June 17, 2020

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

We have to think longer-term

Back in March, June seemed so far away that, I thought, certainly by then I will be traveling and teaching workshops on the road again.

I soon began hearing from journalists in Washington state — where the virus swept through nursing homes — about how they were going to start thinking of their response to this pandemic as a “yearlong story.” And now, we realize, that may be optimistic.

Morning Consult, an expert in brands and business trends, has been tracking how comfortable we are doing a range of activities. We are loosening up about eating at restaurants, but not going to concerts.

(Graphic and poll via Morning Consult)

When Morning Consult asked respondents for predictions on when they would feel more comfortable, things got interesting:

(Graphic and poll via Morning Consult)

A third of regular folks said it would be more than six months before they thought they would be comfortable going on vacation. Traveling abroad and going to amusement parks seem a long way off too.

But what do the experts say?

The New York Times recently quizzed 511 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists about “when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect.” This is one of those stories that I read, bookmarked and read again. It makes me think about how I would answer their questions, and I can imagine you asking your viewers/listeners/readers similar ones.

The responses were given the week before the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests involving tens of thousands of people.

Here are various activities and the percentages of health experts who thought they might be doable this year.

(Graphic and poll via New York Times)

Despite the fact that airline traffic is picking up a little and restaurants are opening up a little, these experts in public health said they think it will be a while before you will see them out there. Maybe it is fair to think that a health expert would be more cautious than the rest of us, given what they know and see every day. I imagine that our ignorance about viruses makes us more careless than we should be.

But look at this list. Even when you stretch the timeline out a year from now, a lot of the health experts said these are a solid “no.”

(Graphic and poll via New York Times)

Nearly half of these experts said they expect it would take a year, June 2021, before they would attend a wedding or a funeral, hug or even shake hands with a friend or go out with someone they don’t know well. And 6% of them said they might not ever hug or shake hands with a friend again.

Half of the respondents said we will still be wearing face masks a year from now and more than six in 10 said it would be a year before they would go to a play or a sporting event. A year.

Or should we focus on the number who said that maybe by the end of the summer they see themselves giving a friend a hug?

The thing about a pandemic is that if we loosen up too fast, we will pay a penalty. And if we are too timid, there is a penalty for that, too, in human separation, in economic loss and opportunities missed.

The Times’ article on the epidemiologists’ poll included these verbatim quotes:

(Screenshot, The New York Times)

Airlines are suspending alcohol on flights

For lots of people this will be just one more reason not to fly.

CNN reported:

Airlines including Easyjet and KLM in Europe, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines in the United States, and Asia’s Virgin Australia, are suspending all or part of their alcoholic drinks service in response to COVID-19.

It’s part of a widespread revision of the industry’s food and drink service to minimize interaction between crew and passengers and to ensure a safer journey for all.

With face masks already mandatory on pretty much all flights around the world, and new legislation introduced in January 2020 to curb anti-social behavior on flights, it’s another in a line of barriers — literal and legal — to getting high in the sky.

Half of U.S. nursing homes are still uninspected

Politico reported:

Thousands of nursing homes across the country have not been checked to see if staff are following proper procedures to prevent coronavirus transmission, a form of community spread that is responsible for more than a quarter of the nation’s COVID-19 fatalities.

Only a little more than half of the nation’s nursing homes had received inspections, according to data released earlier this month, which prompted a fresh mandate from Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma that states complete the checks by July 31 or risk losing federal recovery funds.

And in some places, where the state did make inspections it did so “remotely.” The Politico story continued:

In some hard-hit states, inspectors conducted remote surveys rather than going into nursing homes, a process that involved speaking to staff by phone and reviewing records. In Pennsylvania, for example, inspectors conducted interviews and reviewed documents for 657 facilities from March 13 to May 15 — most of which was done remotely.

New data on COVID-19 demographics

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report just posted a big data collection detailing what we know about who was hospitalized because of COVID-19 in the U.S.

To me, the most striking stat is that more than half of those hospitalized so far are Hispanic or Black. Together, those groups make up about 30% of the U.S. population.

Men and women were hospitalized about equally.

Among the 599,636 (45%) cases with known information:

  • 33% of persons were Hispanic or Latino of any race
  • 22% were non-Hispanic Black
  • 1.3% were non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native

About one in five cases involved patients who had underlying health conditions.

The most common were:

  • cardiovascular disease (32%)
  • diabetes (30%)
  • chronic lung disease (18%)

Overall, 184,673 (14%) patients were hospitalized, 29,837 (2%) were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) and 71,116 (5%) died.

Will there be Major League Baseball in 2020?

We may know soon if the MLB can pull it off. Not only is there COVID-19 to navigate, but there is also an ugly contract dispute. 

The players’ union sent a signal that the players are finished talking and the owners and league are trying to figure out if the players mean it. Yes, there are questions about how to navigate health and safety issues, where to play games, how many games to play, all of that. But make no mistake, money is the big sticking point.

ESPN reported:

There are a number of potential impediments to baseball restarting, and they begin with the infamous March 26 agreement between the league and players. The deal, which was agreed upon around the time Commissioner Rob Manfred could have invoked the national emergency clause in players’ contracts and suspended the contracts, sought to outline parameters for the sport’s return. It’s simultaneously funny and sad that some of MLB and the union’s deepest disagreements have involved … an agreement they negotiated together.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan explained “pro rata,” a phrase you may have heard a lot as the players and owners and league have tried to figure out how to reopen an abbreviated season with no fans. “Pro rata” comes up a lot because it is the formula for figuring out how to pay players.

Take a player making $1 million. In a full 162-game season, he would make $1 million. In a season that pays full pro rata, he would make $1 million multiplied by the number of games played divided by 162. In a 72-game season, that’s $444,444. In a 50-game season, it’s $308,642.

In each of its three proposals, the league has asked players to take significant pay cuts off their pro rata salaries: a minimum of 30%, 25% and 20%. In both of its proposals, the union has asked for its full pro rata — something that the March agreement says it will receive “(i)f and when the conditions exist for the commencement of the 2020 championship season.”

Will there be an NFL season?

The NFL is making better progress than the baseballers. This week the NFL Players Association said it is close to an agreement on how the league will test players. The New York Post said it looks like players will be tested three times a week.

There is a new tension about testing and privacy, however. Players on the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys teams tested positive recently.

Will there be an NBA/WNBA restart?

The NBA’s decision on whether to restart its playoffs is intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement. Kyrie Irving, Avery Bradley and a coalition of NBA players and other athletes are raising questions about whether they should reopen the season while the national focus should be on social justice and the coronavirus.

The WNBA is heading toward a restart. And players will be paid “full salaries.”

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 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,…
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