Axios Vitals

A briefcase with a red cross on the front.
June 02, 2020

Good morning. It feels strange not to acknowledge what is happening across the country, but I won't pretend to have many words this morning. All I can say is that I know members of our Vitals community are hurting, and I see you.

  • To share your stories with me, as always, just hit reply to this email.

Today's word count is 1,030, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Controlling the coronavirus in nursing homes

Data:; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data:; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The structural issues that have plagued U.S. nursing homes for years will make it difficult for them to prevent coronavirus infections and deaths, even though we now understand the high-risk nature of the facilities.

Driving the news: Within the 80% of nursing homes that have reported coronavirus data to the federal government, nearly 26,000 residents died, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced yesterday.

The big picture: Older people are particularly vulnerable to the virus, and nursing homes became devastating outbreak sites right away.

  • And the nursing home industry has long been under scrutiny for its problems with infection control.

Between the lines: Experts say that nursing homes need to be extra vigilant about testing staff and residents, and then isolating patients who do get the virus.

  • That means keeping coronavirus patients out of nursing homes to begin with, which some states failed to do early on. But it also means having strict protocols for residents who become infected.

Yes, but: That's when nursing homes' long-standing problems present themselves once again.

  • The physical structure of the nursing home becomes very important, including details about things like shared bathrooms, where the nurses' station is, and how air circulates through the building, David Grabowski, a Harvard professor who studies post-acute care, told me.
  • "Some facilities have tried to set up [coronavirus] units or wings or floors," he said. "Sometimes that's doable based on the numbers and the layout, and sometimes it’s not."

It's also important to dedicate specific staff to each population — coronavirus patients and non-infected patients. But nursing homes were suffering from staff shortages long before the pandemic hit.

  • Most nursing homes also don't have enough personal protective equipment for their workers, Grabowski said.

Go deeper: Taking care of coronavirus patients after they leave the hospital

2. Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Week 11: Race matters

The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted minorities — particularly black Americans — but not everyone is equally concerned about it, Axios' Margaret Talev reports.

Details: Three-fourths of African Americans say they're extremely or very concerned that the coronavirus is doing greater damage to people of color, according to the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • Only 30% of whites and 42% of Hispanics share that concern.
  • There's also a staggering partisan gulf: 64% of Democrats and just 14% of Republicans see this disparity.
  • Women are more likely than men to worry about the racial inequities of the virus.
  • The response to the virus is another source of tension. Seven in 10 African Americans say they're extremely or very concerned that official responses to the pandemic are biased against certain groups. Only one third of whites and about half of Hispanics share that view.

The big picture: While the racial dynamics of the pandemic reflect entrenched systemic inequities, week 11 of our national survey finds an overall softening of Americans' fears and precautions as states continue to reopen their economies.

  • 45% of respondents said they've visited friends or relatives in the last week, up seven percentage points from the previous poll and up dramatically from its low point of one in five.
  • Most still see risk in returning to their normal pre-coronavirus lives, but their fears are softening, as more are starting to view it as a moderate rather than severe risk.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Stat News that his meetings with President Trump about the coronavirus have "dramatically decreased."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has lifted the state's stay-at-home order and allowed bars and restaurants statewide to reopen at reduced capacity by June 8.

Eli Lilly has begun the first study of an experimental treatment for the coronavirus derived from the blood of a survivor, WSJ reports.

Senators yesterday introduced bipartisan legislation that would require commercial contact-tracing and exposure notification apps to only be deployed in collaboration with public health authorities.

4. Protest coverage dwarfs coronavirus

Data: Newswhip; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Newswhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

Coverage of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests this weekend completely dwarfed coverage of the coronavirus as the death toll from the pandemic ticked beyond 100,000 in the U.S. Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: For months, Americans struggled to understand the severity of the pandemic, as hospitals needed to stay closed to outside visitors, let alone journalists with cameras. Now, the opposite is unfolding, with stark images and videos going viral around the racial protests sweeping the country.

By the numbers: Across the board, coverage of the protests and demand for that content is skyrocketing, overtaking news about the pandemic.

  • On television, wall-to-wall coverage of the protests has dominated the airwaves.
  • On social media, interest in the fallout from the Floyd killing took off as protests raged at the end of last week and surpassed the coronavirus on Thursday, according to data from NewsWhip.
  • On search, "George Floyd" overtook "coronavirus" as the most popular search in the U.S. on Wednesday evening and continued to outrank it through the weekend, according to data from Google Trends.
  • Online, articles about "police brutality" were 6.8 times more in demand than articles about "coronavirus," averaging 3,800 views per article, according to data from web analytics company

Go deeper.

5. Protests threaten the coronavirus response

Protests against police brutality have prompted the closure of coronavirus test sites across the country, including in Pennsylvania, Florida, California and Illinois, Politico reports.

Why it matters: This adds to concerns that the protests themselves create an environment in which the virus can easily spread, particularly if and when protesters aren't wearing masks or social distancing.

  • If the virus does spread through a crowd of protesters, it will probably be impossible to trace who a particular case came into contact with.
  • And attendees may not want to share information about their movements with contact tracers anyways, Politico notes.

What they're saying: "We spent all this time closing down, locked down, masks, social distancing and then we turn on the television and you see mass gatherings that could potentially be infecting hundreds and hundreds of people after everything we've done," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday.

  • Some government and health officials are encouraging protesters to get tested for the coronavirus.

The other side: "Racism is a social determinant of health. It affects the physical and mental health of blacks in the U.S. So I wouldn't weigh these crises separately," Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at Boston University, told NPR.