Jul 31, 2020

Axios Vitals

Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

  • I am taking my monthly mental health day today, which means that Sam Baker will be hitting your inbox Monday morning.
  • I am also moving today, which I realize is a bit at odds with the whole "mental health day" concept. Wish me luck.

Today's word count is 1,081 or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus testing still can't keep up with demand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Testing is once again becoming a critical weakness in America's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and experts say we may need to revive tighter standards about who can get a test.

Why it matters: Although testing has gotten a lot better over the course of the pandemic, the pandemic has gotten worse, and that means the U.S. needs to prioritize its resources — which might mean that frequent testing solely to help open businesses or schools just isn't feasible.

Where it stands: The U.S. is conducting more than 800,000 tests per day, on average — an enormous leap from the severe testing shortages the country experienced in the spring. But it's still not enough to keep up with demand.

  • Getting the results of a test often takes take longer than a week, and sometimes almost two weeks, which makes them a lot less helpful.

The big picture: Two factors are driving demand for tests higher than the system can handle: the high U.S. caseload; and precautionary testing tied to reopening.

  • Reducing turnaround times will require doing fewer tests, "and that's in some ways taking a step backward," said Johns Hopkins' Caitlin Rivers. But "there is a need to identify, 'Who really does need a test? And for whom should that be high quality?'"

Between the lines: That may dash the hopes of using frequent testing as a tool to resume work, travel or other elements of pre-pandemic life, at least for now.

  • But given how easily people can spread the virus before they begin to feel sick, testing still needs to be available to a lot of people who aren't symptomatic or don't know for sure that they were exposed to the virus.

The bottom line: Ultimately, the best way to reduce pressure on our testing infrastructure would be to reduce the number of cases, which reduces the number of people at risk of infection.

Go deeper.

2. The health care industry is popular
Data: Harris Poll COVID19 Tracker Wave 20; Chart: Axios Visuals

Doctors, nurses and hospitals have experienced a greater increase in consumer trust and confidence than any other industry during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Axios/Harris poll.

Details: The poll ranks the top 100 companies, based on consumers' scores across seven qualities: Affinity (trust), citizenship, ethics, culture, vision, growth and products and services. Affinity is weighted higher than all other categories. 

Leading the index are companies that have focused on solving problems related to the coronavirus, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

  • Pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, also scored well on consumer trust, culture and ethics.
  • PPE manufacturers like 3M and Honeywell have also seen increases in consumer trust.

Yes, but: Traditional pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer aren't seeing as much enthusiasm. 

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

The Senate has adjourned until 3pm Monday, as Congress failed to reach an agreement on extending extra unemployment benefits that are set to expire today.

The U.S. economy shrank at an annualized 32.9% rate in the second quarter — the worst-ever contraction on records that date back to 1947, the government said on Thursday.

Former Republican presidential candidate and ex-CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain, 74, has died almost a month after being hospitalized for coronavirus.

The financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing YMCAs across the U.S. to close their doors.

The Philadelphia Phillies postponed its weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays after two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, ESPN reports.

Public transportation agencies are getting squeezed by higher costs and lower revenues because of the pandemic, and warning they'll have to furlough employees or cut service without more government assistance.

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

This week has seen a number of worrying headlines from countries initially viewed as major pandemic success stories, Axios' Jacob Knutson writes.

Why it matters: After enormous sacrifices made to prevent or contain widespread outbreaks, countries are grappling with the challenge of preserving that success without daily life, and the economy, grinding to a halt once again.

  • Australia recorded its highest daily death toll, 13, on Thursday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a new lockdown in the state of Victoria — which recorded 723 new cases today — wasn't working as well as hoped.
  • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issued a more dire warning — the city is "on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak" that could cause its hospital system to "collapse." Hong Kong is recording upwards of 100 new cases each day.
  • Vietnam had eliminated community transmission altogether for 99 days, and it has still yet to record a single death, but it's seen 39 new cases over the last three days. The government is tightening border controls and ramping up contact tracing.

Germany has been a model for the rest of Europe, but the head of the national public health agency now says Germans have become "negligent," causing a rise in cases.

  • Spain and Belgium, which were both hit very hard but turned a corner after imposing strict lockdowns in the spring, are now recording case levels not seen since May.
5. Airlines pivot to cargo during pandemic

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Passenger airlines devastated by the decline in air travel during the pandemic are making up some of their lost revenue by strapping cargo into passenger seats and overhead bins of planes that would otherwise be grounded, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

The big picture: It could be several years before passenger air traffic returns to normal, but the global demand for medical supplies, along with disruptions in manufacturing supply chains and increased e-commerce, means airlines have a chance, at least temporarily, to offset some of those losses by transporting more freight.

Background: Passenger airlines have always carried commercial cargo — along with luggage and occasional pets — inside the belly holds of their planes. But when passenger traffic collapsed in early March, that airfreight capacity disappeared.

  • Yet as the virus spread, demand soared for personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and gowns, most of which is made in China.
  • Travel restrictions also snarled international shipping, stranding cargo containers in ports worldwide.

Go deeper.

6. 1 worthy thing

In case you missed it yesterday, make time for this posthumous op-ed by Rep. John Lewis and published by NYT.

Words to remember:

  • "I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice."
  • "He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something."
  • "Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring."
Caitlin Owens