October 20, 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.

Well at least now it is official, we are tired of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the White House and Democrats in the House of Representatives are still talking about a stimulus bill and will talk some more on Tuesday. Wall Street appears to be tired of all this talk and lack of action and the Dow dropped 400 points on Monday.

As “tired” as you might be of the virus, CNBC analyzed data from Johns Hopkins University and found “Covid-19 cases were growing by 5% or more in 38 states as of Friday. Nationwide, the daily case average has risen by more than 16% on a week-over-week basis to nearly 55,000. New coronavirus infections in Europe are rising by about 97,000 per day, up 44% from the prior week.”

And though you may be “tired” of COVID-19, take a few minutes to read this story about how people are dying every night in Wisconsin hospitals, and how families cannot visit the bedsides of dying relatives so they say goodbye over FaceTime while nurses sit beside patients who are taking their final breaths. One nurse said, “N95 masks do not absorb tears when you are at a bedside.”

Canada keeps its border closed again

The Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, in Blaine, Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the border with the U.S. will stay closed until at least Nov. 21 because of the nonstop rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The closure, which began in March, was set to expire on Wednesday.

More than a month ago, President Trump said Canada wanted to reopen the border, but the Canadians have a different version of the story. The CBC reported:

“With the Trudeau government saying, ‘No, don’t open’ … and President Trump saying, ‘Oh, I think we’ll reopen sometime soon,’ that’s no grounds for a serious government-to-government negotiation,” said (Edward) Alden, a professor of U.S.-Canada economic relations at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.

Even though many Canadians support the border closure, which took effect in late March, it has devastated the tourism industry, separated loved ones and hurt border communities in both Canada and the U.S.

According to Reuters — which spoke with well-placed Washington and Ottawa sources last month — the U.S. had floated the idea of relaxing some border restrictions, but Canadian officials showed little enthusiasm.

As the CBC reports, the two countries have very different regulations about allowing people to cross the border:

Although the U.S. agreed to close its shared land border with Canada, it still allows Canadians to fly to the country for leisure travel. The U.S. government declined to explain why it made this decision.  Conversely, Canada won’t allow Americans to enter for non-essential travel by any mode of transport unless they get a special exemption.

What happens to the snowbirds?

Usually, right about now, we here in Florida — plus Arizona, Texas and so on — start seeing Canadian “snowbirds” coming back for the winter. But it is uncertain if they will be coming South this year.

For one thing, while it is possible to fly into the U.S. from Canada, the border is not open to Canadians who want to drive to the U.S. for recreational purposes.

Some counties see a 10% to 15% increase in their populations when snowbirds come down for the warmth. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune talked with some Canadians who were rethinking their trip:

But this year, there will be no beaches, no pool time, no socializing with fellow snowbird friends and definitely no pickleball. The possibility of contracting COVID-19 is enough to keep the Followses in Canada, even if it means enduring a cold, hard winter.

“It’s going to be a real change. We haven’t experienced winter in six years,” Scott Follows said by phone from Nova Scotia. “I’m going to stay and freeze and look at the snow, and I’m not happy about it, but the last couple of weeks, we have resolved ourselves to it.”

CBC reported:

The executive director of a not-for-profit advocacy group representing some 115,000 Canadian snowbirds agrees there’s a lot of tension politically.

“But I think a lot of people are … hopeful that a lot of that’s going to calm down,” the Canadian Snowbird Association’s Michael MacKenzie says.

“So I have not detected any panic from snowbirds at this point. I think they’re definitely concerned, and COVID-19 is their biggest concern. And … that’s probably a reason why most of them would be nervous about traveling right now.”

AARP says the pandemic has a lot of snowbird seniors concerned about traveling this season.

Virus found on frozen food packaging

I would not overreact to this one but it is creating a good bit of online chatter. The Guardian reports:

Chinese health authorities investigating a recent Covid-19 outbreak say they have discovered live coronavirus on frozen food packaging, a finding that suggests the virus can survive in cold supply chains. “It has been confirmed that contact with outer packaging contaminated by the new coronavirus can cause infection,” the agency said in a statement on its website, without specifying where the batch of frozen food came from.

Step back a bit and let’s remember that until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told us that said there has been no evidence that “handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.” The CDC says, “It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The main way, just for the record, is person to person.

If this story spreads, it may become necessary for you to repeat the warnings that people should not wash their produce in disinfectants, bleach or ammonia. We have already been through this cycle once and it was ugly. In the first quarter of 2020, there was a 20.4% increase in calls about exposure to cleaners, and a 16.4% increase in calls about exposure to disinfectants, according to the National Poison Data System.

New 2020 word: ‘covidpreneurs’

New business applications are through the roof. The Census Bureau says in the third quarter of 2020, entrepreneurs filed 1.5 million applications for Employer Identification Numbers, a 77.4% increase from the second quarter. One theory is that a lot of these may be people who lost their jobs or risk losing their jobs and so are launching their big idea.

(U.S. Census Bureau)

Filing for a new EIN does not equal actual new businesses. It just means that somebody is thinking seriously enough about starting a business that they started the paperwork, maybe while interest rates are low or while there are a lot of great employees available. As bestselling author and entrepreneur Matshona Dhliwayo says, “When life hands you dirt, plant seeds.”

The New York Times points out:

Past downturns produced some high-profile American companies: Airbnb, Disney, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Slack, Uber and Venmo, to name a few.

“Downturns or challenging times are seen as good times to start a business for two reasons,” said Rashmi Menon, entrepreneur in residence at the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. “One is, there is less competition for resources. The second reason is that whatever changes we face, positive or negative, bring up new customer needs. And customer needs are at the core of any business.”

The fact that we are in a disruption right now makes it easier for business startups to launch with fewer expectations for them to have in-person meetings or office spaces that are open to the public. Potential customers and clients are much more open to meeting and purchasing virtually and upstarts working out of their homes look just like their big-ticket rivals.

And one more thing; Susie Moore — author, business coach, and creator of Side Hustle Made Simple — says the No. 1 reason people give for not starting a new business they have in mind is that they think they “do not have the time.” But the pandemic has changed the way we spend our time — and may be just what dreamers need to get moving.

Working from home cuts fuel tax/tolls

Toll signage is shown as motorists travel along the New Jersey Turnpike in Carneys Point, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

I noticed that I spend a lot less on gas these days. Upwork found that Americans collectively save $758 million in commuting costs every day while we work from home. When we drive less, we buy less gasoline, which means a big drop in state and federal fuel taxes, which pay for bridge and road repairs. We pay less in tolls, which maintain parkways and toll roads.

Early in the pandemic, toll income was down up to 60%. It is time to check back. The Tax Foundation explains how the decline in gas tax income affects different states in different ways:

Declines in receipts will not affect all states similarly, as the amount of state and local road spending covered by gas taxes, tolls, user fees, and user taxes varies widely. It ranges from only 6.9 percent in Alaska to 71 percent in Hawaii. In the contiguous 48 states, North Carolina relies the most on dedicated transportation revenues (63.6 percent), while North Dakota relies on them the least (17.5 percent).

What are you doing with what used to be ‘commute time?’

Before the pandemic, our trips to work were getting longer every year. The Census Bureau said the average U.S. commute had grown to just under a half hour each way, meaning we were spending 225 hours a year, right at nine full days, driving to and from work/school/whatever.

Back in March I had big plans for what I would do with all of the time I was not traveling. I haven’t done any of what I planned yet. You?

You really are going to have to PLAN this Thanksgiving

StatNews suggests you consider a range of questions for the holidays now.

The most stress-filled travel holiday of the year has taken on whole new dimensions with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • How do you safely get from point A to point B?
  • Does the state you’re traveling to require you to quarantine for two weeks on arrival?
  • Does your home state expect you to quarantine for two weeks on your return? How many generations of family can one safely invite?
  • And what to do about Uncle Frank, who dismisses the disease as a “scamdemic” and won’t wear a mask?

The last question drew no hesitation from the multiple public health experts STAT interviewed for this article. If you are going to get together with family or friends for Thanksgiving in the time of Covid-19, they said, the gathering should be small and made up only of people who share your philosophy about taking precautions to avoid contracting the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2.

Thanksgiving gatherings almost certainly will set up a new round of infections that will show up in mid-December. StatNews continues:

If cases surge to new heights after Thanksgiving, that may put Christmas and other December holiday gatherings in peril, said Syra Madad, senior director of the system-wide special pathogens program for NYC Health + Hospitals. Madad urges people to plan “one holiday at a time.”

“We know obviously with Covid-19, you have that incubation period. You have a lag of a certain duration until you actually start seeing an uptick in cases and then resulting in hospitalizations and even deaths,” she said. “So, I think Thanksgiving is going to certainly set us up for what we’re going to face during Christmas.”

The crane game is virtually unwinnable

(Shutterstock)

Again, this is one of those things that you may have known. I didn’t.

A man in Japan played one of those crane games trying to snag a prize. He played it 300 times and it was not until cops came to investigate and a storekeeper moved the prizes that the man won something.

An investigation into how claw games work reveals that the games are programmed so the claw is only at full strength after a number of tries.  Back in 2015, an amusement machine nonprofit group suggested that game owners agree not to rig machines.

Toobin’s Zoom oops

By now you probably have heard that CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin is off the air for a while after he exposed himself on a Zoom call. He says he thought he was off-camera.

He joins a long list of people, from a Mexican senator who accidentally appeared topless for a hearing to a U.S. senator who swore up a blue streak when he thought he was off-camera.

It might be a good idea to get one of those little sliders that cover your camera.

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

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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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