Nov 13, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning ... I hope you'll join me and Axios CEO Jim VandeHei today at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on the future of health policy, post-election and in the midst of a worsening pandemic. I'll be sitting down with Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and conservative policy expert Avik Roy.

Today's smart brevity count: 1,055 words, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Life after COVID-19

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Recovering from the coronavirus does not necessarily mean you'll bounce back to your old, pre-infection self: Most people who survived a severe infection were still dealing with some combination of physical, emotional and financial pain weeks later.

By the numbers: Roughly 24% of those 1,600 patients died in the hospital. Another 6% died within 60 days of being discharged.

  • Researchers were able to track down 488 survivors to see how they were doing 60 days after getting out of the hospital. Roughly a third of those patients were experiencing symptoms such as a cough or long-term loss of taste and smell.
  • Roughly half said their health had affected their emotional well-being, and about 36% said their illness had been a financial setback.

Getting back to work was also a struggle: Among patients who were employed before they got sick, 40% said they had lost their jobs or couldn't go back for health reasons.

  • And a quarter of those who did return to work said their hours had been cut or their responsibilities modified.

Why it matters: The coronavirus can wreak havoc on your health and your life even if it doesn't kill you — which also means that looking only at the death rate is not a good way to take the full measure of this pandemic.

  • Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging right now, all across the country.

The best way to minimize the number of people who suffer these long-term effects would be to minimize the number of people who have the coronavirus — which the U.S. is not doing.

2. Alito criticizes COVID-19 restrictions

Alito testifying before Congress in 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last night criticized some of the restrictions state and local leaders have imposed during the pandemic, saying they may violate the First Amendment and casting them as part of a long, dark turn toward lawmaking through "executive fiat."

  • "Think of all the live events that would otherwise be protected by the freedom of speech ... think of worship services ... think about access to the courts or access to a speedy trial," Alito said in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court has already been asked to hear challenges to some COVID-19 measures, and may well be asked to hear more.

  • Alito said he was not weighing in on the public health merits of these policies or passing judgment on specific rules.
  • His speech, however, was about pervasive threats to constitutional liberties, and he brought up coronavirus restrictions repeatedly in that context.
  • "The COVID crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test, and in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck," Alito said.

Among those disturbing trends, he said, is the exercise of broad authority "by executive officials who are thought to implement policies based on expertise — and in the purest form, scientific expertise."

Alito singled out rules in Nevada that allowed casinos to open at 50% of their normal capacity, while limiting houses of worship to 50 total people, no matter how big their building is or what precautions they have in place.

  • Those restrictions, and similar regulations in California, were appealed to the Supreme Court, which deferred to local authorities. But those policies "blatantly discriminated" against religious exercise, Alito said, and "should not have been a very tough call."

Watch the speech.

3. Lockdown chatter grows

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cases are absolutely out of control — the U.S. racked up another 151,000 infections just yesterday — and that's got some experts and local leaders talking about a new round of lockdowns.

Driving the news: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is imposing a new stay-at-home advisory, beginning next week.

  • Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota and a member of Joe Biden's coronavirus task force, told Yahoo Finance that if the federal government would cover workers' lost wages, "then we could lock down for four to six weeks and if we did that, we could drive the numbers down."

The other side: Anthony Fauci said yesterday that the U.S. could avoid a new round of lockdowns if we'd adopt other public health measures this winter.

My thought bubble: Local restrictions can help prevent local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, but I don't think we need to spend much energy debating the hypothetical merits of another national lockdown.

  • It's all but impossible to imagine President Trump imposing one, or Congress ever passing a big enough stimulus to make it work, or that Americans would really abide by it.
4. Lessons from the airport

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Businesses looking to get large numbers of customers and employees back through their doors might be able to learn a thing or two from the way airports have tried to keep travelers safe.

  • First and foremost, temperature checks don't seem to accomplish much, according to a CDC report released yesterday.

Roughly 764,000 travelers underwent coronavirus screenings at American airports this year. But a mere 0.001% of them — roughly 1 out of every 85,000 people — tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Frequent symptom checks, including temperature checks, are a hallmark of many reopening plans, especially for places where a lot of people cross paths.

  • But symptom checks just don't do much good with a virus that's so easily spread by people who aren't experiencing any symptoms, the CDC said.

What's next: The airline industry has a lot riding on a vaccine, as Axios' Joann Muller reports this morning.

  • Widespread vaccination is the only thing that will make some people feel safe getting back on a plane.
  • Airlines could also have a big role to play in distributing a vaccine, though few of them are equipped for the super-cold storage the leading vaccine candidates would require.
5. Measles is back in a big way

A Red Cross vaccination campaign in the Philippines in 2019. Photo: Alejandro Ernesto/picture alliance via Getty Images

Measles is resurgent around the world, and the coronavirus pandemic could make it even worse.

  • More than 200,000 people died from measles last year — an increase of more than 60% since 2000, according to a new report from the CDC and the World Health Organization.
  • Measles is preventible, but vaccinations have stalled for several years.

This isn't a coronavirus problem — these data are from 2019 before the pandemic began. But it could become one.

  • Many countries have paused their vaccination efforts because of the pandemic. More than 94 million people could therefore be at risk to miss their vaccinations, per the AP.
  • Even in countries like the U.S., where vaccination rates are higher and don't require the same kind of intensive campaign often found in developing countries, routine vaccinations have plummeted during the pandemic.
6. Cat of the week

"Dog of the week" is on vacation. But here is a cat. Specifically, here is Cleo the cat. Cleo is short for Cleocatra, but I have decided to overlook this egregious pun for the sake of national healing and because the story of Cleo is a touching one.

From her owner:

  • She’s a true Covid kitty: I adopted her in May after her original owner passed away in a nursing home, and she’s spent the last six months adjusting to her new life in DC. She loves to snuggle and meow at all hours of the night, she hates thunderstorms and men (we’re working on that one).