Axios Vitals

A briefcase with a red cross on the front.

June 08, 2020

Good morning. The last couple of weeks has prompted us to think more deeply about the role of systemic racism in our society.

  • I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas about its impact on the health care system — just hit reply to this email to share.

🚨 Tonight on "Axios on HBO": 

  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms opens up about the protests in a raw and heartfelt interview (clip).
  • Rep. Val Demings "would say yes" to being Joe Biden’s running mate (clip).
  • Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church explains "holy rage" and calls out Trump's Bible "photo op."
  • Rep. James Clyburn tries to describe how he felt watching the video of George Floyd's killing.
  • Columbia University professor Robert Fullilove unpacks the health effects of racism.

Watch at 11pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Today's word count is 995, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus racial disparities in the nation's capital

Data: District of Columbia Government and U.S. Census Bureau; Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: District of Columbia Government and U.S. Census Bureau; Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Low-income, majority-black neighborhoods in D.C. are getting hit hardest by the coronavirus — a reflection of racial and socioeconomic trends that have sparked mass protests only miles from these neighborhoods.

The big picture: The virus' racial disparities around the country are a result of other longstanding inequities in health, housing, employment, income and other aspects of society.

These disparities have been felt acutely in some communities for decades.

  • Christina Henderson, program director of the DC Dream Center, has seen them first-hand for years through her work in her neighborhood of Southeast D.C.
  • Although each of the district's eight wards has a similar-sized population, ranging from around 78,000 to around 95,000 people, the virus has affected them very differently.

I asked Henderson — better known as Ms. Tina to those she works with and serves — to explain the difference between how she thinks the coronavirus pandemic has impacted her poor, primarily-black neighborhood versus Dupont Circle, a whiter, wealthier D.C. neighborhood near the White House.

  • In Dupont, "most of those people ended up working at home. They could do the distancing thing. They didn't have to be around people …. Even if they didn't work at home, if they decided they wanted to take sick leave or vacation or whatever, they could take it."
  • "In Anacostia, most of those people are working in fast food restaurants, CVS, Giant, Safeway, where they're coming in contact with people every day. And I think when somebody from Dupont Circle [walks] into the hospital, somebody is going to listen to them and pay attention to them and take them seriously."
  • "When somebody from Anacostia goes in there ... because of the way they talk, the way they stand, the way they dress, people do not take them seriously."

My colleagues and I further explored the racial dynamics of the pandemic over the weekend. Read the deep dive.

2. A new age of diagnostics

Illustration of a hand holding a petri dish with cells in the shape of a house

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

From biosensor chips to wastewater epidemiology, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the development of next-generation disease diagnostics, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: If we're going to stop a disease, we first have to know who has it and where. New technologies promise to provide doctors with more reliable intelligence about who in a community has a disease — and who is likely to get seriously ill.

What's new: In response to the coronavirus, a number of researchers and startups are pushing new diagnostic technologies that take advantage of cheaper and quicker genetic sequencing to provide far more accurate and rapid intelligence on just where COVID-19 is, and where it might be going.

  • Some of the most promising new technologies involve what are called molecular electronics biosensor chips.
  • As it becomes cheaper, such technology holds the promise of being able to test an entire population for specific viruses, or even scan the physical environment for signs of viral contamination.

A cruder form of environmental surveillance is already under way — underground. Researchers in several cities have begun testing city sewage for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA.

  • Sewage is unique as a diagnostic source in that it represents a near-universal sample of what is in — or coming out of — the community.

What to watch: Next-generation diagnostics can go beyond simply determining who is and isn't infected. A number of researchers are working on tests that can identify biomarkers that might predict just how sick a COVID-19 patient will become.

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.

Cities and states are beginning to offer free coronavirus testing as mass protests across the U.S. continue in the wake of George Floyd's death, the Washington Post reports.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he's "very concerned" about the protests that have followed George Floyd's death resulting in a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases across the U.S., in an interview with radio station WTOP.

Over 1,000 new infections have been reported every day in Florida since Tuesday, the longest sustained increase in the state since early April, according to the state health department's tracker and a New York Times analysis.

With the school year winding down, the grade from teachers, students, parents and administrators is in for America's involuntary crash course on remote learning: It was a failure, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The CDC released data on Friday from a survey in which roughly 200 respondents said they intentionally inhaled disinfectants, washed food with bleach, or applied household cleaning products to bare skin to combat the virus — all of which are dangerous.

California officials announced live sports and film production can resume in the state on June 12 after the coronavirus forced them into a three-month hiatus, Bloomberg 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

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 400,000 worldwide on Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins.

Brazil's Health Ministry is no longer showing a total count of confirmed novel coronavirus cases on its website, as infection numbers surge along with the death toll, Reuters first reported.

Australia's finance minister called Black Lives Matter protesters "selfish" on Sunday after tens of thousands of Australians rallied in cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane over the weekend despite a ban on large gatherings during the pandemic.

There are no known novel coronavirus cases in New Zealand for the first time since COVID-19 was first confirmed in the country on Feb. 28, the country's Health Ministry announced Sunday afternoon local time.

5. The dentist-led jobs bump

Health care — specifically dentistry — was a major reason Friday's jobs report blew away economists’ expectations, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

By the numbers: Of the 312,000 jobs the health care sector added in May, 245,000 were in dentists' offices.

Yes, but: Since the coronavirus lockdowns started, almost 1.2 million people who work in health care, especially those who work in administrative roles in outpatient settings, still have lost their jobs.

The bottom line: Providers are eager to get patients back in their offices and hospitals, sometimes advertising they are resuming elective procedures.

  • That's starting to happen with tooth procedures and routine cleanings, which necessitated rehiring laid-off employees. But volumes still don't appear to be anywhere close to what they were previously.