Jul 8, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 963, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus deaths are rising in hotspots
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: The U.S. daily count had an anomalous spike on June 25 due to New Jersey recording a large number of probable deaths; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus deaths are ticking up in the new hotspots of Florida, Texas and Arizona, even as they continue to trend down nationally.

Why it matters: As infections soar, deaths will inevitably follow. And infections are soaring.

Driving the news: Arizona reported a record 117 deaths yesterday, and hospitalizations are skyrocketing there and in other hotspots.

  • Texas reported a record 60 new deaths and 10,000 new cases. Florida reported 63 new deaths.
  • "It's a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death," infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said yesterday.

The big picture: The U.S. mortality rate declined from around 7% in mid-April to around 2% by early July, and is now significantly lower than many other wealthy countries.

Between the lines: Experts offer several explanations for why the nationwide death trend may not be increasing as cases pile up.

  • We're now testing much more prolifically, so we're catching more cases, overall.
  • Younger, healthier patients make up a larger share of infections than they did early on, and newly infected young people may not have spread the virus to more vulnerable people — at least not yet.
  • We've also learned more about how to treat the virus since March, making hospitalizations less likely to result in death. The number of deaths per hospitalized patient has fallen by almost 50% since the pandemic's April peak, per a Bernstein analysis.

What they're saying: "When you start identifying people at earlier stages of a disease, it looks like they survive longer (or have the disease longer) compared to when you identify based on severe symptoms," tweeted Boston University School of Public Health professor Ellie Murray.

What we're watching: The number of daily deaths could exceed April's peak by late August, according to the Bernstein analysis.

2. Coronavirus deja vu

As most of the world's wealthy countries resume normal life with their coronavirus outbreaks under control, the U.S. is facing the same catastrophic problems that defined its early experience.

Why it matters: The longer the pandemic rages on, the more human lives it costs and economic devastation it causes.

Testing is a problem again. Some hard-hit cities are cutting back on who can be tested because of overwhelming demand, NYT reports. Supply shortages and laboratory backlogs are once again contributing to the problem.

  • Personal protective equipment is running low again, AP reports, which puts health care workers at risk of being infected by the virus.
  • Hospitalizations are spiking, once again raising the possibility that the health system could become overwhelmed.

The bottom line: The U.S. has built up its public health infrastructure since the spring, but not enough. And these measures, even when fully functional, aren't designed to counteract uncontrolled spread — which is what several states are experiencing.

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

The Trump administration informed the United Nations and Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. is officially beginning the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. The UN is now "in the process of verifying with the WHO whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met," according to a spokesperson.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise's PAC is inviting lobbyists to attend a four-day "Summer Meeting" at Disney World's Polynesian Village in Florida, all but daring donors to swallow their concern about coronavirus and contribute $10,000 to his leadership PAC, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

Joe Biden's campaign released a three-part plan Tuesday to rebuild U.S. supply chains in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and it's centered around the idea that the country is more vulnerable to global disruptions in spite of President Trump's "America First" rhetoric.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense have awarded $1.6 billion to Novavax and $450 million to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals as part of the federal government's efforts to speed up the development of coronavirus treatments.

At least eight Mississippi state lawmakers have received positive tests for the novel coronavirus after many were in the Capitol building and chose not to wear masks or practice social distancing, AP reports.

Many of the Southern states that are experiencing a significant surge in coronavirus infections "stepped on the gas" while lifting lockdown restrictions, unlike the regions in the North that were hit hard in March and April, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx told Wharton Business Daily on Tuesday.

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

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced Tuesday that he tested positive for coronavirus.

India has reported more coronavirus cases than any other country besides the U.S. and Brazil, per Johns Hopkins data.

Melbourne, Australia, will re-enter lockdown for six weeks starting on July 8, Daniel Andrews, the state of Victoria’s premier, announced Tuesday. All city residents are being told to stay home unless they are shopping for food or getting essential services, and if they are unable to work from home.

Demonstrations were held in Johannesburg on Wednesday, local time, in protest of Africa's first coronavirus vaccine trial, AP reports.

5. How mobility habits have changed
Data: Descartes Labs Economic Activities Signal; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans in most states are moving around at nearly the same level — and sometimes even more — than before the pandemic compelled lockdowns across the country, Axios' Sara Wise and Amy Harder report.

Driving the news: Mobility data from Descartes Labs shows the vast swing in American movement over the last four months, with the chart above showing March 7 through July 4.

The intrigue: Sara and Amy spotted some interesting trends:

  • People in largely rural, western states — including Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming — are actually moving around more than they did right before lockdowns, the data shows. (That's to be expected in the summer months, but given the coronavirus, it also shows the relative increase compared to other states.)
  • Mobility in Southern states and some in the West didn’t drop nearly as much as their coastal counterparts, reflecting a political trend with more liberal states locking down more aggressively and earlier than more conservative ones.

Yes, but: As the virus increases its spread in numerous states, and governors consider partially locking down again, mobility could tick back down again.

Caitlin Owens