August 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.

It is hard to make definitive statements about the long-term effects of the pandemic but it appears that the early indications that people may be leaving big cities and moving to the suburbs may have been overstated.

Yes, suburban homes are selling fast, but so are urban homes, and the trends are not much different than a year ago, according to a new study from Zillow.

Zillow found that online pageviews for all listings have not changed much in the past year, which may be an indication of what people are shopping for right now.

The notion a few months ago — especially in hot zones like New York City — was that people would move away from crowds and into single-family homes at an increased rate. While that may be happening in some places, it is mostly business as usual.

Zillow found:


· Pending sales trends are relatively even across urban classifications nationally, with some regional exceptions.
· Both urban homes and suburban homes are selling more quickly now than they were in February, and the percent change in time on market has been nearly equal for both classifications.
· The share of homes selling above their list price in suburban areas vs. urban areas exhibit the same trend nationally.
· Price cuts are now less common in both suburban and urban areas, with the suburbs seeing a slightly sharper reduction.


· Home value growth in urban ZIP codes and in suburban ZIP codes has accelerated at about the same pace since the pandemic started.


· Suburban home listings are not seeing any more attention on Zillow than they were last year, relative to urban or rural listings. Suburban homes made up 62.2% of all Zillow pageviews of for-sale listings in June 2020, down just slightly from 62.6% in June 2019. Urban and rural pageviews each climbed 0.2 percentage points from last year.


· A comparison of single-family homes and condos suggests there is no clear sign of a boom for the detached homes that are often synonymous with the suburbs.
· Single-family home values are growing slightly faster (up 4.4% YoY) than condo values (up 3.1% YoY).

Still, if the work-at-home movement and remote schooling last as long as it seems like they could, there might be less of a reason for people to live in cities, so suburban living may become more attractive.

Temperature checks are not reliable for screening COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci now says something I have also experienced: Temperature checks are notoriously unreliable when screening for COVID-19. Instead, he says, we should just ask questions about symptoms.

I have experienced this well-meaning but useless screening in the last few weeks. I was scheduled to donate blood and took a gulp of coffee just before walking into the donation bus. They stuck a thermometer in my mouth and, no surprise, it suggested I might have a fever. They rejected me right away.

The week before, my wife tried to get a checkup at the eye doctor and they used a thermal thermometer that showed she had a fever. They did mention that the device had been acting up, but they rejected and rescheduled her. What a hassle.

Researchers have found that different devices and where on the body you check a person’s temperature produce different results. For example, four emergency physicians co-wrote these guidelines for HealthWise:

· The average normal oral temperature is 98.6°F (37°C).
· A rectal temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature.
· An ear (tympanic) temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature.
· An armpit (axillary) temperature is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
· A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.

Infrared digital thermometers seem to be popular during COVID-19 since the user can just aim them at your forehead and not get too close to you. Restaurants, bars and doctors’ offices use them.

But let’s remember, those scanners really are measuring surface skin temperatures. Dr. Fauci said that he recently registered 103 degrees on one of those devices before he sat in the air conditioning and cooled off.

And still, this weekend, I was thermal-scanned twice as some sort of “safety measure” to enter a hospital to care for a friend.

Recently, NBC4 Los Angeles investigator Joel Grover put some infrared digital thermometers to the test and found a wide variance in measurements. Remember that two-thirds of people who test positive for COVID-19 have no fever.

The notion that “if they catch some of the cases it might be worth it” doesn’t hold true when a false fever reading causes a person to be turned away from an important appointment. It may also give us a false sense of security when a person passes the digital scanner screening and we feel we can let our guard down.

Get your flu vaccine

The pharmacy called our house at 11 a.m. yesterday to say they received their first shipment of flu vaccines. I got my shot an hour later. It cost me nothing.

Epidemiologists have stressed how important it is to get a flu shot/nasal spray this year. The “flu season” begins in October and peaks from December into February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, last year, the seasonal flu led to 26 million medical visits, 740,000 hospitalizations and 62,000 deaths.

The last thing we need is to add a flu epidemic on top of a COVID-19 pandemic. It takes about two weeks for a vaccination to begin to provide protection against the flu, so the CDC urges you to act before the end of October to maximize your protection. When you take it as early as I did, the CDC says you do have some added exposure later in the flu season early next year.

If you hate shots, the nasal spray works just as well. People over age 50 and pregnant women should not use the nasal spray. Initially, studies said the nasal spray worked better for young people, but later studies showed no real statistical difference.

Keep in mind the flu vaccine does not come with a money-back guarantee. Even when vaccines match up closely with the flu viruses that are circulating, the CDC says the “flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40% to 60%.” The CDC estimated the overall estimated effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines was only about 45%.

Every year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets to decide what strains of the flu virus are circulating and most likely to circulate. Based on that, the 2020-21 flu vaccines were licensed for release.

Not all flu shots are the same. The CDC explained the options:

· Standard dose flu shots.
· High-dose shots for people 65 years and older.
· Shots made with adjuvant for people 65 years and older.
· Shots made with virus grown in cell culture. No eggs are involved in the production of this vaccine.
· Shots made using a vaccine production technology (recombinant vaccine) that do not require having a candidate vaccine virus (CVV) sample to produce.
· Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV). – A vaccine made with attenuated (weakened) live virus that is given by nasal spray.

The CDC said, “Everyone 6 months and older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every season with rare exception. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has made this recommendation since the 2010-11 influenza season.

The CDC said women who are pregnant should get a flu vaccination: “Pregnant women should get a flu shot and not the nasal spray flu vaccine. Flu shots given during pregnancy help protect both the mother and her baby from flu.”

The CDC also offers advice on who should, who should not and who should talk to their doctor before getting a flu vaccine:

People who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot:

· Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
· People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients. See Special Considerations Regarding Egg Allergy for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccine.

People who should talk to their health care provider before getting a flu shot:

If you have one of the following conditions, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help decide whether vaccination is right for you, and select the best vaccine for your situation:

· If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your allergy. See Special Considerations Regarding Egg Allergy for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccine.
· If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
· If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

What happened to health care reform?

Perhaps with the Democratic National Convention, such as it is, happening this week, it is a good time to start focusing on specific election 2020 issues.

Kaiser Health News looked back at six years of President Donald Trump’s promises to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. He promised to repeal it in his first 100 days in office, he promised the GOP would become the “party of health care” and repeatedly has said his team is working on a great plan.

In April 2019, he tweeted:

In July, President Trump told Fox News that a “full and complete” health care plan would be forthcoming in “two weeks.” A couple of weeks ago, he said he would soon offer an executive order that would order insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions — which, of course, Obamacare already requires. Trump said his order would be a “double safety net.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration is backing a lawsuit in front of the Supreme Court that would do away with those very requirements in the Affordable Care Act.

Democrat Joe Biden said he backs a “public health care option like Medicare.” His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, attacked the Biden plan when she was running against him. As a presidential candidate, Harris proposed a “Medicare for all” plan that Biden called “malarky.” Harris proposed a 10-year transition which would move America’s health care system from a private insurance plan to a public plan.

President Trump is likely to make that stance a central target in the campaign. In fact, almost the instant she was named as Biden’s running mate, a Trump ad said she embraced “Bernie’s plan for socialized medicine.”

Biden is proposing to change the ACA by reducing the income limits that make it possible to buy into the public option. The Biden plan says, “This means that no family buying insurance on the individual marketplace, regardless of income, will have to spend more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance.”

Sports stadiums and arenas are offering space as voting sites

This is such a smart idea. Big stadiums and arenas are offering to open as voting sites. They have plenty of space to socially distance, they have lots of parking and everybody knows where they are. Axios reported:

More Than A Vote, the voting rights organization launched by LeBron James and other Black athletes like Patrick Mahomes and Sloane Stephens, has established a bipartisan arena voting advisory group.

The Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets are among the NBA teams that have already established such partnerships.

In a memo obtained by Axios, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell encouraged teams to “consider allowing their stadiums or indoor practice facilities to be used as election centers on Election Day.”

A handful of former secretaries of state from four states co-authored a column for Front Office Sports that explained the effort. It would be easy to imagine other large venues, from convention centers to hotel ballrooms, joining in.

Start educating voters now about how to vote by mail

As we get closer to the November election, you can count on a lot of disinformation that will confuse voters about how and when to vote. This fairly spectacular new website called takes readers state by state through deadlines and rules.

I would think that it would be a real public service for your station/paper/website/network to post a front-page display telling the public how to register and vote. Have a high-profile person from your newsroom do a short tutorial for social media posting.

As soon as possible, explain how mail-in votes are counted. When are they counted? There will be training sessions soon. Try to get in there and watch the process. What are the most common problems that get a ballot kicked out? How do they verify signatures? What is the process for challenging ballots? You will need to repeat versions of this story several times during this cycle so don’t tire of it.

The elixir for fake information about voting is better information.

Is there really an office desk shortage?

I am seeing stories popping up that say there is a desk shortage because people are working at home and students will be going to class at home.

WFAA in Dallas reported IKEA is pretty much sold out of desks. And the story says thrift stores are selling desks as fast as they get them.

KVOA-TV reported:

Tara Barrera told News 4 Tucson’s Allie Potter, the struggle is real.

“We checked Office Depot, Staples, Target, Walmart, At Home, Homegoods, Wayfair, Amazon. We went through everybody. To find a desk that is reasonably priced, not $300, $400, or $500 for the kids to use, you could not find one. Everything was sold out.”

Vigilant shoppers who don’t get stuck on one must-have model can still find low-price options by shopping online, but just as often I found messages like this at checkout:


You might turn to Pinterest for some innovative ideas. I liked these three:

One uses shelving brackets and builds a workspace in a corner of a room:

(From Pinterest)

This is a cool idea, like something I would have done in college. It is a wooden pallet atop a filing cabinet and a sawhorse.

(From Pinterest)

I had the idea that I could use a couple of sawhorses and 3/4 plywood, which I could sand and finish, to make a workspace. Instead, I found a beat-up table at a thrift shop for $15 that I sanded and refinished in a half hour. It is the desk that I am using at this very moment.

And this is a cool idea for a tight space: a Murphy desk, like a Murphy bed, that folds up when you are done with it.

(From Pinterest)

It would be fun to ask your readers/viewers/listeners to share their workplace innovations, especially whatever they cook up for students.

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 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,…
Al Tompkins

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