Mar 24, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning. Is it just me, or does every day now feel like a week?

Today's word count is 1,338, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Trump's huge coronavirus gamble

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump is eager to ease off of stringent coronavirus mitigation steps "soon," he said yesterday, but that would have a calamitous impact on Americans' health — and it's not clear how much it would help the economy, either.

Why it matters: For now, the only way to avoid large numbers of deaths is to keep people away from each other to stop the virus' spread. And as long as the coronavirus is spreading, it’s likely to hurt the economy.

Driving the news: "This is a medical problem. We are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem," Trump said in a press conference yesterday.

Between the lines: Missing from Trump’s rhetoric is any real acknowledgement that the situation is going to get worse in the near term.

"A policy of returning people to work too soon should be called the 'let old people die already’ policy," a former Trump administration official told me.

  • If Trump decides to release the brakes in a week — and if states follow suit — the number of coronavirus cases would likely skyrocket far beyond anything the health care system can handle.

The big picture: The number of confirmed U.S. cases is still rising at an alarming rate — and that's not counting the thousands who have it but are unable to get tested.

  • That number is expected to continue to rise.

Reality check: The choice between saving lives and saving the economy may not even be a real one.

  • If the virus' continued spread causes people to still be concerned for their health, and they don't start spending money again in droves, then service workers may be putting their health back on the line for weak demand and a lackluster rebound.
2. Coronavirus' growing emotional toll
Data: Axios/Ipsos surveys of 1,092 U.S. adults, conducted March 13-16, and 998 adults, conducted March 20-23, 2020. Margin of error of ±3.2 and ±3.3 percentage points; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The response to the coronavirus outbreak is increasingly taxing Americans' mental and emotional health, according to the second installment of our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

By the numbers: Last week, just 29% of the people we surveyed said their emotional well-being had gotten worse lately, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

  • This week, that's up to 43% — compared with a much more modest increase in the number of people who said their physical health has deteriorated.

Between the lines: This change was particularly evident among people who said they've had to start working from home, and our survey showed a sharp uptick in the number of Americans who have started undertaking various social-distancing measures.

  • 74% said they had canceled or skipped large gatherings — that number was below 50% a week ago.
  • 25% said they've gone out to eat in the past week, down from 56%.
3. The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Washington state, West Virginia, Indiana, Oregon and Michigan on Monday issued statewide stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A procedural vote on Senate Republicans' $1.8 trillion Phase 3 stimulus package failed on Monday for the second time in less than 24 hours.

  • And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a sweeping counterproposal to the Senate GOP package.

"A man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate," one of the anti-malaria drugs that President Trump has mentioned in recent days, according to Banner Health, the hospital system that treated both patients.

Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island issued an executive order Monday to push back the state's presidential primary from April 28 to June 2 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday temporarily relaxed certain policy guidelines that could allow manufacturers to produce more ventilators.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted Monday that he is basing his decisions for coronavirus policy on information from "healthcare professionals like Dr. Fauci and others, not political punditry."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced Monday that her husband, John Bessler, tested positive for the coronavirus and has been hospitalized.

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.

Italy recorded 602 deaths on Monday from the coronavirus — a staggering total that could nonetheless be some cause for hope because it's the second day of decline from Saturday's high of 793, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.

  • Monday marks two weeks since Italy entered a nationwide lockdown, with officials warning at the time that we wouldn't get a sense of how effective the measures had been until right about now.

In the coming months, the decisions world leaders make — and their ability to communicate them effectively — could determine whether millions live or die, and whether the global economy stays afloat, Dave writes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has tested negative for COVID-19, her spokesperson said Monday, per AP.

The International Olympic Committee acknowledged for the first time Sunday that it may have to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games — an outcome that once felt impossible but now, amid mounting external pressure, feels inevitable.

5. How to get more protective gear

Health care workers and scientists have been sending in hundreds of suggestions, through the Journal of the American Medical Association, for how hospitals and clinicians can conserve their supplies of masks and other protective gear.

Why it matters: Hospitals are either out of these supplies already or will be soon enough, so crowdsourcing ideas of how to stem the shortages could save lives.

A few ideas stuck out to Axios' Bob Herman:

  • A scientist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center explained how and why his system is using UV light to disinfect N95 masks.
  • Snorkel masks or other SCUBA gear could be reused and provide some protection from contaminated droplets in the air.
  • Dentists and vets could donate their masks and equipment, since their patient visits have either been canceled or curtailed heavily.
6. Trump's pressure on GM seems to be working

In just four days, General Motors fast-tracked a plan to help a stretched medical device company build 200,000 badly needed ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Why it matters: It's not only a symbol of GM's significant industrial might 11 years after a government-brokered bankruptcy. It also shows how President Trump is squeezing American businesses to act.

  • Instead of invoking the Defense Production Act to marshal private resources for the federal government, Trump has been pushing the nation's biggest manufacturers to come up with enterprising solutions on their own.

What's happening: GM worked "around the clock" over the weekend to secure suppliers for the parts needed to help Ventec Life Systems dramatically boost ventilator output, the automaker said Monday.

  • GM is even studying the feasibility of building Ventec ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, plant, which made vehicle electronics until last week, when the automaker suspended North American production due to the outbreak.
  • The goal of the partnership is to build up to 200,000 ventilators, Reuters reported.

Yes, but: A company can't build a car — or a ventilator — unless it has all the parts.

  • GM has lined up suppliers for 95% of the necessary components and is seeking to source the remaining 37 parts, according to an email to suppliers from Shilpan Amin, GM's vice president of global purchasing, per Reuters.
  • Production could start within a week, suppliers told Crain's Detroit Business.

Go deeper.

7. Everybody wants a piece of the stimulus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lobbyists are racing to grab a piece of the stimulus package lawmakers are still trying to hammer out on Capitol Hill, Bob writes.

Driving the news: Hospitals and physicians want at least $100 billion and significant Medicare payment hikes, partially because they've had to cancel lucrative elective procedures.

  • Hotels, airlines, restaurants, casinos, manufacturers and other service industries that have been battered by the coronavirus spread are angling to get hundreds of billions in loans and other funding.
  • A coalition of major employers is lobbying Congress for payroll tax credits and coverage subsidies for people who lose their jobs.

The intrigue: The chance for federal bailouts has motivated small players to make bigger investments, and some nontraditional parties are spending their first lobbying dollars.

8. Vitals readers' silver linings
  • "As a boomer, my kids always hate to respond to my emails or texts — I'm so 'old school.' Well this past weekend my wife and I started learning to use SnapChat — and we are having more fun than ever engaging with the kids — sharing videos, text, etc. It is a great way to connect — on so many levels."
  • "I'm a med student at UCSF .... Wanted to bring up a mask and PPE drive a bunch of us students at UCSF just wrapped up over the weekend. 15K masks raised from the community, and an unbelievable amount of love for our country's healthcare workers."

Thanks again to those who send these in!

Caitlin Owens