Jul 20, 2020

Axios Vitals

Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,456 or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: The surge in coronavirus hospitalizations is severe
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus hospitalizations are skyrocketing, even beyond the high-profile hotspots of Arizona, Florida and Texas, Axios' Bob Herman and Andrew Witherspoon report.

Why it matters: The U.S. made it through the spring without realizing one of experts' worst fears — overwhelming hospitals' capacity to treat infected people. But that fear is re-emerging as the virus spreads rapidly throughout almost every region of the country.

Where things stand: Arizona remains in the worst shape; 27.1% of all hospital beds in the state are occupied by COVID-19 patients as of July 15, according to an analysis combining data from the COVID Tracking Project and the Harvard Global Health Institute. Texas is second at 18.8%.

  • Nevada is the next worst, with COVID-19 patients taking up 18.7% of all hospital beds. That's up significantly from 11.2% at the start of July.
  • Florida just started tallying current hospitalization data, showing more than 16% of all hospital beds occupied.

It gets worse: Many other states are showing significant upticks in coronavirus hospitalizations during the first half of July, including Alabama, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

  • Many of these states, which reopened a lot of their economies in May, do not have mask mandates.

Between the lines: Intensive-care unit beds, reserved for the sickest patients, are completely full in parts of Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and Texas.

  • Hospitals can convert other areas into ICUs, but that's not all that useful if hospitals don't have enough staff and supplies.

The bottom line: Cases have soared over the past 45 days, and hospitalizations naturally follow many of those cases.

  • Rising hospitalizations mean the outbreaks in many areas are not close to being controlled, and some percentage of those hospitalizations will end as deaths.

Go deeper: Everything's deadlier in the South

2. We blew it

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America spent the spring building a bridge to August, spending trillions and shutting down major parts of society. The expanse was to be a bent coronavirus curve, and the other side some semblance of normal, where kids would go to school and their parents to work.

The bottom line: We blew it, building a pier instead, Axios' Dan Primack and Nick Johnston write.

We blew testing. President Trump regularly brags and complains about the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the U.S., but America hasn't built the infrastructure necessary to process and trace the results.

We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status quo services in the face of plummeting tax revenue.

  • There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.

We blew economics. The CARES Act was bold and bipartisan, a massive stimulus to meet the moment.

  • It's running out, without an extension plan not yet in place.

We blew public health. There's obviously a lot here, but just stick with face masks. Had we all been directed to wear them in March — and done so, even makeshift ones while manufacturing ramped up — you might not be reading this post.

We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good.

  • But many millions of other Americans didn't. Five months later, many of those who followed the "rules" are furious at what they perceive to be the selfishness of others.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 140,000 in the U.S. on Sunday morning, Johns Hopkins data shows.

The Food and Drug Administration said Saturday it granted the first emergency use authorization for pooled coronavirus testing to speed up the process.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to release his phase four legislation this week — more than two months after House Democrats unveiled their $3 trillion plan, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed New York City to enter its fourth and final phase of reopening after shutting down in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fox News' Chris Wallace fact-checked President Trump in an interview Sunday after Trump falsely claimed that the U.S. has the lowest coronavirus mortality rate in the world.

Texas on Friday gave public schools the ability to offer online-only instruction for up to the first eight weeks of the school year to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, AP reports.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that the reason the U.S. is doing "so poorly" with the coronavirus compared to Europe is because many states ignored federal reopening guidelines and let their guard down "imagining this was just a New York problem."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the city is "on the brink" of needing another stay-at-home order, as new coronavirus cases continue to surge in California and across the U.S.

Black people in Maine account for nearly 23% of coronavirus cases, despite making up about 2% of the state's population, the Washington Post reports.

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

The global coronavirus death toll topped 600,000 on Saturday night, as the World Health Organization announced over a quarter of a million new cases globally — a record number for the second straight day.

Children between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the coronavirus at least as effectively as adults do, according to a recently published study out of South Korea.

The Cuban government announced Sunday that there were no new domestic coronavirus cases for the first time in 130 days, Reuters reports.

5. It's about to get a lot worse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For months now, American workers, families and small businesses have been saying they can't keep up their socially distanced lives for much longer. We've now arrived at "much longer" — and the pandemic isn't going away anytime soon, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

The big picture: The relief policies and stopgap measures that we cobbled together to get us through the toughest weeks worked for a while, but they're starting to crumble just as cases are spiking in the majority of states.

Next week, the extra $600 per week in expanded unemployment benefits will expire. And there's no indication that Congress has reached a consensus on extending this assistance or providing anything in its place.

  • But nearly half of the U.S. population is still jobless, and millions will remain jobless for the foreseeable future. There are 14 million more unemployed people than there are jobs, per the Economic Policy Institute.
  • Nearly a third of Americans missed a housing payment in July — and that was with the additional $600. Plus, most Americans have already spent the stimulus checks they received at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • "We should be very concerned about what's going to happen in August and beyond" — starting with a spike in evictions, Mathieu Despard, who leads the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, tells Axios.

Expect more furloughs and layoffs as more small businesses are pushed off the pandemic cliff.

  • And the question of whether schools will reopen looms.

Go deeper.

6. Europe's lessons on reopening schools

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American parents and policymakers hoping for a safe return to schools in the fall have been looking to Europe, where several countries reopened as early as April without a subsequent spike in cases, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.

Why it matters: There's a growing body of evidence suggesting that schools can operate safely, at least under certain circumstances. But no country that closed schools has attempted to reopen them with outbreaks still raging as they are across much of America.

  • The first countries to bring students back, as Denmark did in April, didn't detect much spread in schools — but the virus was also under control in the broader communities.
  • Harder-hit countries, like France or Belgium, contained the spread through lockdowns before bringing students back — something the U.S. has largely failed to do.
  • America's unenviable position as a global epicenter complicates matters, but the challenge is similar: adapting schools to our pandemic reality.

How they've done it:

  • Social distancing: Danish class sizes were initially limited to around 12, and arrival times were staggered to avoid crowding.
  • Masks: Countries including Austria initially required masks but loosened those restrictions over time.
  • "Bubbles": When the U.K. fully reopens schools in September, smaller subsets of students will spend classes, lunch and recess together — an approach several other countries have experimented with.
  • Hybrid learning: Several countries have resumed in-person schooling on a more limited basis, supplemented by online education. School districts across the U.S. are designing such approaches now.

Go deeper.

7. Americans split on returning to work
Reproduced from CivicScience; Note: ±3.3% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' comfort level with returning to their offices for work breaks down along a number of interesting demographic lines, new data from CivicScience shows.

Details: Men are 20% more likely than women to prefer returning to in-person work and young people (ages 18–24) are the most likely to prefer returning to the office, Axios' Dion Rabouin writes.

Of those,

  • 42% of young people 18–24 say they would prefer going back to the office rather than staying remote or even having a combination of both options.
  • The youngest workers are also the most likely (44%) to say they have been significantly less productive than usual working from home.
  • Just behind the youngest respondents, 32% of Americans over 55 say they would prefer returning to the office — four and eight percentage points higher than respondents ages 35–54 and 25–34, respectively.
  • 48% of U.S. adults overall working remotely during the pandemic say they have been just as productive as usual.
Caitlin Owens