Dec 4, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Today's word count is 945, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus death rates rising across the country
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, Census Bureau; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Daily coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday, when roughly 2,800 people died from the virus.

The big picture: Caseloads and hospitalizations continue to rise, and deaths are spiking in states all across the country.

By the numbers: The states with the highest death tolls from the virus, adjusted for population, are still the ones that were hit hard by the first wave of infections in the spring.

  • New York saw 38.9 deaths per 1 million people in April, followed by New Jersey (37.5) and Connecticut (33.4).
  • But more states are now catching up to those totals.
  • North and South Dakota, which saw surges in the fall, recorded 24.1 and 30.4 daily deaths in November — the fourth and fifth highest state peaks to date.
  • Twelve states and Puerto Rico have hit new daily death records just this week.

What's happening: As Americans continue to disregard mitigation strategies and become infected in record numbers, hospitals around the country are facing staff shortages, meaning the quality and availability of treatment is decreasing.

  • And while there are promising new pharmaceutical treatments on the market, there's not nearly enough for everyone.
  • That means that death rates can get as high as we let them, and in many states, they're currently trending in the wrong direction.

The bottom line: At this point, there's no good reason to think that America is going to control the virus, meaning that thousands of lives are on the line every day until a vaccine is widely available to vulnerable populations.

2. What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines, Axios' Alison Snyder and Eileen Drage O'Reilly report.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.

The big questions: The first is whether people can have rare or delayed side effects, which could be detected in long-term trials with millions of participants.

  • How long immunity through vaccination lasts, and whether vaccines will stop transmission of the virus or just prevent people from becoming sick, are also open questions.

What's next: Moderna and Pfizer have already submitted their requests to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization.

  • But some experts are afraid that once the FDA begins granting those EUAs, it'll be harder to maintain strict, placebo-controlled clinical trials to answer these l0nger-term questions.
  • Some argue that continuing to administer a placebo when a vaccine is available would be unethical, and there's also a concern that patients will leave trials where they might be getting a placebo.

What to watch: The FDA is set to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech's EUA.

  • The breadth or narrowness of those EUAs will determine their impact on future research, says Alison Bateman-House, a professor of medical ethics at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine.
  • "If anyone who wants it can get it, you've killed the trials."
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

President-elect Joe Biden told CNN on Thursday that he plans to ask the American public to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency.

Pfizer and BioNTech have halved their original estimates for how many coronavirus vaccines would be shipped globally by the end of this year, citing supply-chain issues, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Public officials across the U.S. are issuing new stay-at-home orders while urging Americans to practice social distancing, but a growing list of politicians have come under fire for shirking (at times, their own) restrictions and advisories aimed at preventing viral spread.

A global phishing campaign has been trying to gain information from organizations working to ship coronavirus vaccines since September, IBM's cybersecurity arm said on Thursday.

Delta will partner with the CDC to launch a contact tracing program for international travelers starting on Dec. 15, the airline announced Thursday.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told CNN Thursday that President Trump's lack of leadership during the coronavirus pandemic is "a great human tragedy."

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

Most European countries have seen their rates of new cases continue to fall, confirming that the continent's latest wave peaked in mid-November, Axios' Dave Lawler writes.

The big picture: The good news is that the new restrictions across the continent have worked, even without the long, tightly enforced lockdowns from the spring.

Yes, but: Governments in the U.K., France and elsewhere had promised the measures would be temporary and Christmas celebrations would still be possible. They're now attempting a difficult balancing act with the virus still spreading rampantly.

  • The U.K. is introducing the "Christmas bubble," which will allow up to three households to gather together over the Christmas period.
  • Spain is increasing the maximum gathering size from six to 10.
  • Germany plans to tighten restrictions through Dec. 20 and then allow groups of up to 10 to gather.

Driving the news: The UN General Assembly began a special two-day session on the virus yesterday, with around 100 heads of state or government expected to speak.

5. Dog of the week
Kona. Photo: Caitlin Gonzales

Meet Kona!

  • Kona is "a 1-ish lab mix we rescued in the middle of October. We don't know much other than he was at a shelter in Tucson before traveling to a rescue in the Phoenix area, and that he was underweight and pretty timid of anything new when we brought him home," writes his mom, Caitlin (not me, just someone else with my name who spells it correctly).
  • "Well, he is settling in beautifully! He loves tennis balls, his black basin (dogs are weird), and looked rather dapper for Thanksgiving. He is my shadow and loves my kiddos, though he is still afraid of random things like boxes and transformer toys."
Kona. Photo: Caitlin Gonzales