Jun 9, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,092, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: The pandemic isn't hurting health care companies
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The S&P index of top health care companies finished Monday higher than where it opened the year, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: A global coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, mass unemployment, and the halting of medical procedures haven't been enough to derail Wall Street's rosy view of the health care industry.

Where things stand: The coronavirus started to affect the economy toward the tail end of the first quarter, but the health care industry was relatively unscathed.

  • Among the 109 publicly traded health care companies tracked by Axios, first-quarter profits exceeded $50 billion, good for a 7.4% net profit margin.
  • Pharmaceutical companies and health insurers generated the highest returns. Wall Street believes drug companies stand to benefit from potential coronavirus treatments or vaccines.
  • The stock price of Gilead Sciences, for example, is up 18% so far this year, partially on the assumption its coronavirus drug, remdesivir, will produce billions of dollars of revenue — even though the drug has showed only modest benefit for patients.

Between the lines: The second quarter likely will be worse, as the brunt of the coronavirus lockdown was felt in April and May. But normal operations have already started resuming for some health care sectors, regardless of the virus' spread.

The bottom line: Investors can't resist health care's track record for profitability.

2. The value of social distancing

The U.S. would have seen 4.8 million more confirmed coronavirus cases — and 60 million more total infections — without social distancing, according to a new study published in Nature.

Why it matters: When evaluating the cost of social distancing to the U.S. economy and society writ large, this is the number of cases to measure it against — not the actual number, which reflects the health benefits of the measures.

The big picture: The study estimated the impact of social distancing measures in six countries: China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France and the U.S.

  • Among these countries, the measures prevented or delayed 62 million confirmed cases, or about 530 million total infections, the authors found.

Between the lines: How quickly a country implemented social distance measures likely had a strong effect on health outcomes, the authors write, and countries' responses had impacts of varying degrees.

  • For example, the authors estimated that, in the absence of large-scale social distancing measures, there would have been 465 times more confirmed cases in China, 17 times more cases in Italy and 14 times more cases in the U.S.
  • The U.S. still has the highest number of documented coronavirus cases in the world.
3. Catch up on the latest
Expand chart
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.

The U.S. economy peaked in February before sliding into a recession as the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a group that’s considered the official determiners of when recessions begin and end.

Contact tracing data from around the globe suggests that while there are instances of asymptomatic coronavirus patients transmitting the virus to others, they are not "a main driver" of new infections, World Health Organization officials said at a press conference Monday.

Protectionism is poised to play an elevated role in global dealmaking, particularly as countries grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19, Axios' Dan Primack writes.

New Zealand announced on Monday it has no active cases in the entire country after the final COVID-19 patient recovered. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the government would lift all domestic restrictions by midnight local time.

4. South Asia emerges as a coronavirus hotspot
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

India opened up restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship yesterday even as it recorded a record-high 9,971 new coronavirus cases, the third-most worldwide behind Brazil and the U.S.

Why it matters: Lockdowns are being lifted in South Asia — home to one-quarter of the world's population — not because countries are winning against COVID-19, but because they simply can't sustain them any longer, Axios' Dave Lawler writes.

Flashback: For a time, South Asia was cited as a source of optimism because relatively few cases and deaths were being recorded despite large, dense populations.

  • Lockdowns came relatively early, with varying severity (India's was considerably stricter than Pakistan's, for example).
  • Outbreaks have continued to accelerate, however. Pakistan's daily case count is now on par with the U.K.'s and six times Germany's, adjusted for population.
  • Limited testing means South Asia's outbreaks could actually be far more severe.

The bottom line: South Asian governments attempted to balance health and hunger, knowing they could only shut down their largely informal economies for so long.

  • But with health care systems already stretched and case counts continuing to rise, they're opening up with more hope than confidence.

Go deeper.

5. Protesters fear the spread
Data: Ipsos/Axios survey; Note: ±3.3% margin of error ; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Eight in 10 Americans worry that mass demonstrations around George Floyd's killing, police brutality and structural racism could trigger new coronavirus infections, in the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: More than one in 10 people surveyed has an immediate family member or close friend who's participated — and 2% say they've taken part themselves, Axios' Margaret Talev reports. That puts tens of millions of people in close contact with protesters.

  • It may be weeks before we fully understand the impacts of the protests on infections. But they're not the only example of Americans easing up on social distancing: 45% of respondents say they've visited in person with friends or relatives in the last week.
  • Even as protesters decide the stakes are worth the risks, they're taking steps to avoid spread: 87% say they wore masks, 35% wore gloves and a third say they maintained a six-foot distance.

By the numbers: Most Americans — 86% — say protesting poses a large or moderate risk to their health.

  • That's huge compared with how Americans assess the risks of activities such as returning to work as normal, retail shopping, getting a haircut or even going out to dinner — all of which have declined significantly over the past week.
  • Democrats (60%) were more likely than independents (51%) or Republicans (37%) to be extremely or very worried about an increase in cases. Women and older people also were more likely to worry.

Go deeper.

6. Coronavirus news consumption by race
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Black Americans are paying more attention than white Americans to every element of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Why it matters: Black Americans have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic and its economic fallout. This survey could simply reflect that people pay more attention to stories that hit closer to home, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Between the lines: Other recent studies from Pew also suggest that younger Americans are less likely to pay attention to news about the pandemic than older generations, further supporting the notion that those paying the most attention to news about the pandemic, are those that are most heavily impacted.

Caitlin Owens