

Yes, but: Nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are unable or unwilling to participate in the Google-Apple initiative, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

What to watch: It may also take a public service campaign featuring trusted voices to encourage Americans to opt in.

  • "There’s a lot of doubts, one, that people's privacy concerns can be addressed sufficiently and, two, that enough people would download the app to make it helpful and actually provide the service it's supposed to provide," said Michaud of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
4. Coronavirus may prompt migration out of American cities

An empty street in San Francisco. Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images.

Nearly one-third of Americans — and 39% of urban dwellers — are considering moving to a less densely populated area because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a Harris Poll survey released Thursday.

"Space now means something more than square feet. Already beset by high rents and clogged streets, the virus is now forcing urbanites to consider social distancing as a lifestyle."
— Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema

Urban residents (43%) were more likely than suburban (26%) and rural (21%) residents to report having recently browsed real estate websites for homes or apartments to rent or buy, per the survey of 2,050 U.S. adults.

Between the lines: It's not yet clear how the pandemic will reshape cities in the long run, but experts say it will accelerate trends already underway.

  • City growth slows: Major metro areas with populations of more than 1 million have seen growth slowdowns and even losses over the past four years, according to an analysis by Brookings Institution's William Frey.
  • Remote work normalized: This may allow staff more flexibility to live farther away from their company's headquarters — hence, farther away from major cities.
  • Spreading out: The suburbs had already become more attractive to millennials. HousingWire reports that the crisis is a "tipping point" for people already wanting more space or a different quality of life.

Reality check: People tend to stay put in an economic downturn, so a recession could discourage people from picking up and moving, even if they've thought about it.

5. More than 30 million workers have filed for unemployment
Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

3.8 million people filed for unemployment last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday.

  • While the pace of unemployment filings has slowed since its peak in late March, the number of workers who have lost their jobs in recent weeks tops 30 million, per Axios' Courtenay Brown.

Between the lines: State labor departments have been overwhelmed by the rush of people seeking unemployment benefits.

  • Economists warn that some jobless workers have been unable to apply for benefits, so the number of unemployed could be higher than the weekly figures suggest.
6. Restaurants gingerly test how to return

Tables are marked off at J. Christopher's restaurant that now offers dine-in service in Decatur, Georgia. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

As restaurants in some areas begin reopening their doors, their performance will provide a first big test of Americans' readiness to resume life outside their homes.

Why it matters: Restaurants play a major role in just about every downtown core, shopping district and office hub. But that doesn't mean people will be ready to slide into a booth right away.

Driving the news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday announced restaurants can reopen on Monday at 25% indoor seating capacity.

  • In Texas, restaurants can reopen Friday at 25% capacity — but not all restaurant owners are ready to invite patrons into their dining rooms.
  • In Georgia, restaurants were allowed to reopen this week with restrictions, such as limits on dine-in customers and mandatory mask-wearing.
  • Tennessee restaurants are now allowed to be open at 50% capacity.
  • Colorado is easing its stay-at-home order but will still restrict restaurants to takeout and delivery.

By the numbers: Restaurants employ about 15.6 million workers, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and the industry saw its largest employment drop on record when restaurants suddenly closed last month, according to the National Restaurant Association.

What's happening: Restaurants using takeout apps will benefit.

  • In China, restaurants that leveraged order-ahead and delivery apps recovered faster — and consumers were more likely to adopt these apps than before the coronavirus lockdown, according to Katherine Fogertey, restaurant research analyst at Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

What to watch: "Consumers are going to be on the hunt for value," said Fogertey in a recent Goldman Sachs webinar — which means that fast-food joints and low-priced eateries will recover fastest.

  • Restaurants in malls, stadiums and tourist spots are likely to be the last to come back.
7. Urban files
Data: Apple; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Americans are starting to drive again, but still staying away from public transit (Axios)

"Cancel the Rent" could be just the beginning (CityLab)

The travel industry is going local (Economist)

How to restart national economies during the coronavirus crisis (McKinsey)

Reopening California will be an arduous task, and it won't be quick (LA Times)

Pandemic flattens the sharing economy (Axios)

8. 🎶 1 fun thing: Louisville's anthem 🎶

Screenshot from LiftUpLouisville

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has always wanted his city to have a song. Now it has one.

He tapped Teddy Abrams, the music director for the Louisville Orchestra, to rally the city’s musicians to write a song. Abrams enlisted more than 30 local artists — ranging from rappers, jazz, bluegrass and indie rock musicians — to help compose and perform the song from their homes.

  • “There's an important role for artists to play, but that role is not always entirely clear,” Abrams told me by phone this week. “We actually had an opportunity to do something that’s much bigger than playing in a show or sharing something online, which can be wonderful but doesn’t always help the greater civic needs.”

History lesson: The Louisville Orchestra was founded in 1937 after a flood devastated the city. Abrams said there's a collective sense of responsibility to continue that civic history of creative work.

What’s next: “We really want this to become a global phenomenon where cities build a song quilt — a way of making music that reaches deep into our communities,” he said.

Listen to “Lift Up Louisville”