Axios Vitals

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June 17, 2020

Good morning.

  • We’re launching the new "Axios Today" podcast with host, Niala Boodhoo, next Monday, June 22. Subscribe here to start every weekday morning with news that matters in just 10 minutes!

Today's word count is a mere 836, or a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus racial disparities are worse than we thought

Adapted from Brookings; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Adapted from Brookings; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans have coronavirus mortality rates as much as 10x higher than white Americans' when age is taken into account, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution.

Why it matters: We've known that minorities are being hit harder by the coronavirus, but we didn't know it was this bad.

Between the lines: White Americans tend to be older than black and Latino Americans, putting a higher percentage of white people in older and thus more vulnerable age brackets. That's skewed the overall death rate by race.

  • When unadjusted for age, black people have a death rate twice that for whites, and Hispanics' death rate is about the same as whites'.
  • But when age is taken into account, the death rate for black Americans is 3.6 times that of white Americans, and Hispanics' is 2.5 times higher.

The bottom line: "Race gaps in vulnerability to COVID-19 highlight the accumulated, intersecting inequities facing Americans of color (but especially Black people) in jobs, housing, education, criminal justice — and in health," the authors write.

Go deeper: Why the coronavirus pandemic is hitting minorities harder

2. Dexamethasone is creating cautious optimism

The new best hope for treating seriously ill coronavirus patients may come from a synthetic steroid that has been around for roughly 60 years, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: Because it's an old, inexpensive drug, dexamethasone may have a leg up on remdesivir and other new, potentially costly treatments — especially if they don't work as well.

Driving the news: British researchers said yesterday that dexamethasone helped save seriously ill coronavirus patients' lives in a randomized, controlled trial.

  • The steroid significantly reduced the risk of death among patients who were on a ventilator, and showed more limited benefit for patients who were on supplemental oxygen, according to the researchers' press release. It showed no benefit for mild cases.

Between the lines: Some physicians and researchers, including Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering, say dexamethasone now seems more promising than remdesivir — the only other drug that has been shown to help treat coronavirus.

  • Dexamethasone appears to save lives, and is most effective with severe cases. Remdesivir only shortens hospitalizations and is most effective for less severe cases.
  • Dexamethasone also is available as an oral tablet, whereas remdesivir is an IV medication.
  • And dexamethasone only costs about 50 cents per tablet, according to drug pricing research firm 46brooklyn, while Wall Street analysts believe Gilead may put a $5,000 price tag on each course of remdesivir.

Yes, but: Yesterday's encouraging news was another example of what Politico described as "science by press release" — a persistent problem during this pandemic.

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.

Florida, Texas and Arizona reported record numbers of new daily novel coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

U.S. companies exported a record 129,000 tons of pork to China in April, even as meat producers warned that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic would deplete the industry's supply chain, the New York Times reports, citing data from Panjiva.

Staff members and seniors living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the U.S. account for more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths, or more than 40% of the official U.S. death toll of 116,000, according to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal.

Tenet Healthcare told Wall Street its hospitalizations so far in June are back to 90% of where they were pre-COVID. But Tenet also has many hospitals in current coronavirus hotspots like Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Texas, Bob writes.

In an effort to better understand how COVID-19 affects underrepresented communities, the National Institutes of Health is expanding antibody testing, surveying personal impacts and collecting electronic health data, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports.

4. The latest worldwide

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

Beijing's government ordered all schools in the city to close Tuesday in an effort to contain a new coronavirus outbreak which has spread to neighboring provinces, Bloomberg reports.

The German government will invest €300 million for a 23% ownership stake in CureVac, a VC-backed mRNA biotech working on a COVID-19 vaccine.

A record number of people in Brazil tested positive for the novel coronavirus in a single day, as its cases grew by 34,918 in 24 hours, the country's health ministry reported.

5. Mask mandates are effective

Some states' requirements that face masks be worn in public may have led to hundreds of thousands of fewer coronavirus cases than there would have been without the mandates, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

Yes, but: Despite the growing body of evidence that this simple mitigation strategy is one of our best defenses against the coronavirus, wearing them remains controversial, and mandating their use even more so.

Between the lines: When everyone wears a face mask, it helps reduce spread of the virus by all carriers — including those who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.

  • The study found a "significant decline in daily COVID-19 growth rate after mandating facial covers in public, with the effect increasing over time after signing the order."
  • Although only 15 states plus the District of Columbia required mask use in public, between 230,00 and 450,000 coronavirus cases may have been averted by May 22.
  • 20 other states have more limited mask requirements, but "results indicate no evidence of declines in daily COVID-19 growth rates with the employee-only mandates," the authors write.