July 17, 2020

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.

The Center for Public Integrity published what it says is a “document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized” that “suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.”

The document, as an example, says every metro area in Florida should be pushing people to cut their travels outside the house to 25%, close bars and gyms and tell everybody to wear a mask in public. The White House has not taken anywhere near this strong a position, leaving the most difficult calls, instead, to state and local governments.

This report was not released or publicized by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The document lists 18 states that it calls “red zones” for new cases, which the report says call for much more restrictive prevention measures than are in place.

You can read the document, data and maps here. The document gives specific county and city-level recommendations.

The 18 states listed in the document as “red zone” states for new cases are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennesse, Texas and Utah.

The document also lists 11 states as “red zone” states for the percentage of tests that come back positive: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said it makes no sense that the White House would not release this data and update it daily. The maps and graphics are significantly more detailed than states are providing about trends, new cases and state-by-state recommendations.

The charts listing “red states” look like this:

(White House Coronavirus Task Force)

The recommendations are very specific. This is for the red metro areas of Florida, as an example:

(White House Coronavirus Task Force)

Use this document to ask local officials what they think of the recommendations that were made to the White House but never passed along.

The Center for Public Integrity says the document “… includes county-level data and reflects the insistence of the Trump administration that states and counties should take the lead in responding to the coronavirus. The document has been shared within the federal government but does not appear to be posted publicly.”

National Guards in 31 states could stay on COVID-19 duty, maybe past Christmas

Governors in 31 states and territories have asked for federal funds to keep National Guard troops on COVID-19 duty until at least late fall. Michigan wants Guard troops to be on COVID-19 duty until the end of the year.

The states and territories making the request include: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, the Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington state, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

The Trump administration suggested that governors consider using Guard members to help improve data collection on the pandemic. Since March, almost 30,000 troops have helped with COVID testing, worked in hospitals and distributed supplies. In Massachusetts and Washington, Guard members helped process backlogged unemployment claims.

The money comes through something called Title 32 orders, which expire Aug. 21.

Stars and Stripes reported:

As of mid-July, there are about 29,700 Guard troops deployed across the country for coronavirus relief, which started in early March in most states, according to the Defense Department. In early June, the Guard’s deployments for coronavirus missions and racial justice protests increased the number of troops on the ground to a peak of 75,000 soldiers and airmen. It marked the largest domestic use of the Guard in noncombat operations.

Governors can keep Guard troops deployed after the federal government pulls back financial support, but the states must pay for it. For troops, this could mean a reduction in pay, and it terminates soldiers’ or airmen’s eligibility for benefits such as health care and access to the GI Bill. Troops also cannot seek disability through the Department of Veterans Affairs if injured on state orders.

Military Times reported:

Troops who have been working on COVID-19 response are eligible for either the Humanitarian Service Medal or Armed Forces Service Medal, per a Tuesday memo from the Defense Department. The requirement is 30 days of activation in order to earn it, though that drops to one day if a member contracted coronavirus while serving.

Reading between the lines of what college football coaches are saying

Sharp-eyed Toby Howell at Morning Brew picked up two quotes that seem carefully worded to send a signal that the season is in peril:

Michigan: In a press release yesterday, the Big Ten powerhouse wrote, “if U-M is able to have a 2020 football season,” it would be played with a reduced capacity crowd or no fans at all.

Notre Dame: Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the WSJ that if the country doesn’t get a handle on the pandemic, “the only two options are no season or to explore the spring.”

Asking schools to do what the rest of us can’t: be open AND safe

It seems that we expect our schools to accomplish, in a few weeks, what the nation has not achieved in five months: to be both open and safe with no huge new expenses and equal productive output.

The Kaiser Family Foundation produced new data that shows why teachers have a reason to be concerned about more than just how they will teach. Kaiser said:

Our prior analysis shows one in four teachers are at-risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID19. So far, the effects of opening schools in other countries has been mixed.

We find that one in four teachers (24%, or about 1.47 million people), have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

The challenge for school systems and for teachers in particular is the sheer volume of traffic and tight quarters in many school environments, which may make social distancing a significant challenge in many settings. For higher-risk teachers, failure to achieve safe working conditions could have very serious results.

And, Kaiser said, about 3.3 million schoolchildren in the U.S. live in households with people who are over age 65. Older people of color are significantly more likely to live with a school-age child compared to their white counterparts.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Kaiser reported:

California, Texas, and Florida each have relatively large numbers of seniors who cohabitated with a school-age child (590, 321 and 279 thousand respectively) (Table 1). The highest share is in Hawaii, where 15% of seniors live with a school-age child, and 20% of school-age children lives with an adult age 65 or older.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Click on the map to go to the interactive graphic, which gives you state by state percentages of seniors living in the same households with school-aged children.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that almost a third of the children in Florida — 31% of those tested for COVID-19 — have turned up with positive results. While children tend not to show symptoms while infected, health officials are concerned that there could be delayed effects. There is also just an awful lot that we do not know about how often children infect adults.

Axios reported this:

A study in Germany found that infections in schools had not led to outbreaks in the community. But an analysis of a surge of cases in Israel found that nearly half the reported cases in June were traced back to illness in schools.

“We as teachers prepare for active shooters, tornadoes, fires and I’m fully prepared to take a bullet or shield a child from falling debris during a tornado. But if I somehow get it and I’m asymptomatic and I get a student sick and something happens to them or one of their family members, that’s a guilt I would carry with me forever.”

— Michelle Albright, a second-grade teacher from northwest Indiana

Tracking COVID-19 disparity

Poynter published a terrific column this week to help you track the toll of the coronavirus on people of color and poor populations in the U.S. Tim Nickens pointed to five places you can find deep and specific data for local stories. One example:

The COVID Racial Data Tracker. This is the closest to one-stop shopping. Launched in April by a partnership between the COVID Tracking Project and the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, this site is updated twice a week and includes both state and county information for virtually every state. It’s particularly helpful in showing by state where there are significant disparities between the portion of the population comprised of minority residents and the portion of virus cases and deaths those residents represent.

For example, in Alabama, Black residents are 27% of the population but account for 45% of the confirmed virus cases and 46% of the deaths. In Michigan, Black residents are 14% of the population but account for 34% of the cases and 41% of the deaths. In Iowa, Hispanic residents are 6% of the population but account for 26% of the cases.

Fake crowd sounds for MLB games

Thursday was packed with the strangest stories, like Russians hacking vaccine data, Ft. Lauderdale cops capturing a runaway kangaroo and Major League Baseball planning to pipe in fake crowd noises for games.

Take a listen:

Several teams are toying with the idea. The Tampa Bay Times reported:

The Rays also will play around with mixing in some music (to try to energize the players) and scoreboard effects (like the home run horn) at the Trop under Michael Weinman, the game presentation and production manager.

“We’ll have some music and some crowd noise that gives our guys … an opportunity to kind of tinker, make adjustments, thumbs up/thumbs down, different thoughts,” manager Kevin Cash said.

For journalists, this presents a bit of a problem in that we avoid adding sound effects to our stories. But what if somebody else adds them and we are just recording what happened at the event?

Will the teams also supply piped in “boos,” “the umpire needs glasses” and “hey batter batter batter, swing batter” taunts? Stay tuned.

People hated masks in 1918, too

Under the heading of “some things never change” is this story from J. Alexander Navarro, assistant director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, writing for Fast Company:

In mid-October of 1918, amidst a raging epidemic in the Northeast and rapidly growing outbreaks nationwide, the United States Public Health Service circulated leaflets recommending that all citizens wear a mask. The Red Cross took out newspaper ads encouraging their use and offered instructions on how to construct masks at home using gauze and cotton string. Some state health departments launched their own initiatives, most notably California, Utah, and Washington.

(U.S. National Library of Medicine)

You have to love this poster from the Red Cross that says, “The man woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker.”

(From the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine, University of Michigan Library)

One hundred and two years later, the advice from then sounds awfully familiar.

(U.S. National Library of Medicine)

(U.S. National Library of Medicine)

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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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