August 4, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Soon — maybe very soon — CDC will issue COVID-19 guidance for schools

Within days, the CDC will issue its new guidelines for how schools should attempt to control COVID-19 with rising cases in many parts of the country. CNN says it has seen a preview of the new plans and if the preview becomes the official guideline, it will raise eyebrows. The draft CNN read said the new guidelines “are expected to ease quarantine recommendations for people exposed to the virus and de-emphasize 6 feet of social distancing.”

The new guidelines also appear to place less emphasis on regular COVID-19 testing. And they may ditch the former CDC recommendation called “test to stay” that suggested students exposed to COVID-19 take regular tests to stay in the classroom.

The CDC is expected to push harder for better school ventilation, which has been an important but less discussed way to fight infections. A new CDC survey shows most schools have not yet upgraded their ventilation systems. It would be useful for journalists to ask school systems what they have done to improve ventilation. If they have done nothing, ask why not. If they have improved systems, show anxious parents what they have accomplished.

Screenshot, CDC

CDC guidelines are just that — guidelines — and ultimately states, cities and school districts make most of the key decisions about school precautions.

For example, you will find about a half dozen school systems around the country that will require masks. In much of the country, masks will be optional in classrooms and school offices this fall.

Screenshot, Burbio

The daily count for COVID-19

I have written about the rising number of new cases being reported nationwide, so when the latest daily count dropped, even a little, it is worth noting. The long-term trend is still discouraging, as deaths and hospitalizations rise. If the new cases drop, eventually the others will, too. But it usually takes weeks for the trend to wash through all the categories.

Screenshot, The New York Times

Why some lab techs refuse to draw blood for monkeypox tests

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen reports that lab techs from Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics “have been refusing to draw blood from patients who might have monkeypox.” Quest says it is following CDC’s guidelines that people who are suspected of having monkeypox should remain in isolation. But the guidelines specifically state that the isolation does not apply to people who need to leave isolation for medical care.

The CNN report said:

Infectious disease experts who treat monkeypox patients say that the refusals are based on stigma and slow efforts to identify and isolate patients with monkeypox at a time when the nation’s health officials are coming under criticism for struggling to get the outbreak under control. As of Tuesday, there were 6,326 reported cases of monkeypox, an 81% increase from a week before, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is absolutely inexcusable. It’s a grave dereliction of duty,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, which represents 1,600 sexual health clinics in the US, some of which have phlebotomists from commercial labs including Labcorp and Quest in their offices.

Labcorp executive Dr. Brian Caveney told CNN last week that “up until now, we have typically not been doing” blood draws from suspected monkeypox patients but that the company was reviewing its policies, and this was “likely to change.”

Caveney, the company’s president of diagnostics, said Labcorp was “trying to make sure that our work force is safe but also to ensure that we take care of our customers while we were figuring out the appropriate occupational safety regulations and policies.”

“(Monkeypox) is new — nobody knew what it was — some nurses and doctors are scared of it. Some of our phlebotomists have been scared — appropriately — of it,” he said.

Quest told CNN, “We follow CDC guidelines that state that patients with confirmed or suspected monkeypox infection should be isolated. Once an individual is out of isolation, we will provide service for them.”

But that is not what the CDC guidelines say. The CDC specifically says if it is necessary to seek healthcare, then the person should safely leave isolation to get care. The guidelines says, “While symptomatic with a fever or any respiratory symptoms, including sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough, remain isolated in the home and away from others unless it is necessary to see a healthcare provider or for an emergency.”

The CDC advises people with monkeypox remain isolated for two to four weeks:

CDC recommends that people with monkeypox remain isolated at home or at another location for the duration of illness, but that might not be possible in all situations. Prioritizing isolation and source control strategies helps prevent transmission while balancing the impact of this infection on the daily lives of people diagnosed with monkeypox. These considerations may change as we learn more from the 2022 global outbreak of monkeypox.

Labcorp says it is reviewing its policies and says the policies are “likely to change.” Diane Crawford, CEO of the National Phlebotomy Association, told CNN that as long as lab workers are using standard precautions there’s no reason to be concerned about monkeypox infections from blood draws.

There is no current proof that monkeypox is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. It is believed to spread through “skin to skin” contact and researchers do not yet know to what extent it spreads through “respiratory secretions,” but the CDC says it does not have any proof that it spread through “brief interactions.”

The National Coalition of STD Directors also said that health clinics around the country are getting flooded with requests for monkeypox tests:

  • 79% of clinics have seen an increase in demand for monkeypox testing over the past four weeks, but 28% of clinics could not meet testing demand if it increases.
  • 63% of clinics have received referrals from other healthcare providers for suspected monkeypox cases, and 52% have served patients who have been turned away from other providers.
  • “Since monkeypox has hit the media, individuals are calling about coming in to get tested. The hospitals are still overwhelmed with COVID so individuals presenting to the local hospitals are being told they need to go to the health departments for testing.”

Survey: 1 in 5 Americans fear getting monkeypox but many know little about it

A mentor gave me the advice years ago to not give up reporting on a subject too soon. He said, “About the time you get tired of writing about something, the public is just hearing what you are trying to say.” I suspect a lot of us feel that way about COVID-19 and monkeypox. And still, a new Annenberg Public Policy Center poll finds, “1 in 5 Americans fear getting monkeypox but many know little about it.’ The study found:

  • 19% of Americans are worried about getting monkeypox in the next three months. (Women are more worried about contracting monkeypox than men: Though the vast majority of cases to date in the United States are among men who have sex with men, 23% of women worry about contracting monkeypox vs. 15% of men.)
  • 30% of those surveyed are worried about getting Covid-19 over the next three months. Nearly half (48%) are unsure whether monkeypox is less contagious than Covid. (A large majority (69%) knows that monkeypox usually spreads by close contact with an infected person, though a quarter of those surveyed (26%) are not sure whether that is true or false.) More than a third of those surveyed (36%) know that monkeypox is less contagious than Covid-19.
  • But 14% incorrectly say monkeypox is just about as contagious as Covid-19 and nearly half (48%) are unsure. The CDC says monkeypox “is not known to linger in the air and is not transmitted during short periods of shared airspace” but through direct contact with an infected individual or materials that have touched body fluids or sores or through respiratory secretions during “close, face-to-face contact.” An infectious disease expert, Anne Rimoin, told Vox monkeypox is “not as highly transmissible as something like smallpox, or measles, or certainly not Covid.”
  • Two-thirds (66%) either are not sure or do not believe there is a vaccine for monkeypox. (The Food and Drug Administration has licensed a vaccine for preventing monkeypox infection, and a vaccine licensed for smallpox is also available to prevent monkeypox infection, according to the CDC.)

The Annenberg polling also surfaces a range of conspiracy theories that are keeping people confused.

50 days of falling gasoline prices

The Wall Street Journal notes that gasoline prices have fallen 50 days in a row. Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, says the price decline “has more room to run.”

Political ads flowing into streaming media

Before now you could mostly escape the noise of political seasons by watching streaming TV. No more. The newest report on political spending says a record amount of money is being spent on so called “connected TV” ads. Axios reports:

Nearly half (44%) of the roughly $700 million spent so far on digital political and issue ads in 2022 went to connected TVs, according to AdImpact. That’s a huge jump from 2020, when connected TV advertising barely made a dent in political ad spending.

To date, the biggest streaming platforms by share of political ad spend are Comcast’s XFINITY Streaming (15%), Vizio’s WatchFree+ (15%), Spectrum Streaming (14%) and DirecTV Streaming (13%).

Streaming devices and apps like Roku (6%), YouTube (5%) and Amazon Fire (3%) have commanded less political ad spend up until this point.

But make no mistake about it. Over-the-air TV still gets the lion’s share of political advertising.

Screenshot, Axios

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at atompkins@poynter.org or on Twitter, @atompkins.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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