Jul 9, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,327, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: How Trump's push to reopen schools could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration's full-steam-ahead push to fully reopen schools this fall is on a collision course with the U.S.' skyrocketing coronavirus caseload and its decades-long neglect of public education, Axios' Marisa Fernandez and I report.

Why it matters: Getting kids back to school is of paramount importance for children and families, especially low-income ones. But the administration isn't doing much to make this safer or more feasible.

  • "They're sort of asking schools to do the undoable — 'just make it work, get all the kids back, and get them in five days a week, and keep their distance and do all the hygiene ... but if you can't do it, that's not our fault, that's up to the locals,'" said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The big picture: How to handle schools and daycare centers amid the pandemic is one of the most vexing questions around the world.

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of reopening schools is to reduce the virus' spread — but in several states, caseloads are instead skyrocketing.

  • Florida — one of the new epicenters of the pandemic — announced earlier this week that it’s requiring all "brick and mortar schools" to open "at least five days per week for all students," per CNN.

Driving the news: The Centers for Disease Control and Protection suggests that all school staff wear masks, and that students are kept six feet apart at all times. But teachers, schools and some politicians have deemed the guidelines unrealistic, and President Trump criticized them as "very tough & expensive."

Yes, but: Implementing strong safety measures will require resources that many school districts don't have, especially as the coronavirus economy depletes tax revenues.

  • The cost of stringent sanitation, personal protective equipment and new personnel would be astronomical.

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2. Many hospitals aren't pausing procedures

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hospitals in coronavirus hotspots are not scaling back their elective procedures, even as their intensive-care units are filling up with coronavirus patients, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Between the lines: Hospitals are ignoring federal recommendations and their own industry's guidance, which says non-urgent procedures should not restart until there is a "sustained reduction in the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the relevant geographic area for at least 14 days."

The big picture: Federal and state officials encouraged hospitals, doctors and outpatient centers to delay non-urgent care when the coronavirus outbreak ignited in March.

Where it stands: Many elective procedures have resumed in conjunction with states reopening — but now the surge of COVID-19 cases is consuming a lot of hospital beds.

"Elective" care does not mean "unnecessary" care. Many doctors and patients don't want to delay certain treatments any longer.

  • However, hospitals have a financial incentive to keep operating rooms open and beds full. More procedures equals more revenue.
  • That's risky for capacity and infection control.

What they're saying: Federal, state and local officials are mostly deferring to hospitals on whether they should pull back on elective care again.

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

The U.S. reported a record 60,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours as infections continue increasing in hotspots like Florida, Texas and Arizona.

President Trump's campaign rally and related protests in Tulsa in late June "more than likely" contributed to the area's recent surge in confirmed coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department director Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

Visitors from Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma will now be required to quarantine for 14 days when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, bringing the total number of states subject to the tri-state area's restrictions to 19.

Harvard and MIT on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to block federal guidance that would largely bar foreign college students from taking classes if their universities move classes entirely online in the fall.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) Wednesday called off the Texas Republican Party's in-person convention set for next week because of a statewide spike in coronavirus cases.

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

Novel coronavirus cases in Africa surpassed 500,000 on Wednesday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization's Africa branch.

The British government will give diners a 50% discount on their restaurant bills as part of an effort to jumpstart the country's economy after emerging from its coronavirus lockdown, the U.K. Treasury announced Wednesday.

Scotland dropped self-isolation requirements for 39 countries on Wednesday, including Germany, Australia, France, and Italy. However, Scotland will require travelers from Serbia and Spain to enter 14-day isolation when entering the country.

5. Coronavirus cases rise in 33 states
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic keeps getting worse, all across the country. Thirty-three states saw their caseloads increase this week, continuing a scary nationwide trend that's been getting worse since mid-June, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

Why it matters: The U.S. is right back in the situation we were afraid of earlier this year, with a rapidly spreading outbreak, strained hospitals, and projections of more than 200,000 deaths by the end of the year.

What we're watching: New coronavirus cases surged over the past week in places that were already heading quickly in the wrong direction.

  • That includes Arizona (a 23% jump over the past week), California (38%), Florida (25%) and Texas (28%). All of those states have experienced dramatic increases for several weeks in a row, and those cases are now threatening to overwhelm some local hospitals.
  • Deaths are also beginning to tick up in these hotspots.

Those worsening conditions across the board make clear that these numbers largely are not a product of increased testing, but rather a worsening outbreak.

  • Nationwide, testing increased by 7% over the past week. Cases rose by 24%.

The bottom line: The only way to safely resume even some small semblance of pre-COVID life — whether that's sports or schools or going out to eat — is to get the virus itself under control. And the U.S. is failing to do that.

6. Coronavirus squeezes the "sandwich generation"

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As the coronavirus poses risks and concerns for the youngest and oldest Americans, the generations in the middle are buckling under the increasing strain of having to take care of both, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: People that make up the so-called sandwich generations are typically in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and in their prime working years. The increasing family and financial pressures on these workers means complications for employers, too.

The big picture: The pandemic has forced members of the sandwich generation to make near-constant, stressful decisions about how to safely care for their own young children with schools and day care facilities closed, while also trying to reduce health risks for elderly parents and grandparents.

  • The elderly parents present a special challenge if they need extra help at home or live in residential facilities with disproportionately high COVID-19 infection rates.
  • And grandparents are often backup child care. But many parents are wary of asking grandparents to watch children and possibly expose them to dangerous germs in the process, thus putting more pressure on parents to find alternatives.

The big question: How flexible employers are willing or able to be for workers who are not only worried about their own health during the pandemic, but also the health of the generations they support, said Francine Blau, Cornell University professor of economics and industrial and labor relations.

  • "Just like child care, women do a disproportionate amount of parent care of older family members," Blau said.
7. Fighting the coronavirus infodemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An "infodemic" of misinformation and disinformation has helped cripple the response to the novel coronavirus, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes.

Why it matters: High-powered social media accelerates the spread of lies and political polarization that motivates people to believe them. Unless the public health sphere can effectively counter misinformation, not even an effective vaccine may be enough to end the pandemic.

  • This month the WHO is running the first "infodemiology" conference, to study the infodemic of misinformation and disinformation around the coronavirus.

What they're saying: While fake news is anything but new, the difference is the infodemic "can kill people if they don't understand what precautions to take," says Phil Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute and author of the new book "Lie Machines."

What to watch: Whether the infodemic causes a significant chunk of the U.S. public to opt-out of a future COVID-19 vaccine.

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