Jul 1, 2020

Axios Vitals

Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Axios will be hosting a live, virtual event on how the coronavirus outbreak has upended small businesses. Join Axios co-founder Mike Allen and cities correspondent Kim Hart today at 12:30pm ET for a discussion featuring Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Madison Black Chamber of Commerce president Camille Carter, and Timber Hill Winery owner and winemaker Amanda Stefl.

Today's word count is 1,029, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Cases skyrocketing among communities of color
Adapted from Coders Against Covid using The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins and U.S. Census data; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Counties populated by larger numbers of people of color tend to have more coronavirus cases than those with higher shares of white people.

What we're watching: As the outbreak worsens throughout the South and the West, caseloads are growing fastest in counties with large communities of color.

The big picture: The southern and southwestern parts of the U.S. — the new epicenters of the outbreak — have higher Black and Latino or Hispanic populations to begin with.

  • People of color have seen disproportionate rates of infection, hospitalization and death throughout the pandemic.

Between the lines: These inequities stem from pre-existing racial disparities throughout society, and have been exacerbated by the U.S. coronavirus response.

  • Black and Hispanic or Latino communities have had less access to diagnostic testing, and people of color are also more likely to be essential workers. That means the virus is able to enter and spread throughout a community without adequate detection, often with disastrous results.

The bottom line: Until we plug the huge holes in the American coronavirus response — like inadequate testing and contact tracing and a lack of protection for essential workers — people of color will continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Go deeper: People of color have less access to coronavirus testing

2. Federal government weakens its march-in rights

The federal government has watered down legal rights that could allow it to take over the rights of some potential coronavirus drugs, according to federal contracts obtained by consumer group Knowledge Ecology International and shared with Axios.

The big picture: The federal government has never used its so-called "march-in rights," but they're a theoretically powerful tool to intervene in cases where pharmaceutical companies charge high prices or don't produce enough of a product, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

How it works: Federal march-in rights, which have existed for 40 years, spell out four circumstances in which the government can take over the patents on drugs that were developed with federal funding, and license those patents to other companies.

Those rights can kick in if a patent holder doesn't make its medicines "available to the public on reasonable terms," known as "practical application."

  • Three of those words — "on reasonable terms" — are "the legal basis for intervening in cases of unreasonable drug prices," said Kathryn Ardizzone, the lead attorney for Knowledge Ecology International, a progressive public interest group.

But several companies making coronavirus drugs and vaccines have deleted those words from contracts with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Further, the contracts have deleted or narrowed the other circumstances in which march-in rights can be invoked, according to documents Knowledge Ecology International obtained through an open records request.

HHS said in a statement that the BARDA contracts "are focused on product development" and that when purchasing drugs, "one of the considerations in the price is any federal funding that was provided to develop the product."

Go deeper: You can read all of the federal documents obtained by KEI here.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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.

Anthony Fauci testified to a Senate committee Tuesday that he would "not be surprised" if the U.S. begins reporting as many as 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day, adding, "I'm very concerned and not satisfied with what's going on because we're going in the wrong direction."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday that the state will not reinstate restrictions or close businesses to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Senate passed legislation by unanimous consent Tuesday night extending the application period for the Paycheck Protection Program through Aug. 8, just hours before the federal loan program was set to expire.

In-person service at bars and nightclubs throughout Colorado will halt again this week, the state's public health department announced on Tuesday. The state's decision comes as Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington state and New Mexico pause their reopenings, per the New York Times.

Visitors from eight additional states will be required to quarantine for 14 days when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, bringing the total number of states subject to the tri-state area's restrictions to 16.

Laying out his plans to combat the coronavirus during a speech on Tuesday, Joe Biden stared into the camera, addressed President Trump and questioned his fitness to lead the nation: "America needs a president."

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

The European Council said Tuesday it has adopted a recommendation to allow a list of 14 countries to enter the EU's external borders beginning on July 1, but left off travelers from the U.S., Russia, Brazil and other countries that have failed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Brazil reported over 33,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday and more than 1,280 new deaths, per the ministry's health department.

The 2021 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit will be held online and hosted by New Zealand, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced Tuesday. "Given the current global environment, planning to have such a large volume of high-level visitors in New Zealand from late 2020 onwards is impractical," he said.

5. The lessons of California

Although California appeared to be on track in March to become a coronavirus disaster, the state managed to turn things around — only to find cases skyrocketing three months later.

Between the lines: It's obvious what caused the problem in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, where the warnings of public health officials were largely disregarded. But in California, there's not just one clear-cut explanation, the MIT Technology Review reports.

What happened:

  1. There are large ethnic disparities, with infections concentrated within low-income communities.
  2. People became lax about safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing.
  3. There's a large number of prison cases.
  4. Some patients are coming from other places, including Mexico.

Yes, but: California avoided becoming a hotspot early on, but cases had been steadily rising long before they began rapidly spiking, as my colleagues Andrew Witherspoon and Sam Baker reported.

6. More bad news about asymptomatic carriers

There's a lot of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, and they may be just as infectious as symptomatic patients, according to a new study published in Nature.

Why it matters: Figuring out how to stop people who don't know they have the virus from spreading it is still one of the biggest obstacles to mitigating the pandemic.

Details: The study examined coronavirus infections among residents of a small Italian town in lockdown by testing large portions of the town's population.

  • It found that 42.5% of confirmed cases were asymptomatic, but there was no meaningful difference in the viral loads of asymptomatic and symptomatic carriers. Viral loads are a way to measure infectivity.

Go deeper: The good and bad news about asymptomatic coronavirus cases

Caitlin Owens