As coronavirus cases spike in the military, the Department of Defense will stop releasing case numbers by installation

Plus, coronavirus home deaths may not be included in statistics, grocery store workers are dying, and weed sales are way up (but down in some states).

April 8, 2020

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing about journalism and coronavirus, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

First off, let me wish a blessed Passover to our Jewish friends. May you have a meaningful Seder this evening. ‘Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach.

COVID-19 has hit the military

So many of your news markets include big military bases, forts, depots and ports.

And now, the Department of Defense said, for security reasons, it has stopped releasing the number of COVID-19 cases by installation. In the future, the department will only release aggregate numbers.

The mayor of San Antonio, Texas, whose community is home to four military installations, said the public has a right to know where the cases are detected.

For a while, The Department of Defense posted daily updates of what it said were confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the military community. Last weekend, the number of cases spiked nearly 50%, according to the Military Times. The Times quoted a Pentagon spokesman who said when it comes to the defense of the country, staying at home isn’t an option:

“[There] seems to be this belief that the best way for the Department of Defense to defeat COVID-19 is for us to stand down and stop operations around the world,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Friday, in the face of some criticism that the Pentagon wasn’t doing enough to stem the spread of coronavirus. “One, that’s not going to happen. Two, we don’t believe that’s necessary.”

The Army said it will not accept new recruits into basic training for at least two weeks because of COVID-19. Military.com added some context to that statement:

Currently, there are about 54,000 trainees undergoing (basic combat training) and advanced individual training at the Army’s initial-entry training centers at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Marines halted training at Parris Island, as well, after 20 people there tested positive for the coronavirus. Once Parris Island resumes training, recruits will spend two weeks in a staging area where they will be monitored before they begin training.

Newsweek reported that over the weekend the Department of Defense told military personnel to wear face masks. The Pentagon said members of the military should make their own masks:

As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area. … Medical personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks will not be issued for this purpose as these will be reserved for appropriate personnel.

If you die of COVID-19 at home, you may not get counted

In New York City, about 200 people per day are dying at home, according to The Gothamist, which talked with the medical examiner’s office. (About 20 at-home deaths per day is normal in the city.) Examiners are not testing bodies for COVID-19, so the deceased may be marked as “probable” but not included in the count.

What is your medical examiner doing to be sure COVID-19 death figures are as close to accurate as they can be?

Grocery store workers are dying

I am saddened and not surprised to see that grocery store workers are dying from COVID-19. Grocery store workforce experts said soon it will be a tough sell to get workers to show up and it will be even harder to find people willing to fill jobs. The Washington Post reported:

Industry experts say the rise of worker infections and deaths will likely have a ripple effect on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers at a time when they’re looking to rapidly hire thousands of temporary employees. Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, is hiring 150,000 workers, while Kroger is adding more than 10,000. Many are offering an extra $2 an hour and promising masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. But finding people willing to work on the front lines for little more than the minimum wage could be an increasingly tough sell, according to supermarket analyst Phil Lempert.

Directional shopping is like one-way streets

My award for a no-cost, terrific, overdue innovation goes to supermarket chain Kroger, which is starting “directional shopping.” It will make all aisles one-way so you won’t pass somebody pushing a cart too close in the other direction.

One-way aisles should last even after the 6-foot distancing rule is over. We will all have to map our grocery trips like a battle plan.

Now, where are the canned pineapples? I can’t ever find them. I see myself circling the store on one-way aisles like getting stuck on DuPont Circle in D.C.

Weed sales are way up — but not everywhere

Maybe this was inevitable. Legal marijuana sales in some places are up, way up. One of the biggest U.S. cannabis companies said its sales are up about 20-25% since the coronavirus began spreading in America. CNBC reported:

Average store revenue is up 52% to 130% compared with January at more than 1,300 stores using cannabis e-commerce platform Jane Technologies.

Jane also reports the number of new users ordering online has increased 142% over the last month.

Beverages and edibles are seeing significant sales lifts in California, according to cannabis analytics firm Headset.

Wholesale marketplace LeafLink reported a 48% spike in orders Monday versus a week ago.

“Cannabis demand has surged in Florida,” writes MKM Partners Research, which says operators saw an average jump in THC product of 36% for the week ending March 19.

But some places, like Las Vegas, where marijuana stores depend on tourists as customers, pot sales have dropped by a lot.

Marijuana Business Daily said while recreational marijuana sales spiked in California in recent weeks, sales at retailers in Washington state and Colorado have actually dropped compared to a year ago.

Marijuana Business Daily reported:

The slump has been particularly pronounced in Colorado. Sales (Friday, March 27 to Sunday, March 29) were down 47% compared to the same weekend in 2019.

Lisa Gee, director of marketing and corporate social responsibility for Denver-based Lightshade, said several factors are behind Colorado’s slump in marijuana sales, including the fact that tourists who typically flock to the state for spring break didn’t show up because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The entire tourism industry shut down,” she said. “The ski areas officially closed three weeks ago. This would have been spring break, so you’re removing an entire sector.”

She added that many Denver cannabis consumers briefly stocked up when Mayor Michael Hancock issued a stay-at-home order for the city on March 23 and deemed recreational marijuana businesses nonessential — a decision he reversed a couple of hours later after panicked customers lined up outside cannabis shops.

In Ontario, Canada, the government determined private-sector marijuana stores must close because they are “nonessential.” At least a dozen states have closed recreational marijuana sales but allowed medical marijuana sales to keep going.

The New York Times quoted Liz Connors, director of analytics at Headset, a cannabis market research company:

“It shows that a lot of people think cannabis is just another consumer good, like beer or wine,” said Ms. Connors, who noted that edible products may have been the most popular because customers were taking precautions to avoid infection. “It’s probably the easiest way to get high without touching your face very much,” she said.

The ‘quarantine 15’

Maybe this is linked in some way to higher marijuana sales, but I sure am seeing a lot more pictures online of the desserts and elaborate meals you are preparing.

Here is a calculator to help you add up what you are eating and what it may add to your weight. Google also has a calorie calculator.

There are real reasons you eat more junk food when you are stressed. Psychology Today explained:

Wonder, then, why we crave pizza, potato chips, and chocolate during the coronavirus quarantine? When we’re worried or frightened, we’re more likely to seek out sugars, fats, and carbs for a quick energy boost. These comfort foods act like a natural tranquilizer that calms us down in times of peril.

But what feels like a satisfying solution in the short term grows into a bigger problem in the long run. Comfort eating traps us in a hard-to-break eating cycle that adds to stress levels, resulting in serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, as well as emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety.

During stress, the brain acts as an internal slingshot, pumping a cocktail of stress hormones into our bloodstream. We stew in its cortisol and adrenaline juices. And glucose — natural body sugars that are released from the liver and muscles — spikes to give us energy, readying us for action.

Your dog may be getting fat, too

My dog is getting a lot more love these days, and some extra treats. The New York Post talked with a veterinarian:

“One of my concerns is that you might end up overfeeding your pet in these times,” cautions Dr. Chad Dodd, a veterinarian in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In addition to directly giving animals too much food, some owners may accidentally overfeed their animals by spoiling them with treat-giving playthings.

“Some owners have indulged their pets with toys that involve food like puzzle feeders,” Dodd (said).

The way we work now

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