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Jul 23, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,194, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus infections slowing down in hotspots
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Danielle Alberti, Sara Wise/Axios

The pace of new coronavirus cases slowed over the past week, but things are still getting worse in most of the country, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

The big picture: After weeks of explosive growth, the number of new infections in the U.S. is still climbing — but not quite as fast as it has been.

By the numbers: The number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. shot up by over 20% per week for the past month.

  • This week, it rose by a comparatively modest 7%.
  • That doesn't mean we're getting better. The U.S. may be leveling off, but it's leveling off at a very high rate of infection. The country is averaging roughly 66,000 new cases per day.

Several of the worst hotspots experienced slower growth this week than they have throughout July.

  • New confirmed infections rose by 3% last week in Texas, and by 9% in California. Florida's caseload did not change. Arizona saw its second consecutive week of improvement.
  • Arizona was one of only five states to experience a significant decline in new infections over the past week, while 24 states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, saw increases of at least 10%.

Between the lines: Axios uses a rolling seven-day average to minimize the effects of any abnormalities in how and when new cases are reported.

The bottom line: 66,000 new cases per day is a recipe for overworked hospitals, strained supply lines, prolonged school closures and, of course, thousands of preventable deaths.

2. America's racial divide over school reopening
Reproduced from KFF Health Tracking Poll; Note: ±3% margin of error, "Parents of a child" have a child between 5-17 who normally attends school; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans are divided by race and party on the question of whether schools should open sooner or later, according to new polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why it matters: Although reopening schools may exacerbate community spread of the coronavirus, keeping kids at home often causes learning loss and makes life much harder for working parents.

Between the lines: Staying home is often harder on children of color for a multitude of reasons, including that they may not have the same access to virtual learning as wealthier white children.

  • But parents of color are are much more likely than white parents to think that schools should reopen later, a reminder that Black and Latino communities are also disproportionately affected by the virus itself, and may have more at stake if reopening schools worsens outbreaks in their communities.
  • And while 82% of parents of color say their child's school needs more resources to safely reopen, only 54% of white parents say the same.

The big picture: The Trump administration has been pushing schools to fully reopen in the fall, and Republicans are unsurprisingly much more likely to agree with the president than Democrats.

  • Most independents think that schools should reopen later rather than sooner.

What we're watching: Half of parents said their child's school hadn't yet announced whether they'd be having in-person classes in the fall.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

HCA Healthcare, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, smashed Wall Street's second-quarter profit expectations even though the coronavirus outbreak forced hospitals to halt elective procedures for several weeks during the quarter.

The Trump administration has agreed to pay Pfizer $1.95 billion for 100 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine the company is developing with German biotech company BioNTech. The deal also gives the government the right to buy another 500 million doses.

President Trump said Wednesday that the reason health experts like Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci no longer attend his coronavirus press briefings is that they brief him on "everything they know as of this point in time" and he passes the information on to the public.

California reported 12,807 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, setting a new record for daily infections and pulling the state past New York for most total confirmed cases in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

United Airlines announced Wednesday that it will require customers to wear face masks in all airport spaces, warning that those who do not comply could face a ban as long as mask requirements remain in place.

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

Over 15 million confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded worldwide as of Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

Yoshiro Mori, president of the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics, said Wednesday that the summer games rescheduled for next July won't be possible if the coronavirus pandemic continues in its current state, AP reports.

The Australian state of Victoria reported on Wednesday a record 484 new coronavirus cases, while additional infections in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia took the nationwide total to 502 — the most recorded in the country.

5. Some rare good news

In the Southern Hemisphere, where it's currently winter, there have been much fewer flu cases than normal — likely a result of the same measures being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: As bad as the pandemic is in the U.S., things could get a whole lot worse if the flu is spreading and straining health system resources at the same time during the fall and winter.

Yes, but: The reason that coronavirus cases have soared in the U.S. is that people have resumed their normal lives, or at least parts of them, enabling the virus to spread. If that continues, then the flu will be able to spread, too.

  • In other words, flu cases and coronavirus cases probably move in tandem. Since most of the world has done a better job containing the coronavirus than we have, it's reasonable to expect they'll end up having managed the flu better, too.
  • Kids are also a primary way the flu spreads. Many of the countries with reduced flu cases imposed school and day care closures, whereas the Trump administration is pushing U.S. schools to be open in the fall.

The other side: Even countries that have struggled to contain the coronavirus have seen reduced flu cases. In Brazil, flu cases have fallen by about 40% and deaths by half.

6. Fauci: COVID-19 is "almost your worst nightmare"

The unique characteristics of this pandemic may not allow people to completely eradicate it, but public health measures and good vaccines should bring "very good control," NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Driving the news: "We are living, right now, through a historic pandemic outbreak. And, we are, right now, in a situation where we do not see any particular end in sight," Fauci told a panel hosted by the not-for-profit TB Alliance, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.

"It's the perfect storm," Fauci says. For a public health official, this is "almost your worst nightmare."

  • He points out that SARS-CoV-2 jumps species, is a new pathogen with no known innate human immunity, and is a respiratory-borne virus that is "spectacularly efficient" at spreading from human to human and has a "substantial degree of morbidity and mortality, particularly in certain populations of people."

Plus, "the spectrum of involvement with the same pathogen is very unique," Fauci says.

  • "I've never seen an infection in which you have such a broad range — of literally nothing, namely no symptoms at all, in a substantial proportion of the population; to some who get ill with minor symptoms; to some who get ill enough to be in bed for weeks and have post-viral syndromes; [to] others [who] get hospitalized, require oxygen, intensive care, ventilation and death."

Meanwhile, other panel members also expressed concern that the pandemic may cause an uptick in diseases like tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.

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