Jul 13, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Join Axios co-founder Mike Allen and me tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a conversation on the future of telemedicine and how new technology is disrupting health care, with Oscar Health CEO Mario Schlosser and FCC chair Ajit Pai.

Today's word count is 976, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: New shortages of protective equipment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Health care workers faced severe shortages of face masks, gowns and other protective equipment at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and they're afraid it's happening again now, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: Hospitals, nursing homes and physician clinics need this equipment to protect themselves and to avoid spreading infection. Supplies are already stretched thin, and will likely get thinner as the coronavirus and flu season converge in the fall.

What they're saying: Health care workers are sounding the alarms that they have to reuse masks and other supplies, and are worried their grievances are going unnoticed again.

  • Maria Serda, a respiratory therapist at an HCA Healthcare hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, said even though cases and hospitalizations are rising in the state, staff are limited to one N95 mask per day, and gowns are being monitored now, too.

The state of play: Many medical providers have said their supplies of masks, face shields, testing supplies and other equipment are "adequate" — which is a few rungs better than the spring, when workers at some facilities had to fashion gowns out of garbage bags.

Yes, but: "The supply chains concerns haven't been addressed," said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

  • "Supply is still coming in, but not enough to meet demand," one industry official told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform earlier this month.

It's a lot worse for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which are "begging for PPE," an official with the American Health Care Association told Axios.

The bottom line: Even Vice President Mike Pence, who has painted a consistently rosy picture of the country's coronavirus response, acknowledged some supply issues last week.

2. Florida sees record number of cases
Data: Covid Tracking Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

Florida reported 15,299 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday — a single-day record for any state, according to its health department.

The big picture: The figure shatters both Florida's previous record of 11,458 new cases and the single-state record of 11,694 set by California last week, according to AP.

  • It also surpasses New York's daily peak of 11,571 new cases in April, and comes just a day after Disney World reopened in Orlando, Axios' Fadel Allassan writes.

Between the lines: As alarming as this number is, it almost certainly doesn't capture the full extent of Florida's outbreak. The state positivity rate yesterday was 13.6% — lower than the previous several days, but high enough to suggest that plenty of infections aren't being caught.

  • The U.S. caseload is quickly outstripping our testing capacity, which was never fully built up to where experts say it needs to be.
  • That means that as the virus continues to spread, we'll increasingly be trying to respond without knowing how many people actually have it.
  • "Test results for the novel coronavirus are taking so long to come back that experts say the results across the United States are often proving useless in the campaign to control the deadly disease," the Washington Post reported yesterday.
3. The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York City health officials reported zero new coronavirus deaths on Sunday for the first time since the state's first death was recorded on March 11, according to NBC New York.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said on CNN's "State of the Union" that six hospitals in his county have already reached capacity, and that "it won't be long" until other systems are overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge in Florida.

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday that he expects the coronavirus outbreaks in states like Texas, Florida and Arizona to reach their apex in the next two to three weeks — but warned that this would likely be followed by an "extended plateau," as seen in places like Brazil.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told "Fox News Sunday" that public schools that don't reopen in the fall should not get federal funds, and that the money should be redirected to families who can use it to find another option for their children.

The Trump administration's coronavirus testing coordinator Adm. Brett Giroir said on ABC's "This Week" that "everything" — including the "stringent lockdowns" that many governors implemented in March and April — should be "on the table" in states where new infections are skyrocketing.

Data released by Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration on Friday shows that 6,974 people in the state are currently being treated in hospitals for the coronavirus, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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

India is set to reinstate mandatory lockdowns for cities as medical facilities across the country are strained due to a recent surge in new coronavirus infections, the New York Times reports.

Hong Kong's secondary schools, primary schools and kindergartens will close on Monday, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung announced Friday.

5. Kegs, crowds and coronavirus

Fraternity houses have never been known for their cleanliness, but they're now emerging as hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: This is yet another problem for college and university officials to solve as they try to bring students back for the fall semester.

Between the lines: Frat houses are used for both hosting parties and housing students, meaning the virus could spread the same way it would in a bar or as it would through any other type of communal housing.

Driving the news: The University of California at Berkeley told students last week that the number of coronavirus cases on campus had more than doubled in just a week. The majority of cases trace back to fraternity or sorority social gatherings.

  • Outbreaks at the University of Washington and the University of Mississippi have also been traced to fraternity housing or activities.

The bottom line: "If they are crowded indoors, and they're in close quarters for a long period of time, it's just a recipe for getting infected," Thomas Russo, an infectious disease professor at the University at Buffalo, told WashPost.

  • "And the setting almost guarantees if multiple individuals get infected, you suddenly have scenarios where they can spread it to 10, 20, 30 or 40 other individuals."

Go deeper: Colleges gamble on reopening this fall

Caitlin Owens