Aug 28, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning ... This is one of the shortest Vitals ever: 547 words, or a 2-minute read. Enjoy your weekend.

1 big thing: Trump's big promises on health care

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's convention speech last night did not frame the coronavirus as a thing that's over, the way some of the other programming during the convention had.

  • He acknowledged the 180,000 Americans who have died, and the toll on their families, and used the present and future tenses to describe a response that is still ongoing.

But he painted a rosier picture of the U.S. response, and made bolder predictions, than the facts fully support.

Trump promised that the U.S. "will produce a vaccine by the end of the year, or maybe even sooner."

  • There's just no way to promise that — at least not responsibly. The progress so far has been encouraging, but all of the leading candidates are still being tested to find out whether they work.

He also said convalescent plasma — the treatment the FDA controversially authorized last week — will "save thousands of lives."

  • The evidence is much thinner than that; clinical studies into its effectiveness are still ongoing.

As for the rest of his health care agenda, Trump made fairly typical exaggerations of his record on drug prices. It is certainly true that the administration has proposed some ambitious plans to rein in pharmaceutical pricing, but it has hardly enacted any of those proposals.

  • And he said that in a second term, he would "end surprise medical billing, require price transparency, and further reduce the cost of prescription drugs and health insurance premiums."
  • The administration has required price transparency for hospitals, despite the industry's staunch opposition, and it also imposed new price disclosure rules on drugs, though they have been blocked by the courts.

The bottom line: There wasn't much here that you haven't already heard, and the reality of the coronavirus remains what you know it to be: The U.S. has handled this far worse than any other rich country on Earth.

2. Community colleges' unique challenge

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Programs at community colleges and technical schools that require hands-on learning — like welding or auto repair — have a unique challenge as they try to stay open while keeping students safe, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: One-third of higher education students enrolled last spring were from a community college.

  • And their student bodies are often higher-risk than traditional colleges', with more students who work, come from communities hit hard by the virus, or are older.

Where it stands: Two-year programs are attempting to provide workarounds for their curriculum this fall in order to stay open while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.

  • Waubonsee Community College in Illinois will have hybrid courses for its welding, HVAC installation and automotive programs, staggering when students need to come to their class labs.
  • Manchester Community College in Connecticut added augmented reality and virtual reality to its computer science program for remote learning. Its nursing and technical programs have class cohorts, temperature checks and designated restrooms.
  • Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College spent the summer converting its program online for students who don't feel comfortable attending in-person.
3. Another risk in schools

As school buildings sat empty to avoid the coronavirus, a new health threat appears to have sprouted: bacteria in stagnant water that can cause Legionnaires' disease.

Five schools in Ohio and four in Pennsylvania have found the Legionella bacteria in their plumbing, the New York Times reports.

  • The way to get rid of the bacteria is to flush every sink, shower and other water fixture in the school, repeatedly, and to test for the bacteria to make sure it worked. But many schools don't have the budget for that testing, NYT reports.
4. Catch up quick
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals
  • Abbott's newest, fastest, cheapest coronavirus test could be a true game-changer. (The Atlantic)
  • The U.K. reported 1,522 cases on Thursday, up from 1,048 on Wednesday and the highest tally since mid-June. (BBC)
  • Davos is postponed. (CNBC)
  • The experience with H1N1 holds some important lessons for COVID-19. (BuzzFeed News)
Caitlin Owens

Editor's note: The first item in yesterday's Vitals has been corrected to say that the U.S. is performing 690,000 coronavirus tests per day (not per week).