November 19, 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.

This is not happening enough to call it a trend, but it is happening enough to require your attention. At least seven nursing strikes have occurred across the country since the pandemic began spreading in the U.S.

They are symptoms of the stress that nurses feel from understaffing and brutally long hours. They are demanding better pay and safer staffing levels.

In Kansas City this week, nurses protested for personal protective equipment and said staffing is stretched too thin. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., school nurses are demanding to be included in discussions about public school safety.

US Nursing, a company that finds nurses to fill in during strikes, lists other potential and recent strikes. Health Source Global, another company that recruits nurses to fill in during strikes, is recruiting for two possible strikes in California.

The New York State Nursing Association lays out the main issues that lead to nurse strikes.

While the data is a bit old, there is research that shows even short nursing strikes are linked to higher mortality rates and lower quality patient care.

Where cities recruit ICU nurses

NurseFly has more than 11,000 open jobs for intensive care unit nurses who are willing to travel and help out during the pandemic. And the hospitals are doling out premium pay.


Travel nurses often spend months on the road, moving from city to city. Here are a couple of profile pieces, one from CNBC and one from ABC’s “Nightline.” The work these medical professionals are doing looks like a cross between military duty and missionary work.

COVID-19 in a few charts

The data in the charts below is produced by the White House coronavirus task force and released to the states. For reasons that only God knows, the White House does not release this data publicly, and only some states choose to make it available. I mean, it is only a pandemic, and you are the ones who need the data the most.

But thanks to the tireless work of Liz Whyte at the Center for Public Integrity, we have deep, detailed reports for 15 states (Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin). The state-level reports describe everything from personal protective equipment supply levels to hospital admission figures and include specific recommendations for what the task force says states should be doing. You will find that often, the states are not doing what the task force suggests.

Look at these charts, which cover the last six months:

(White House coronavirus task force)

(White House coronavirus task force)

Whyte tells me that the Biden team is promising a national COVID-19 data dashboard that will be open to everyone.

Even with a vaccine, you will need masks

In this Nov. 13, 2020, file photo, a “Face masks required” sign is displayed at a shopping center in Schaumburg, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

You may be wondering if a new coronavirus vaccine will mean that soon you will not have to social distance or wear a mask. The answer, Dr. Anthony Fauci says, is that you will still need to wear a mask, even if you get vaccinated. There are a few reasons:

  • A vaccine with 90% efficacy means that 10% of the people who get it will not get the benefits that would prevent infection or at least limit illness.
  • The first vaccines that will be available in the U.S. are likely to be two-dose vaccines, meaning it will be at least a month after you get the drug before you build your immunity enough to be confident that the virus won’t make you sick.
  • In the best-case scenario, it will be late summer or early fall 2021 before most of the public is vaccinated. That is if people do not hesitate to get vaccinated, if the vaccines get approval soon, if state and local governments can organize distribution, if the drugs work as they are supposed to and if the drug companies can manufacture the drugs at the speed everybody hopes they can.

People are increasing their life insurance coverage

The pandemic may be making all of us feel a bit more mortal these days. Fox Business reports that a third of us are increasing our life insurance coverage:

According to new research from employee benefits provider Unum, more than 1 in 3 workers (36%) are planning to enroll in different benefits this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, 27% of workers plan to enroll for the first time or increase their coverage in life insurance, 14% for hospital insurance, and 12% for short- and long-term disability insurance.

La-Z-Boys are selling like crazy

Ben Salgado sits in a recliner as he watches Easter mass online with his family, Sunday, April 12, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

La-Z-Boy reclining chairs are selling like crazy during the pandemic. The company reported third-quarter earnings yesterday and said “orders are fueling an unprecedented backlog as consumers continue to allocate more discretionary spending to home furnishings.”

Lots of people are replacing bedding

The pandemic that is keeping us home is also driving mattress sales. In some cases, manufacturers are seeing a 30% year-over-year increase in sales.

USA Today reports:

Immersed in a work-from-home revolution, Americans are working from their beds, watching movies in the sack, spending more time at home and, consequently, deciding to upgrade their sleep setup.

The upshot is that after years of turmoil caused by bankruptcies, store closures and intense competition, the mattress industry is suddenly flourishing during a pandemic that has reoriented people’s budgets.

“It is a great time to be in the mattress business,” said Philip Krim, CEO of mattress brand Casper.

In addition to mattresses, related products such as adjustable bases and accessories like back-supporting pillows are hot sellers.

Measles spread as vaccinations decline

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization keep pushing us to pay attention to the declining rates of routine vaccinations against viruses that can be controlled, like measles — which by the way, is more contagious than the coronavirus. And yet, a new report from the CDC says while measles cases went down globally from 2000 to 2016, starting in 2017, that progress reversed and cases are up. Get this line from the report:

Compared with the historic low in reported cases in 2016, reported measles cases increased 556% in 2019, with increases in numbers of reported cases and incidence in all WHO regions. Estimated global measles mortality increased nearly 50% since 2016.

The New York Times reports:

No measles deaths were reported in the United States, but measles cases in the country hit a record annual high of 1,282 across 31 states, the most since 1992, according to figures updated earlier this month. As recently as 2012, the U.S. case number was 55.

Bitcoin prices rise to a near-record

A Bitcoin ATM (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Bitcoin prices have risen to $18,000, a level not seen in more than three years. The last time prices went this high, they fell to $3,200.

Ars Technica explains:

Bitcoin’s rising price has been driven by increasing interest from a number of large investment firms and financial service providers. An investment firm called MicroStrategy has poured $425 million into bitcoin in recent months. Square announced a $50 million bitcoin investment last month.

PayPal announced support for bitcoin in October and opened the service to the general public last week. Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego recently revealed that he has 10 percent of his liquid portfolio invested in the cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency fans make all kinds of predictions about the future value of Bitcoins. And there are plenty of people who say the past predicts the future and Bitcoin values will dive again.

Earlier this week, CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” reported that the pandemic has resulted in a lot of Americans entering the stock market in numbers that might surprise you. Stock brokerages have seen millions of new accounts in 2020. For example, Fidelity added 3.8 million new accounts, Charles Schwab added 3.1 million, Robinhood added 3 million new accounts and TD Ameritrade reported 1.6 million new stock accounts this year.

The times in which we live

How’s this for a headline:



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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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