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Oct 8, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,103, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Pence's alternative pandemic world

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence described a world in which he and President Trump led Americans' heroic effort to defeat the coronavirus during last night's vice presidential debate. The problem is, he described a world that doesn't exist.

Why it matters: The coronavirus is very much not in control in the U.S., and America's failed response begins with the individual actions of the president and the vice president themselves.

  • Instead of defending the administration's decisions and behaviors, Pence acted as if they never happened.

What Pence said: Trump's decision to shut down travel from China "bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II, and I believe it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives."

  • Reality check: The administration botched the initial response to the pandemic, producing a faulty diagnostic test and failing to stop the virus from taking hold across the U.S.
  • Despite the travel ban, the virus clearly found its way into the country.

Pence: "The reality is, when you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way."

Pence: "When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn't worked, that's a great disservice to the sacrifices that the American people have made."

  • Reality check: The virus has brutalized vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the poor and people of color, who have been left largely unprotected by the federal government.

Pence, on the Rose Garden event that is suspected of becoming a super spreader event: "Many of the people who were at that event ... actually were tested for coronavirus, and it was an outdoor event."

  • Reality check: Most attendees were maskless and weren't maintaining distance between one another. And the number of infected attendees speaks for itself.
2. Science is winning over politics on vaccines

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Science has won out over politics in the race for a coronavirus vaccine — for now.

Why it matters: The Food and Drug Administration's end run around the White House on vaccine guidance earlier this week may end up boosting public confidence, which is very important in light of widespread vaccine skepticism.

Driving the news: The FDA on Wednesday posted vaccine guidance that requires drugmakers to monitor clinical trial participants for a median of two months after they receive their final dose.

  • The White House had previously been blocking the guidance, as NYT reported. But the FDA instead included the language in a briefing document released ahead of an upcoming advisory committee meeting. The guidance itself was then cleared and released shortly after.
  • President Trump publicly expressed his unhappiness with the move. "New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job! @SteveFDA," he tweeted on Wednesday evening.

"What you got yesterday was basically a 'f--k you' tweet from the president to the agency," said a senior administration official, who added that FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn had knowingly put his job at risk by working around the White House.

3. Coronavirus cases rise in 23 states and D.C.
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

The pace of coronavirus infections increased last week in 23 states plus Washington, D.C., and only declined in four states and Puerto Rico.

The big picture: The virus is not under control, or anywhere close to it, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

  • That's especially true in Washington, D.C., where the outbreak tied to the White House appears to be increasing the caseload. The District experienced a 26% increase last week, rising from about 40 new cases per day to about 50.

By the numbers: Nationwide, cases were up 6%, compared to the week before. The U.S. is now averaging roughly 43,700 new infections per day.

  • Increases continue to span every region of the country.
  • Infections are rising in the New York region, which has largely had the virus under control in the months since it became the epicenter for the outbreak, and in parts of the southwest, which saw big spikes over the summer.
  • Just four states — Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina — saw the pace of new infections slow over the past week.

Testing was largely unchanged over the past week. The U.S. is conducting about 927,000 tests per day.

How it works: Each week, Axios tracks the change in new infections in each state. We use a seven-day average to minimize the effects of day-to-day discrepancies in states' reporting.

4. COVID-19 is accelerating an unfair future

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is revealing entrenched inequalities in everything from health care to economic opportunity, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes.

Why it matters: The growing sense that there is something fundamentally unfair about American life is one of the biggest challenges the country faces. If COVID-19 is permitted to widen those inequalities unchecked, the political and economic ramifications could be dire.

Driving the news: After an unprecedented course of treatment that included an experimental therapy, President Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed hospital this week, proclaiming on Twitter: "Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life."

  • While few would argue the president of the U.S. doesn't deserve world-class medical treatment, it did not escape notice that few if any of the 7.5 million Americans who have been sickened by COVID-19 received such assistance in their fight against the coronavirus.

Details: The Kaiser Family Foundation has found the COVID-19 death rate is more than twice as high for Black patients and almost twice as high for American Indian and Alaska Native patients.

  • The same data showed roughly 35% of patients with household income under $15,000 became seriously ill, compared to 16% of patients with income over $50,000.

Between the lines: There's no greater inequality than who lives and who dies, but the economic impact of COVID-19 has been just as unfair.

  • Perhaps nowhere is the unfairness of COVID-19 more apparent than among children, the one age group in America that has no direct political voice.

Go deeper.

5. Catch up quick

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump has been "symptom-free" from the coronavirus for over 24 hours, White House physician Sean Conley said in a Wednesday update.

The White House denied Wednesday that President Trump worked in the Oval Office on Tuesday while still suffering from coronavirus, despite an assertion otherwise from by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

Editors of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday published a scathing rebuke of the Trump administration over its "astonishing" failure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, writing that "this election gives us the power to render judgment" of current U.S. leadership.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) announced on Wednesday that a field hospital will be opened at the state fairgrounds near Milwaukee to expand care for coronavirus patients after hospitalizations more than doubled in the past month.

The No. 2 Marine general, Gary Thomas, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, a day after he and other senior military leaders began quarantining due to possible exposure to the virus.