Mar 17, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning. Anyone have any creative social distancing tips to share? What silver linings have you found? I could use some happy emails (as I'm sure we all could), and will feature some of my favorite responses in tomorrow's newsletter.

Today's word count is 1,105, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus testing is getting better

A health care worker prepares to take samples from a person being tested for the coronavirus at a drive-thru station in the hospital's parking garage in Maryland. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We're still not where we need to be, but America's coronavirus testing situation is getting better after major commercial laboratories have jumped in.

The big picture: "We expect more ... than 1 million coming on board this week," Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters yesterday.

Driving the news: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave emergency clearance to tests made by Roche and Thermo Fisher — major diagnostics makers with high-volume capabilities.

  • Roche alone expects to manufacture 400,000 tests a week. Thermo Fisher says it has 1.5 million tests available, and will ramp up production to 5 million tests per week in April.
  • The FDA also released new guidance for test makers last night, making the rules more flexible with the intention of getting more tests up and running.

Yes, but: There are still concerns about shortages of the materials needed to make the tests.

"Drive-thru" testing areas are being set up across the country, which keeps patients who want to get tested out of hospitals.

  • This frees up emergency personnel to focus on trauma cases and coronavirus patients who need more intensive hospital care, while keeping potentially non-infected people out of areas where they could catch the virus.
  • Even if these centers have to send samples to commercial labs to process, which usually takes a few days, patients who aren't critically ill can self-quarantine at home while awaiting their results.

What they're saying: "In a pandemic situation like this, you really want to protect your health care workers. You don't want to have people who are shedding virus but not seriously ill going to your emergency department, because they could infect people in your emergency department," said Gary Procop of the Cleveland Clinic, which is operating a drive-thru testing center.

2. Coronavirus pandemic is a new kind of crisis

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster with no modern parallels, with no escape and no safe harbor. This may be the most sustained period of widespread public pain since World War II, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes.

The big picture: Even the worst catastrophes we've experienced — from natural disasters to terrorist attacks — have happened in one place, at one time. But global reach of the coronavirus, and the societal and economic shutdowns it's triggering, will touch everyone, everywhere, for a long time.

The coronavirus is already forcing major changes to our daily lives, and that will continue.

  • You could hear new urgency yesterday from President Trump, as he ditched the hopeful talk about a quick resolution and warned that the virus is truly serious.
  • Six counties in the Bay Area have issued "shelter in place" warnings, the strongest U.S. clampdown yet as a host of cities and states force bars, gyms and other public places to close.
  • Without school, travel, public gatherings or even the chance to eat dinner at a restaurant, we're already seeing the rhythms of daily life upended.

As America came to grips with the extent of these social distancing measures, it's natural to reach for historical comparisons. And those examples can offer the comfort that the U.S. has made it through dark times before. But we will be facing a new and different set of challenges this time.

The bottom line: There is no escaping the public pain to come. We're just beginning an endurance test that has no clear end.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A healthy U.S. volunteer received the first dose of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, a potential defense against the virus if it becomes a long-term threat, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.

The White House's coronavirus task force announced tougher guidelines on Monday to help slow the spread of the disease, including limiting social gatherings of more than 10 people.

State governments are increasingly calling for the closure of bars and restaurants, a drastic step to enforce "social distancing" that follows similar measures in Europe.

An Ohio judge rejected Gov. Mike DeWine's request to postpone in-person voting for Tuesday's state presidential primaries until June 2 over the coronavirus outbreak, local media reported Monday.

Pressure is building on automakers to halt U.S. production as hourly employees grow more anxious about their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Kaiser Permanente "will be postponing elective or non-urgent surgeries and procedures in all locations," the hospital and health insurance giant said yesterday.

4. The latest worldwide
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC.

The WHO director stressed that social distancing isn't useful unless governments ramp up testing.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that the country will close its borders to all foreign nationals, with exemptions for Canadian residents, U.S. citizens, diplomats and some other groups.

With the world shutting down and spreading out, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has — in the course of four days — shown what an alternative approach to the coronavirus pandemic might look like, and why it's nearly impossible to execute, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.

5. Public trusts health agencies more than Trump
Data: SurveyMonkey and Axios survey; Table: Axios Visuals

Strong majorities of Americans trust the major health agencies to protect the country from the coronavirus, while fewer trust President Trump, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

Why it matters: The results suggest that health officials have a high degree of credibility in this crisis — and that Trump is on safer ground when he closes ranks with them, as he did in his unusually candid remarks about the outbreak at Monday's press conference, Axios' David Nather writes.

Another recent Axios-SurveyMonkey poll found significant partisan differences in how Americans are reacting to the crisis.

  • Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say they're likely to avoid large gatherings like sporting events or concerts (67% to 49%), public spaces like restaurants and theaters (53% to 37%), and social gatherings with friends and families (38% to 25%).

What to watch: Whether that gap narrows after Trump's somber acknowledgment at Monday's press conference that the virus isn't yet under control — and that the public's safety is in danger.

6. Poison control calls about hand sanitizer spike

Hand sanitizer is everywhere because of the coronavirus, but that has led to an unexpected side effect: a big spike in calls to poison control hotlines from parents whose children have ingested hand sanitizer, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: Hand sanitizer products are 60–70% ethyl alcohol, which can be toxic to young children even in small amounts.

By the numbers: The number of inquiries to the online poison control portal have doubled since the fall, said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Control Center.

  • The portal is receiving an average of 12 online hand sanitizer-related queries a day, she said. Hand sanitizer-related phone inquiries are up 22% over the past two weeks, compared to the same period last year.

What to watch: The absolute numbers may seem small, but Johnson-Arbor said she expects to see them continue to rise as school closures keep kids at home, where they'll likely have access to hand sanitizer products.

If someone is dizzy, drowsy or acting odd after ingesting hand sanitizer, it's probably best to head to an emergency room.

More information: WebPoisonControl.org or call 1-800-222-1222.

Caitlin Owens