Jun 11, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 940, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus cases rise in New Mexico and Oregon
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

New Mexico and Oregon have seen particularly large increases in new coronavirus cases over the past week, while most of the country is headed in the right direction, Axios' Andrew Witherspoon and Sam Baker report.

Why it matters: The White House’s reopening guidelines call for a steady two-week decline in the number of new cases, but in several states, the outbreak continues to fluctuate from week to week.

Between the lines: Each week, Axios is documenting the change in new cases in each state.

  • Overall, the number of new cases in the U.S. is steadily falling. That progress has been led consistently, week after week, by steady improvements in hard-hit areas including New York and Massachusetts.
  • The South has generally lagged, with several weeks of increasing caseloads. California has also been a persistent trouble spot.

This week, the number of new cases shot up by over 50% in four states — Arizona, Florida, New Mexico and Oregon.

  • Florida and Arizona, however, have also recorded enormous improvements in testing over the past week, meaning that the spike in confirmed cases is probably a reflection of more accurate data.
  • New Mexico and Oregon both saw increased caseloads that outpace their improvements in testing, suggesting that their outbreaks are in fact getting worse.

Yes, but: A situation like Florida’s, where new cases are largely tied to improved testing, is not a reason to breathe easy. Learning that your state's situation is worse than you realized is still a long way away from getting the outbreak under control.

  • Texas, another state that health experts have been paying particularly close attention to, reported a sharp increase in new cases last week and another 7% jump this week.
  • The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections in Texas has hit a record high.
2. Scientists caught between pandemic and protests

When protests broke out against the coronavirus lockdown, many public health experts were quick to warn about spreading the virus. When protests broke out after George Floyd's death, some of the same experts embraced the protests.

  • That's led to charges of double standards among scientists, Axios' Bryan Walsh and Alison Snyder write.

Why it matters: Scientists who are seen as changing recommendations based on political and social priorities, however important, risk losing public trust. That could cause people to disregard their advice should the pandemic require stricter lockdown policies.

What's happening: Many public health experts came out against public gatherings of almost any sort this spring — including protests over lockdown policies and large religious gatherings.

  • But some of the same experts are supporting the Black Lives Matter protests, arguing that addressing racial inequality is key to tackling the coronavirus epidemic.
  • The difference in tone between how some public health experts are viewing the current protests and earlier ones focused on the lockdowns themselves was seized upon by a number of critics, as well as the Trump campaign.

The current debate underscores a larger question: What role should scientists play in policymaking?

  • The debate risks exacerbating a partisan divide among Americans in their reported trust in scientists.
  • If science-driven policymaking continues to be seen as biased, it will have repercussions for public trust in issues beyond the pandemic, including climate change, AI and genetic engineering.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that he believes the U.S. will "definitely" need another bipartisan stimulus package while appearing before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Bloomberg reports.

President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that his first campaign rally since early March will be held next on June 19 in Tulsa, Okla. Trump's rallies usually draw thousands, and the event's safety protocols for the coronavirus pandemic are currently unclear.

There were 5.05 million job openings at U.S. companies at the end of April — the lowest total since December 2014, according to new data out Wednesday.

The 2020 Iowa State Fair was called off during a board meeting on Wednesday in response to the threat of the coronavirus, the Des Moines Register reports.

4. Generic drug industry faces more lawsuits

A coalition of state attorneys general has sued more than two dozen generic drug companies and high-ranking executives, accusing them of conspiring to fix prices of their prescription pills and creams. Health insurer Cigna similarly filed a lawsuit of its own, arguing the price-fixing schemes led to massive "overcharges."

The big picture: These lawsuits build on previous ones, as well as three criminal admissions of guilt, and paint a bleak picture of the industry's practices, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Between the lines: The central argument of the lawsuits is the same as the others before them: That these generics companies broke foundational antitrust law by colluding on price hikes and divvying up market share.

  • For example, Teva, Mylan and Sandoz all raised the price of blood pressure medication nadolol by more than 700% within six months of each other, according to allegations in Cigna's lawsuit.
  • Generic drug companies routinely shared sensitive competitive information with each other to make sure each company was satisfied with its "fair share" of the market for various drugs, according to the new multistate lawsuit.

What they're saying: The drug companies believe they did not break any laws, according to Reuters.

  • But at least one company, Teva, believes the federal government won't charge it with federal price-fixing crimes in the middle of a pandemic, the New York Times recently reported.
5. "All policy is health policy"

The effects of racism are often inseparable from black Americans' health and well-being, as "black communities bear the physical burdens of centuries of injustice, toxic exposures, racism, and white supremacist violence," Rachel Hardeman, Eduardo Medina and Rhea Boyd write in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Any solution to racial health inequities must be rooted in the material conditions in which those inequities thrive. Therefore, we must insist that for the health of the black community and, in turn, the health of the nation, we address the social, economic, political, legal, educational, and health care systems that maintain structural racism. Because as the Covid-19 pandemic so expeditiously illustrated, all policy is health policy...
The response to the pandemic has made at least one thing clear: systemic change can in fact happen overnight.

Go deeper: Why the coronavirus pandemic is hitting minorities harder

Caitlin Owens