Aug 20, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,153, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Schools soldier through coronavirus outbreaks

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Only a few weeks into the school year, hundreds of students, teachers and staff across the country have been diagnosed with the coronavirus or sent home to quarantine after being exposed.

Why it matters: For now, most of the affected schools are opting to play coronavirus whack-a-mole, providing a complicated alternative to in-person and virtual learning.

The big picture: The bizarre new reality that we've all had to adjust to is no different than what is now playing out in classrooms across the country: We all have to monitor our contacts, and if we're unlucky enough that one of them gets sick with the coronavirus, we have to stay home for two weeks.

  • Although plenty of school districts — including most large ones — opted to begin the year online, those that began in-person learning generally aren't rushing to fall back into virtual school as soon as a case arrives on campus.

Yes, but: America has failed miserably at containing the coronavirus via testing, contact tracing and isolation. Families across the country are now relying on schools — which are not staffed by public health professionals, although often are working with public health departments — to do better than the country as a whole has so far.

Between the lines: There's no one-size-fits-all approach, as evidenced by a crowdsourced spreadsheet detailing school outbreaks across the country.

  • A popular strategy is to send classrooms home for two weeks after one student or teacher tests positive.
  • Mirroring the trend across the country, some states are seeing many more school cases than others. One Georgia county had seen 11 schools implement some level of quarantine by the first week of August, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News.

The other side: Some schools are shutting down temporarily or throwing in the towel indefinitely after seeing cases, the Wall Street Journal reports.

2. Coronavirus hotspots keep improving
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, , Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti, Sara Wise/Axios

The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. continues to slow, driven by significant progress in the South and Southwest, where cases skyrocketed earlier this summer, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

Why it matters: All of the second-order controversies consuming the U.S. — like whether to open schools for in-person instruction — would be easier to resolve if we could get the virus under control and keep it there.

The big picture: The number of new infections in the U.S. fell by nearly 8% over the past week — the fourth straight week of nationwide improvement.

  • Arizona and Florida, two of the biggest contributors to the explosion of new cases in June and July, recorded significant improvement this week.
  • The other big summer hotspots, California and Texas, held steady, while the hard-hit South improved overall.

By the numbers: The U.S. averaged just under 49,000 new cases per day over the past week — still a lot of cases, and far too many to declare any sort of victory over the coronavirus, but an improvement from the 65,000 daily cases we were averaging in mid-July.

  • Nationwide, testing held steady at roughly 722,000 tests per day.

Yes, but: New warning signs cropped up this week in Kentucky and a handful of Midwestern states.

  • As we've already learned multiple times throughout this pandemic, once the virus gains a new foothold, it can become highly mobile very quickly.

P.S.: Maine looks bad on the map, but only because it jumped from 11 cases per day to 23.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

An entire sector of America's education workforce faces paycheck jeopardy in the coming weeks that moving to remote teaching can't easily fix, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) cautioned against calling his state a "COVID success story," during an Axios virtual event on Wednesday.

Hawaii announced it will delay reopening its borders to visitors from the mainland U.S. through at least Oct. 1, as coronavirus cases continue to surge in other U.S. states, the Washington Post reports.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said governors won't have any incentive to reopen if Congress passes another major coronavirus stimulus package. He also said people will be less likely to return to work. Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked over a deal.

4. The latest worldwide
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Sweden recorded its highest death tally since 1869 in the first half of 2020 — and COVID-19 pushed the toll 10% higher than the average for the period over the past five years.

Italy and Spain both reported record new coronavirus case numbers on Wednesday since ending their lockdowns in May and June respectively, AP reports.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is deploying repressive security forces to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Officials have labeled people who may have come into contact with the virus as "bioterrorists," per the New York Times.

Iran reported over 20,000 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday — the highest death toll from the virus in the Middle East.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday 500 more army personnel would be deployed at managed isolation facilities as a health official confirmed another five infections linked to the Auckland cluster and one imported case.

5. Many Americans still don't have testing access

Even after months of building up testing capacity, more than 67 million Americans — or 20% of the population — live far away from a coronavirus testing site, according to a new analysis by GoodRx.

Why it matters: The spread of the virus makes it clear that nowhere is immune from it, and the only way to stop its spread is to know who has it.

Details: The millions of Americans who live in "testing deserts," defined by GoodRx as a census tract that is at least 10 miles away from a testing center, live in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas an average of 22 miles from the nearest testing site.

  • The states with the largest number of testing deserts are Texas, Ohio and Michigan. They're more common in low-income counties compared to wealthier ones.
  • As of July 13, two-thirds of counties don't have any testing sites.

Between the lines: Within testing deserts, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, along with American Indians and Alaskan Natives, tend to live furthest away from test sites.

6. School reopening plans and voting
Data: Murmuration/Morning Consult national tracking poll; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Candidates' positions on reopening schools could affect how people vote in November, according to new poll results from a Morning Consult/Murmuration national survey of 2,200 voters.

Details: 34% of adults said they would be much less likely to support a candidate for local office who pushed for schools to open for in-person learning in the fall, and 25% said they'd be much more likely to support a candidate who backed online-only learning, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

By the numbers: By a wide margin, responding adults say they would be less likely (51%) rather than more likely (29%) to vote for local officials who push to reopen in-person schooling this fall.

  • 40% of parents of K-12 children who are Black, Indigenous or people of color said they'd be much less likely to vote for a candidate who pushed to fully reopen schools, compared to 26% of white parents of K-12 children.
  • 55% of liberal respondents said they'd be much less likely to vote for a candidate pushing to fully reopen schools, compared to 32% of moderate voters and 19% of conservative voters.

Trust in government's ability to safely reopen schools has plummeted, per the survey.

  • Teachers and parents, on the other hand, enjoy high levels of trust, both with 71% of adults saying they trust them some or a lot.
Caitlin Owens