Axios Vitals

A briefcase with a red cross on the front.

September 10, 2020

Good morning.

Situational awareness: President Trump said in March that his approach to the coronavirus pandemic was to "play it down," according to Bob Woodward's new book "Rage," which was obtained ahead of its publication next week by CNN.

Today's word count is 893, or a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: New cases down by nearly 13%

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections fell by almost 13% over the past week — a significant improvement, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

Why it matters: Things are moving in the right direction again after a brief plateau, and getting the virus under control now will give the U.S. a much better shot at a safe autumn.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging about 37,000 new cases every day. That's a lot, and we're not even halfway back to the lower totals we were recording before cases surged this summer. But the U.S. has been recording steady progress since August.

Yes, but: A handful of isolated events, including the Sturgis motorcycle rally and some particularly bad college re-openings, caused that progress to flatline last week.

  • It's good that we're back on track, but the pause was a reminder of just how easy it is for the virus to come roaring back when public health measures lapse.

Where it stands: The number of new infections fell last week in 18 states, including the big summer hotspots as well as some of the states that saw the biggest spikes last week.

  • The U.S. averaged roughly 710,000 coronavirus tests per day over the past week, a drop of about 3% from the week before.
  • The fact that the decline in cases was bigger than the decline in tests makes it more likely that cases are actually going down, not just that we're not finding as many.

2. America's vaccine pessimism

Reproduced from a KFF report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from a KFF report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Only 14% of Americans think a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available before the November election, and even if it is, most Americans say they won't take it, according to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why it matters: It shows the huge level of skepticism surrounding the development of a vaccine at breakneck speed. When we eventually have a safe, effective vaccine, this skepticism could become a huge problem.

The big picture: 62% of adults say they're worried the Food and Drug Administration will rush to approve a vaccine under pressure from the Trump administration.

  • The responses vary predictably by partisan affiliation; 86% of Democrats and 61% of independents say they're worried, while only 35% of Republicans say the same.
  • Yes, but: Republicans were least likely to say they'd get a vaccine before the election, even if it was free and FDA-approved.

My thought bubble: A vaccine is what is supposed to get us out of this nightmare. But it's becoming clearer by the day that we'll have a whole new host of problems to solve once the first vaccine is authorized.

3. Young adults aren't all safe from the virus

Young adults, especially those with pre-existing conditions, can still have very serious cases of the coronavirus, a new study published yesterday in JAMA confirms.

Why it matters: As thousands of college students around the country catch the virus, some of them are bound to require hospitalization and, tragically, perhaps even die in the coming weeks.

By the numbers: Among adult coronavirus patients discharged from the hospital between April 1 and June 30, 5% were non-pregnant young adults between the ages of 18 and 34.

  • 57.6% of these patients were men, and 57% were Black or Latino.
  • More than a third had obesity, a quarter had morbid obesity, 18% had diabetes and 16% had hypertension.
  • 21% required intensive care while hospitalized, 10% required a ventilator, and 2.7% died.

What we're watching: Most college students who get the virus will be fine, but we're most likely going to start seeing tragic headlines soon.

4. Vaping drops dramatically among teens

E-cigarette use among middle and high schoolers dropped significantly since last year, with 1.8 million fewer teens vaping, a federal report released Wednesday shows.

Why it matters: The survey, conducted between mid-January and mid-March, highlights the effects of last year's outbreak of vaping-related illnesses and deaths, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.

  • In 2019, reports were confirmed of more than 2,600 hospital cases and nearly 60 deaths most likely associated with illicit THC-infused vaping products.

Yes, but: There is still a significant appeal for teens to smoke flavored tobacco products, which are now illegal to purchase in cartridge form.

  • Small vaping devices like those from Juul Labs are also still popular.
  • 26.5% of high schoolers used disposable e-cigarettes in 2020 (up from 2.4% in 2019) and 15.2% middle schoolers (up from 3% in 2019).

By the numbers: About 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students said they recently used e-cigarettes and other vaping products — a large decrease from last year, when 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students said they used those products.

My thought bubble: Remember when vaping was our biggest public health problem?

5. Catch up quick

An illustration of a COVID-19 pendulum.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

513,415 children and teens in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus from the time the pandemic arrived in the country through Sept. 3, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children's Hospital Association.

Joe Biden responded Wednesday to reporting in Bob Woodward's new book that shows President Trump intentionally downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in February and March, accusing him of a "life-and-death betrayal of the American people."

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told investors that the company's coronavirus vaccine trial participant who experienced an adverse reaction had serious neurological symptoms consistent with a rare spinal disorder, STAT reports. Soriot also said he is hopeful his company will have a vaccine by the end of the year.

Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that it's "not uncommon at all" for a vaccine maker to pause its trials to review safety concerns, following news that AstraZeneca had done so on its phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trials due to a participant having a severe adverse reaction.