Aug 6, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,030, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus hotspots begin to improve
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Danielle Alberti, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections are falling or holding steady in most of the country, including the hard-hit hotspots of Arizona, California and Florida, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

The big picture: A decline in new infections is always good news, but don't be fooled: the U.S. still has a very long way to go to recover from this summer's surge.

By the numbers: The U.S. is finally averaging fewer than 60,000 new cases per day. The average fell to 59,182 this past week, an 8.7% drop from the week before.

  • Testing also declined nationwide, by just under 8%.
  • Arizona, California and Florida all saw declines of at least 16%. Cases in Texas were up 8%.

Yes, but: The U.S. is by no means out of the woods — we're barely beginning to chip away at the stark increases of the past two months.

Data: The Covid Tracking Project; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
2. Fauci: Task force to examine aerosolized spread

The White House coronavirus task force will examine more closely just how much SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted via aerosols, and not just from droplets, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday at an online forum sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Why it matters: The longer the coronavirus can remain infectious in the air, the more likely it can infect people, particularly indoors — leading to the possible need to alter air filtration and circulation within buildings, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports.

Where it stands: The traditional theory, Fauci said, is "if you have a particle that's greater than five micrometers, it's likely going to fall down. If you have one that's less than five micrometers, then you can get an aerosol [of it] floating."

  • However, Fauci said virus particle specialists reached out to him to say "you really better take a bigger look at this, because from what we know about particle physics and airflows, there may be droplets that may be much larger than five micrometers that continue to go around."
  • "It gives you a greater reason to wear your mask at all times. But, it also tells you that outdoors will likely be much better than indoors."
  • "When you are indoors, you've really got to look at what the circulation is and should you be doing things like filtering with HEPA filters. These are things that are unknown now, but that is something we are going to address."

Go deeper.

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

Facebook removed a video post from President Trump Wednesday in which he claimed in an interview with Fox News that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.

The Trump administration and Democrats have not agreed to any "top-line numbers" and remain "trillions of dollars apart" on coronavirus stimulus negotiations, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday.

Virginia's health department released a coronavirus contact tracing app on Wednesday that relies on a Bluetooth-based system designed by Apple and Google.

Florida has reported over 500,000 total confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, according to the state's health department.

Travelers from 35 states are now required to quarantine for 14 days when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, per New York state's health department. New York City will set up bridge and tunnel checkpoints to enforce the quarantine order, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, per the Wall Street Journal.

Chicago Public Schools will start the next school year with fully remote classes, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday.

The University of Connecticut announced Wednesday that it is cancelling its football program for the upcoming school year, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic — the first FBS program to back out of this year's season.

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

The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 700,000 early Wednesday, Johns Hopkins data shows.

In South Africa, nearly 24,000 health care workers have been infected with the coronavirus, accounting for 5% of the country's coronavirus cases, ABC reports.

Russia expanded express coronavirus testing for its major airports in Moscow, per Reuters.

Sri Lankans went to the polls Wednesday in an election that was delayed twice by the pandemic, per the Guardian, which notes: "Sri Lanka appears to have contained the virus, recording 2,823 cases including 11 deaths."

5. A new virtual care giant

Teladoc's $18.5 billion acquisition of Livongo creates the health care industry's largest company devoted to multiple forms of digital care, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

The big picture: The coronavirus has accelerated the shift toward virtual doctors' visits.

How it works: Teladoc and Livongo make money by selling subscriptions to their remote technology to employers and health insurers.

  • Teladoc focuses on regular doctor visits and non-emergent care. Livongo's main technology is for diabetes management, among other chronic conditions.
  • The two companies are on track to register $1.3 billion of revenue this year, a more than 80% increase from last year due almost entirely to the surge in demand stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Between the lines: The appeal of telehealth comes down to convenience (people waste less time traveling, waiting and taking off work) and the potential to save money (remote visits are cheaper than having to go to the emergency room).

Yes, but: Virtual visits cannot replace all in-person visits. And there aren't any cost savings if telehealth simply acts as a precursor to an in-person visit, which has concerned some federal health analysts.

  • And while these options seem like free benefits with a job or health plan, the costs are ultimately borne by workers through health insurance premiums.

Worth noting: Even though Teladoc has only been a public company since 2015, it has had several financial irregularities.

Go deeper: Telemedicine doesn't waste a crisis

6. Virtual school is about to be a problem again

The abrupt shift to online learning in the spring didn't go well for millions of students, teachers and parents.

  • But this summer has been consumed by the debate over whether and how classes should resume in-person, meaning that not much has been done to improve virtual school heading into the fall, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Students without access to either in-person learning or high-quality virtual school will fall farther behind their peers.

Between the lines: The pandemic looks much different now than it did in May and June, and many school districts waited until the last minute to finalize reopening plans after spending the summer dealing with reopening logistics.

  • But now that many districts are opting for online-only learning, many teachers haven't yet been trained on how to offer better online instruction.
  • Millions of students across the country still don't have internet access or devices. In California alone, 700,000 students don't have computers.

What they're saying: "We will be building the plane while we fly it, on virtual learning," Casey Allen, superintendent of Ballard County Schools in Kentucky, told the Post.

Caitlin Owens

Editor's note: The map in the third item in yesterday's Vitals was corrected to state that 150,230 people had died from the coronavirus in the U.S. (not 297,000).