Welcome to Axios Future, where child care in the pandemic age is now primarily being carried out by our iRobot vacuum cleaner.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
As the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases passed 1 million on Friday, two words sum up the U.S. response to the coronavirus: not enough. Not enough hospital beds, not enough ventilators, not enough protective equipment. Not enough preparation.
We had plenty of warning that something like COVID-19 was coming. But the reality is no country's health care system is built to withstand the kind of rare but consequential event this pandemic represents.
When it comes to national defense, the U.S. has built a system explicitly prepared for those big but rare events. For decades a pillar of American military strategy has been that the armed forces should be capable of fighting two major conflicts simultaneously — one reason why the Defense Department's budget was $686 billion in 2019.
The big picture: Our health care system is built to respond to known threats. The number of deaths from heart disease or cancer, or even seasonal influenza outbreaks, might rise or fall year to year, but it stays within predictable bounds — bounds our health care system can meet.
The ideal solution would be to create a system with plenty of surge capacity, capable of rapidly scaling up to respond to a major outbreak. But while digital systems are largely able to do just that, it's far more difficult to scale up the manufacturing and distribution of physical things like masks, ventilators and beds.
The bottom line: Our preparation for low-probability, high-consequence events like COVID-19 has largely been not to prepare — and we're seeing the painful results of that flawed strategy in real time.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
We're going to see more medical care delivered remotely — both during the pandemic and after.
The big picture: Health care has always been one of our most regulated industries, which slows the pace of innovation. But the emergency nature of COVID-19 is taking the shackles off telemedicine.
As part of the $2 trillion CARES Act passed last week by Congress to respond to COVID-19, the Federal Communications Commission plans to spend $200 million to support telehealth programs.
Be smart: Telemedicine isn't just about patients speaking to a remote doctor via a smartphone app like Teladoc, which last month reported virtual visits increasing by 50% because of the pandemic. Hospitals can take advantage of remote doctors by outsourcing specialities, such as radiology.
Regulations that required radiologists to be licensed in the states of the hospitals they were reading for, even if they were working remotely, held back the practice. But after President Trump declared a state of emergency on March 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provided blanket waivers for telemedicine providers to practice across state lines.
The bottom line: Crises have a way of knocking aside the barriers to innovation — even in a practice as regulated as medicine.
llustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
In two weeks, the coronavirus has brought the entire U.S. auto industry to a screeching halt. When it finally sputters back to life, many companies may be forced to change, defer — or even abandon — their ambitious plans for self-driving vehicles, my Axios colleague Joann Muller writes.
The big picture: Auto factories are shut down across North America to prevent the spread of the virus among workers, while stay-at-home orders have kept car shoppers away from showrooms. The resulting financial shock means carmakers have shifted their focus to survival, not investing in expensive technologies with no clear payoff.
Autonomous delivery seems made for a pandemic like this, on the other hand. People who are afraid to go out have discovered the convenience of home delivery in huge numbers.
What's next: Industry consolidation is likely to accelerate within the next six to 12 months.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Never have the known unknowns been bigger.
At a time of crisis, we tend to crave certainty — the one thing we have less of than ever, my Axios colleague Felix Salmon writes.
The markets, of course, are full of uncertainty. Record-high volatility indicates that price discovery is breaking down.
The virus comes with even bigger error bars.
Why it matters: It's unnatural to live with such uncertainty, so we all cobble together our own set of beliefs about what is true. Then, because we all have different beliefs, finding common ground becomes very hard.
The bottom line: The virus is eroding the shared norms and beliefs that underpin both markets and societies. The consequences are unforeseeable but unlikely to be good.
What everyone's getting wrong about the toilet paper shortage (Will Oremus — Marker)
Forty years with coronaviruses (Susan R. Weiss — Journal of Experimental Medicine)
The shockingly recent history of people actually washing their hands (Emily Sohn — Popular Mechanics)
The apocalypse as an 'unveiling': what religion teaches us about the end times (Elizabeth Dias — New York Times)
A humpback whale dives. Photo: M Swiet Productions
A new scientific review found that marine life has been rebounding in recent years thanks to conservation efforts and that the oceans could be fully restored by mid-century.
Why it matters: The oceans cover almost two-thirds of the Earth's surface, yet for too long we've treated the waters as a dumping ground.
The oceans are not in great shape. Coral reefs are bleaching, fish are being fished out and microplastics are spoiling the water. Despite that ill treatment, the oceans are more resilient than we thought — and humans have helped.
The bottom line: Saving the oceans won't be cheap — the Nature researchers estimate it could cost $10 billion to $20 billion a year. But the benefits could be 10 times that much, and might just be priceless.
In the last edition, Stanford's John Etchemendy was mistakenly quoted as referring to Kansas State. The quote has been corrected.