April 13, 2020

Good morning. I hope you had a great Easter and a happy Passover!

Today's word count is 1,383, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Diagnostic testing supply shortages still a threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's no clear strategy in place to resolve or prevent the shortages of testing supplies that have threatened the U.S. coronavirus response for more than a month.

Why it matters: We can now run hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests a week, but it’s still not enough to meet the demand.

  • And experts say that for social distancing measures to be safely lifted, we'll need to run millions of tests a week — the feasibility of which depends largely on having a resilient supply chain.

Driving the news: Efforts to ramp up manufacturing and importation of masks, gowns, gloves, face shields and ventilators make headlines almost daily. But reagents, swabs, test kits and RNA extraction kits haven't received the same amount of coordinated attention.

  • "Across the board, labs do not have predictable, consistent access to the test kits and other supplies necessary for expanded testing capacity," said a spokesperson for the American Clinical Laboratory Association.
  • "Any constriction of, or disruption in, the supply chain can suddenly create a bottle neck, which is why we continue to closely monitor the status of all supplies necessary for our labs to expand testing capacity."

By the numbers: Even once the caseload goes down, assuming we continue social distancing for many more weeks, we'll still need widespread testing — likely 200,000-250,000 tests a day, said Harvard's Ashish Jha.

  • Well over 100,000 tests are being completed daily, with more than 160,000 tests completed on Thursday of last week, according to the COVID Tracking Project. But that's still not enough.

Yes, but: President Trump has said repeatedly that we now have the best testing system in the world, but the administration has not announced any large-scale push to resolve the supply shortages.

2. Big Tech moves into government vacuum

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, tech companies are stepping into the void left by a reluctant or incapable federal government — enabling contact tracing, wrestling with testing, and ramping up the capacity of government operations like unemployment services, Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg reported this weekend.

Why it matters: In the U.S., these giant firms — teeming with creative and restless employees, cushioned by big financial reserves and spurred on by the urgency of the moment — have stopped waiting for the government to move and begun taking their own initiative.

Driving the news: On Friday afternoon, Apple and Google, rivals who manage the world's two dominant smartphone ecosystems, announced a joint project to enable phone-based contact tracing using their phones' short-distance Bluetooth-based networking signals.

  • They'll offer programming interfaces and operating-system integrations for iOS and Android — allowing governments here and abroad to provide apps that tell users when they've crossed paths with people who've tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • They say they've designed the system to protect individual users' privacy while serving public health needs.
  • The companies undertook this collaboration without direction from the federal government, but in consultation with governments and health authorities around the world.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Washington Post reported that Amazon is planning to build its own virus testing facility to screen its workers.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Americans have begun to receive paychecks out of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, the IRS announced on Twitter Saturday.

The $350 billion small business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — launched just over a week ago — will run dry in a matter of days, giving Democrats leverage to push more support for hospitals, local government and businesses in underserved communities, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

President Trump was informed in late January of a memo from White House economic adviser Peter Navarro that warned the novel coronavirus could kill up to half a million Americans and cost trillions of dollars, the New York Times reports.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that "no one is going to deny" that more lives could have been saved during the coronavirus crisis if the Trump administration had implemented social distancing guidelines prior to March.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the reason the coronavirus has a disproportionate impact on minority populations is because of the underlying medical conditions that have historically "plagued" communities of color.

President Trump told Fox News' "Justice with Judge Jeanine" Saturday night that "a lot of facts and a lot of instinct" will help him decide when to recommend reopening the U.S. following the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Christopher Murray, the director of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the U.S. would "very clearly have a rebound" in coronavirus cases if social distancing guidelines are eased on May 1.

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.
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.

Chicago drug arrests are down 42% in the weeks since the city shut down — a trend playing out globally as cities report stunning crime reductions, AP reports.

People are able to see blue skies for the first time in years as India's three-week coronavirus lockdown has drastically cut air pollution across the country, the Washington Post writes.

World Health Organization special envoy David Nabarro warned on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that the coronavirus is not expected to come in seasonal waves like influenza, and that there will continue to be outbreaks that emerge "sporadically" until there's a vaccine.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from St. Thomas' Hospital in London on Sunday to finish recovering from the coronavirus at a country home, according to CNN.

Public health experts view a major outbreak in a refugee camp as a worst-case scenario in the global coronavirus crisis, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh reports.

5. Where the next economic crisis will hit

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

America's economic crisis soon may expand to its states, cities, and towns, Axios' Stef Kight and Dan Primack report.

The big picture: State and local tax revenue is falling, particularly in areas heavily reliant on sales taxes, while spending is up due to added unemployment and medical obligations.

Just look at Arizona, which is near the middle of the pack when it comes to sales tax as a percentage of total state revenue. It had been projecting a $1 billion surplus by the end of its fiscal year in June, but that's since flipped to a $1.1 billion deficit.

  • Arizona has a relatively large rainy day fund, but it's not enough to cover the tax shortfall.

The most critical cases may be Florida and Louisiana, which both are in the top 10 for sales tax dependency and have rainy day funds that represent less than 5% of annual expenditures.

  • Both have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Louisiana is believed to have peaked last week, but Florida isn't expected to peak for a couple more weeks.
  • They also have large tourism and oil industries, and are at particular risk for hurricanes — opening the possibility of simultaneous state emergencies.

There also will be shortfalls in cities, counties, and towns — many of which haven't yet debated or approved fiscal 2021 budgets because of bylaws that didn't anticipate governance-via-Zoom. Bankruptcies are a very real possibility.

Go deeper.

6. Most Americans practice social distancing

Data: KFF Health Tracking Poll, margin of error ±3 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: KFF Health Tracking Poll, margin of error ±3 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

The vast majority of Americans, across all age groups, are practicing social distancing, the Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman writes based on recent KFF polling.

Why it matters: The public doesn't always act in its best interests when it comes to health — but this time, people are. And it's helping to "flatten the curve" of the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: At the end of March, between 77% and 89% of all age groups were sheltering in place. Those are remarkable numbers, considering that essential workers are leaving their home and several states still do not have stay-at-home directives in place.

  • 95% of people ages 18–24 said they had taken some steps to social distance, such as changing travel plans or not attending large gatherings.
  • 89% of seniors 65 and older took the same actions.

Yes, but: It is entirely possible that people are over-rating their social distancing performance, and there are still questions about how long Americans will be able to keep this up.

  • The federal government will likely loosen its social-distancing guidelines soon. Some states — particularly red states — will likely follow suit, while other states, counties and some employers will maintain social distancing restrictions longer.

7. 1 truly unbelievable thing

Bookings for 2021 cruises have risen 40% compared to 2019 on CruiseCompete.com in the last 45 days, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Why it matters: The coronavirus outbreak has left dozens of ships stranded at sea and unable to dock over fears, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh writes. International cruise lines have had viral outbreaks nine to 12 times a year for the last five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Travel agents say the booking rates for cruise trips in 2021 extends past those who are rebooking canceled trips.

My thought bubble: I would have bet a lot of money that the opposite of this would happen, so maybe never listen to me again.