Aug 11, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,355, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: State coronavirus testing plans fall short of demand
Data: Department of Health and Human Services via Harvard Global Health Institute; Note: New York City's plan is included in New York state; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. plans to test around 600,000 people for the coronavirus every day this month, according to plans that states submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Yes, but: That's likely a drop in testing, compared to July, and it's not enough to meet national demand. By December, states said they plan to ramp up to around a collective 850,000 people tested a day — which likely will also not be enough, Axios' Andrew Witherspoon and I report.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has said it's up to states to develop their own plans for diagnostic testing. Those plans, when put together, still don't present an effective mitigation strategy, at least in light of the size of today's outbreak.

  • "It's obviously completely inadequate," Harvard's Ashish Jha said. "The idea that we need 580,000 tests right now, and somehow we are doing more tests than we need, just flies in the face of reality."

Between the lines: How much testing a state needs to do depends on the size of its outbreak, relative to its population. Some of the states with the largest outbreaks have the least ambitious testing goals.

  • On the other hand, some states in which the virus is largely contained plan to test the most prolifically.

What they're saying: "We assess the state goals as being appropriate, but understand that states have frequently overachieved their initial goals based on the situations that arise (for example, an increase in cases)," said Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir in a statement. 

Details: HHS reported states' plans for how many people they'll test each month, which we converted into daily totals. Many patients, particularly those who test positive, receive more than one test over the course of their illness.

My thought bubble: Continuing on without a national testing strategy almost certainly means more chaos ahead.

2. One in two has a personal connection to the virus
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We've hit a tipping point in the pandemic: Half of Americans now know someone who's tested positive, according to this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: In practical terms, this data shows it's everybody's problem now, Axios' Margaret Talev writes.

  • Week 20 of our national survey also finds some collateral health damage from being home more: 38% of Americans say they're gaining weight. (It's higher among those self-quarantining.)
  • There's also a silver lining: 36% of parents are spending more time with their kids (11% say now they have less).

Between the lines: As an uncertain new school year approaches, the survey finds that parents actually may be slightly less worried than everyone else about the notion of kids physically returning to class.

  • 74% of non-parents expressed concern about schools in their communities reopening too soon, compared with 67% of parents.
  • 8% of parents with children under 18 say they've already sent their kids back to school in person, while 19% say they've already sent them back via distance learning.

This week's data also supports an idea that Axios' Felix Salmon has been writing about: Americans' fears about catching the virus in an elevator could complicate efforts to return to work in high-rise office buildings.

  • 74% of respondents see riding in an elevator with other people as a large or moderate risk.
  • Party ID is a big predictor: 97% of Democrats, 75% of independents and 60% of Republicans see it as risky.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Five states set new highs last week for coronavirus infections recorded in a single day, according to the COVID Tracking Project and state health departments. Only one state — North Dakota — surpassed a record set the previous week, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

At least 48 local and state-level public health leaders have retired, resigned or been fired across 23 states since April, according to a review by AP and Kaiser Health News.

The hope and promise of May is gone, replaced by the realization that America is in for another miserable year of COVID-19, Axios' Justin Green writes. (This is the darkest sentence that I have read in a long time.)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday said the responsibility should be on schools to enforce a mandate on face coverings, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.

4. The latest worldwide
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

The number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 20 million worldwide on Monday evening, Johns Hopkins data shows.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the reinstatement of restrictions in Auckland after four new cases of the coronavirus were reported. The new cases — all family members living in an Auckland suburb — are the country's first in months.

Australian officials in Victoria announced on Tuesday morning local time another 331 new cases and that COVID-19 had killed 19 more people — equaling the state and national death toll record set the previous day. Australia was on track to suppress the virus in May, but cases have been spiking in Victoria in recent weeks.

Finland announced Monday that travelers from coronavirus "risk countries" must self-isolate for 14 days "or risk a fine or up to three months' imprisonment," The Guardian reports. Finland has listed 25 countries as safe from COVID-19, "including Ireland, Japan, Greece, Cyprus and Uruguay," the outlet notes.

The European Center of Disease Prevention and Control warned on Monday that the continent is seeing a "true resurgence" in coronavirus cases and recommended that affected countries consider reimposing certain restrictions.

CureVac, a German Phase 1 biotech company developing mRNA-based cancer therapies and vaccines as well as a potential coronavirus vaccine, announced terms for its IPO.

5. Moderna reveals it may not hold patent rights

Moderna said in new financial filings that it "cannot be certain that we were the first to make the inventions claimed in our patents or pending patent applications" — including the company's experimental coronavirus vaccine, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: This disclosure comes six weeks after Axios and Public Citizen highlighted how the National Institutes of Health may hold joint ownership claims for this particular vaccine.

What they're saying: Moderna, which had not included this language in previous quarterly investor reports, added that "publications of discoveries in the scientific literature often lag behind the actual discoveries, and patent applications in the United States and other jurisdictions are typically not published until 18 months after."

  • NIH scientists have filed for a provisional patent application tied to Moderna's vaccine, and the federal agency has also said "mRNA coronavirus vaccine candidates [are] developed and jointly owned" by NIH and Moderna.

The bottom line: The public increasingly appears to hold a significant ownership stake in Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, which is now in advanced clinical trials.

  • Moderna's stock dropped 3% Monday, but the company still has a market value around $28 billion.

Separately, regarding Moderna's noncompliance with a federal contract about disclosing taxpayer costs as a percentage of the project, HHS has told Axios that it has "reminded the company of the terms and conditions of the contract, and we will continue to monitor the company's press releases and other public statements to ensure those terms and conditions are followed."

6. Death spiral for consumers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Despite some recent good news about dwindling household debt, the financial health of U.S. consumers is rapidly deteriorating — and families with children are faring the worst, Axios' Jennifer Kingson reports.

Why it matters: As Congress deadlocks over pandemic relief and President Trump issues executive orders of dubious potency, many Americans are suffering from a quintuple whammy: unemployment, overdue rent, mounting bills, food insecurity and health fears.

Where it stands: By some measures, we're doing quite well.

  • People are paying off their credit cards at a surprising clip.
  • Personal income grew in the second quarter of 2020 (thanks to hefty checks from the government).
  • Investors are reveling in stellar market performance as the markets — somewhat jarringly — shrug off the dire economy.
  • Total household debt fell in the second quarter of 2020 — the first time household debt has decreased since 2014.

But by more realistic and meaningful measures, people are in terrible shape.

Go deeper.

Caitlin Owens