July 31, 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 coronavirus recession is really bad news for boomers

Workers over age 50 suffer more in recessions, financial writer Brent Arends wrote for MarketWatch.

New research from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that, yes, age discrimination rises hand in hand with the unemployment rate. Older workers tend to be the last hired back and the first fired. And while the unemployment rate has been dropping back down for the last two months, after the initial COVID shock, you’re a fool if you think it’s over. …

Economists Gordon Dalh of the University of California, San Diego, and Matthew Knepper of the University of Georgia ran the numbers on age-discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and compared them with the unemployment rates in the relevant industry and U.S. state at the time.

“For each 1 percentage point increase in a state-industry’s monthly unemployment rate, the volume of age discrimination firing and hiring charges increases by 4.8% and 3.4%, respectively,” they found.

A reminder that the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids discrimination on the basis of age for employees over age 40.

Some economists are sounding the alarm that if boomers do not come back to work, and instead choose this disruption as a reason to take retirement, it will be more difficult for the economy to rebound because there will be a shortage of workers.

What we can learn about ourselves from Kellogg’s Q2 earnings report

It is earnings report season for publicly traded companies and one of the more interesting reports yesterday was from Kellogg. In the second quarter, which falls during the ramp-up of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders, Eggo waffle sales were up 26% and cereal sales were up 16%. The results are not surprising to me, as I can confirm that Raisin Bran consumption rose in the second quarter in my household.

Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google blew away 2Q estimates

After-hours earnings reports Thursday gave us other glimpses of how people are shopping. Amazon smashed all estimates with $89 billion in second-quarter revenue. The company said it will spend at least $2 billion in the third quarter on coronavirus prevention.

Apple stock soared on its earnings report, meaning its stock is up 30% just this year. The company said it has $193 billion in cash on hand that will see it through whatever rough COVID-19 waters are ahead. That is one of the largest cash-on-hand totals for any publicly traded company in the U.S. Second-quarter sales were up 11% even while many of its retail stores were closed. The other big news is that the company announced it plans to give investors three additional shares per share at the end of August as part of a 4-1 stock split.

Facebook said it had 11% revenue growth in the second quarter, even during the pandemic.

Google (under parent company Alphabet) reported its first-ever quarterly decline.

On the other hand, MGM Resorts said its revenue is down a stunning 92% as Las Vegas casinos struggle.

This is a good time for you to pay especially close attention to these earnings reports involving any companies in your town that are big employers and significant corporate citizens. Cash-on-hand can signal how well the companies will endure a sudden downturn. Stock buybacks are a way for declining companies to put on a brave face and bolster stock prices. And, sometimes, the market guidance gives us a peek at third-quarter plans that can include canceled orders, layoffs and furloughs.

98 COVID-19 symptoms?

This is not a simple virus. There is a phrase for COVID-19 patients who experience symptoms for months after they first test positive: “long-haulers.” In a new survey, these long-haulers reported a range of symptoms that they have experienced since first getting sick.

The Indiana School of Medicine study found patients reported 98 different symptoms. They include dizziness, anxiety, headache, rashes, joint pain, shortness of breath, heartburn, diarrhea, fevers, difficulty with memory, trouble thinking, interrupted sleep and vision problems.

(Indiana University School of Medicine)

Even with campuses closed, schools are charging activity fees

Some schools with closed campuses are still charging campus activity fees. This won’t go over well.

The schools are in a bind. Fees, all kinds of fees, pay for athletic programs, cool student activity buildings and more.  But what if the school is all or even partly virtual? The Chronicle of Higher Education explained:

Late last week, students at Towson University circulated a petition calling for it to drop its $499 athletics fee after it suspended fall sports. So far, more than 4,300 people have signed, but the university has declined to refund the charge.

“TU remains committed to providing support for all student-athletes, teams, and coaches as part of our charge as a nationally ranked, Division I university,” Sean Welsh, interim vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email. “As such, athletics fees will remain in place this semester to help honor that commitment.”

The University of New England, a private institution in Maine, charges students a general-services fee that covers athletics-event attendance, library fees, graduation costs, and other charges. The university’s athletics conference, the Commonwealth Coast Conference, has suspended its fall sports season, but the institution, which plans to offer an in-person semester, will still charge the same amount — $1,360 — as in previous years.

Not every school is going to charge activity fees when there are no activities. And, where the fees remain, students are starting to circulate petitions to repeal them.

Towns with closed colleges struggle to pay the bills

Some small towns are missing big populations with college campuses closed. Governing, which monitors local governments, noted:

All cities are having budget problems, but college towns are confronting a unique set of challenges. In many cases, half or two-thirds of their population abruptly packed up and left, months ahead of their usual summer migration. “When the students went away for spring break, we waved goodbye but expected them to come back,” says Mayor Leeman Kessler of Gambier, Ohio, home of Kenyon College.

For the cities themselves, sales tax revenues are down, utility fees have dropped and transit ridership has plummeted. “The city has already experienced a 30% reduction in revenue from our largest utility customer, which is the university,” says Greg McDanel, city manager of Maryville, Missouri, home of Northwest Missouri State University.

Everyone is hoping that the fall semester will turn out better than the spring — that campuses will at least be able to stay open, even if they’re emptier and less lively. But if you’re running a college town, you’ve got a lot to worry about. “We’re not going to come out of this to any level of recovery in college towns for two to three years,” says Mayor Steve Patterson of Athens, which is home to Ohio University.

Colleges still do not have solid fall enrollment figures

We may not know until the very last moment how many college students will sit out the fall semester during the pandemic. Survey upon survey has not made the picture clearer.

Colleges worry that students, particularly incoming freshmen, will take a “gap year” and sit out a semester or two. But this would be unlike other gap years, when a portion of freshmen travels to see the world, for example. The Chronicle of Higher Education is monitoring some sources for clues:

In Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College survey, only 2% of undergraduates and their families reported they planned to take a year off.

Meanwhile, an Art & Science Group poll of college-bound high-school seniors showed that 17% doubted they will be pursuing their plan to attend a four-year institution in the fall. Of those students, 35% said they decided to take a gap year instead.

COVID-19 ICU doctors try to humanize patients

MedPage told the story of how physicians at Johns Hopkins are trying to get to know their intensive care unit patients beyond the vital signs on a monitor. One doctor said that after treating a patient for days he knew nothing about that patient as a person.

Not only are there no visiting family members to give you information, “but the patients are all similar in terms of their medical issues, they’re all on a breathing machine, and many are lying on their bellies,” explained Brian Garibaldi, MD, associate professor of medicine and anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine and director of the isolation unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, in a phone interview. “You might go for days without examining the front side of their body, so we’re not seeing their face. That makes establishing connections with patients a little more difficult.”

One day Garibaldi was talking to Elizabeth Tracey, a chaplain at the hospital who also is director of audio production at Johns Hopkins Medicine — someone very familiar with audio recordings. She had an idea: how about if she interviewed patients’ family members and made a recording of what they say? “I could edit it down to a few things families really want their doctors to know about their loved one,” she said. Garibaldi was immediately on board.

The recordings included questions like:

  • What would they prefer to be called by if I met them in the grocery store? What hobbies do they like?
  • What favorite music can we program on an iPad to keep them awake and stimulated during the day?
  • Also, learning things like what that person has accomplished in their personal and professional life; it really puts things in perspective, to put their current illness in the context of where they’ve been, where they are, and where they might want to be going.

This story really touches me. It reminds me of the power of every person’s story. It makes me think how important it was for caregivers to know how important beautiful music was to my mother and that her knowledge of movies from the 1930s to ’50s was encyclopedic. She also hated being called “honey” and “sweetie.”

I bet working in a pandemic really does frustrate compassionate caregivers who might find themselves in health care assembly lines at the moment.

Boat sales are way up

In addition to plastic pools and recreational vehicles, boats are selling well during the summer of COVID.

From California to Florida, boat retailers say their showrooms are fairly empty these days. KGO in San Francisco reported:

It is a matter of supply and demand, with COVID-19, a double whammy. First, the boat factories closed due to the pandemic. Now, there is a crush to buy them to escape from it. Jason McCoy, for example, bought one of the last pontoon boats three months ago. He and his family canceled their other vacation plans and have taken that boat out on the delta almost every week. Jason has no buyer’s remorse or COVID-19.

“It’s just me and my family out there. We go out and have a good time. You don’t have to worry about being around people.”

The Hartford (CT) Courant said everything from canoes to yachts are selling well:

Nationally, personal watercraft sales in May were up 75% compared with May 2019, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Outboard engine sales rose 7% year over year, an indicator of rising sales of smaller boats.

Annual sales of boats, marine products and services were estimated at $42 billion in 2019, according to the industry association.

You can get state-by-state boating economics info here.

We’ll be back Monday 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 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,…
Al Tompkins

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