Axios Vitals

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August 25, 2021

Good morning, Vitals readers. Today's newsletter is 764 words or a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: ICU beds are running out again

Data: HHS; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

More than 77% of America's ICU beds are being used right now as hospitals grapple with a crush of severely ill COVID patients, almost all of them unvaccinated.

  • Arkansas and Alabama officials said this week their states were completely out of ICU beds.
  • In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said record COVID hospitalizations were forcing some hospitals to convert space to treat the influx of ICU patients.
  • In Florida, 94% of ICRU beds are full. Nearly 50 hospitals reported critical staffing shortages, and almost 60 more said they anticipate critical staffing shortages by the end of the week.
  • North Texas hospitals may begin to prioritize vaccinated patients over the unvaccinated, Forbes reported last week.
  • Idaho, Nevada and Illinois are also nearing ICU capacity limits.

Between the lines: The shortage of ICU beds is a demand problem, not a supply problem, says Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst for QuoteWizard, which released a new report yesterday measuring states' preparedness.

  • "It's specifically because that's where COVID is really hitting," VinZant said. "We have a health care system that is being pushed to the limits and staff that are really struggling to keep up."

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2. United Airlines CEO on mandating shots

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby doesn't find it hard to defend his company's decision to require COVID-19 vaccines for all of its nearly 67,000 U.S. workers.

  • He's already seen too many employees die, he told Axios' Joann Muller.

Why it matters: United so far is the only major airline to require vaccines for all its employees, and it imposed that requirement earlier this month.

  • But Kirby expects many corporations will follow suit now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer shot.
  • "It eliminates one of the last substantive hurdles for vaccine hesitancy," he told Axios. "And because of that, it makes it easier for leaders to require vaccines."
  • "The more companies that do it, the harder it will be to not require it."

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3. Screening ages trend younger

Illustration of a stethoscope with a clock attached.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Americans are being asked to get screened for certain diseases earlier in their lives, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Driving the news: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday lowered the recommended starting age to screen for Type 2 diabetes from age 40 to 35.

The big picture: The change marks the third time this year the task force has lowered the age recommendation for potentially life-saving screenings.

  • In March, the task force recommended lung cancer screenings for people as young as 50. And in May, it recommended that people in their 40s get screened for colorectal cancer.

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4. The resurgence of dental care

Data: Company documents; Chart: Axios Visuals

People are back to getting their teeth cleaned and fixed, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: The coronavirus almost completely halted the operations of dentists and orthodontists last spring. But sales of dental equipment and supplies have doubled over the past year.

What they're saying: Executives at dental distributor Henry Schein said patient traffic in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand is close to or above 2019 levels.

By the numbers: Dental revenue for four dominant manufacturers and suppliers — Align, Dentsply Sirona, Henry Schein and Patterson — was a combined $2.2 billion during the worst of the pandemic.

  • Combined sales are expected to surpass $4.6 billion a year later, according to data analyzed by Axios.

What to watch: The dental industry doesn't expect a repeat of layoffs and closures if coronavirus cases continue to rise.

  • "Even if the Delta variant kind of forces people to shut down, I think the dental community has learned to deal with that and proactively reach out to their patients and assure them about their safety," Dentsply Sirona CEO Don Casey told investors this month.

5. Business notes

  • Former CMS administrator Seema Verma has a new gig on the board of publicly traded outpatient mental health company LifeStance Health.
  • More than 165,000 Medicaid patients could lose access to doctors soon at MedStar Health, one of the largest health systems in greater Washington, D.C. The health system plans to end contacts with two companies who cover D.C.'s Medicaid patients, the Washington Post reported.

6. 1 fun thing

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here's something you didn't know you needed in your life: "Pharmacyasmr" on TikTok.

Wait, what? You can find a bunch of videos on TikTok dedicated to watching — and more importantly, listening to — the "ASMR" of drugs getting poured, sorted, counted and bottled by pharmacy techs.

  • For the uninitiated, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, or as Vox explains, it's that sensation people get when they watch stimulating videos.
  • It's part of a bigger category of "Pharmtok" which collectively has tens of millions of views, many of them of people — wait for it — counting pills.