September 16, 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.

You have of course heard of certified used cars. Dealers slap a sticker on the most reliable used cars on the lot and often offer a warranty with them. Now, when there is a COVID-related shortage of bikes, certified used bikes are a thing.

The demand for bikes — any bikes — is so high that new bikes are in short supply. That has jacked up the used-bike market so much that some used bikes are selling for more secondhand than they originally sold for new.

Yahoo Finance reported:

New bikes have been in extremely short supply — but the used-bike market is on fire. One big player in the used market is The Pro’s Closet, located in Boulder, Colorado. It has a slightly different tactic common in the car industry, but rare in the bike world: certified pre-owned bicycles.

The company does do local business, but its main presence is online, selling enthusiast (generally $1,000+) bikes nationally via eBay. Unlike bike shops that mostly sell new stock, The Pro’s Closet’s business model is tailor-made for the current coronavirus moment, able to take advantage of the demand thanks to its unique and relatively untapped supply chain of garages around the country.

“We’re tapping into every garage to buy bikes from people that have a bike in their garage or a bicycle they’re not using,” Nick Martin, the company’s founder and CEO, told Yahoo Finance. “We’re in a unique position to own our own supply chain and provide bikes to meet demand.”

Which leads me to wonder: How is the stolen bike market doing these days? I see that bike theft spiked in Boston. But in Winnipeg, bike thefts are way down. And in Montreal, they are way up.

Forbes wondered whether it is time for you to buy bike theft insurance.

Nursing homes with the most deaths had the fewest registered nurses

The Lexington Herald-Leader found a common factor among the Kentucky nursing homes that had COVID-19 deaths: The homes with the most deaths had the fewest registered nurses. The Herald-Leader found:

On average, Kentucky nursing homes reported 45 minutes of RN staff time per resident day during the fourth quarter of 2019, the most recent period for which data is available from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That was close to the national average. But the eight Kentucky nursing homes with the most COVID-19 deaths reported an average of only 24 minutes.

For example, Landmark of Louisville Rehabilitation and Nursing — with 18 deaths so far attributed to COVID-19 — reported just 12 minutes of RN staff time per resident daily, the lowest of the group.

The story said that nursing homes with low RN staffing levels predictably ran into trouble.

The other common factor, the Herald-Leader said, is that the nursing homes with the highest death counts were for-profit, corporately run facilities. And most had low inspection scores for infection control issues before COVID-19.

I would think the Herald-Leader’s reporting would be a template for other journalists to dig around state and federal records.

Press for open federal courtrooms before the election

Nobody will be surprised if, in the days after the November election, state and federal courts are asked to rule on which ballots get counted and recounted. Think back to the 2000 election, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the outcome of that election and did not make the arguments available on video. After 20 years, have we evolved?

It likely won’t be possible for people to crowd into a courtroom to witness arguments and rulings. Who knows if the whole process could be done virtually? Especially at a time when the president is warning that the whole election system is rigged, our state and federal court systems should be open to cameras and microphones for live coverage to instill confidence in the process.

Why wait until November to bring this up? We are going to have court cases, probably in several states, over mail-in ballots. Ask the presidential candidates and every federal candidate if they support opening courtrooms to cameras. The cases may well begin in your local state courts, so if you do not have routinely open courtrooms, it might be a good investment of time for newsrooms to approach their local courts now to lay at least preliminary plans for televised coverage.

Could teachers be required to get vaccinated?

The American Federation of Teachers told Axios that it would be in favor of requiring in-classroom teachers to get vaccinated once a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. government would not be making the vaccine mandatory, but it could be possible that local jurisdictions could require, for example, children to be vaccinated.

Medical Xpress, part of a science, research and technology news service, quoted Fauci:

“You can mandate for certain groups of people like health workers, but for the general population you can’t,” he added, citing the example of the National Institutes of Health, where health workers can’t treat patients without a flu shot.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that coronavirus vaccines, once approved, would be mandatory for everyone in his country, barring medical exemptions.

National Geographic pointed out that the government might not have to “require” vaccination if everyday life is so difficult for the unvaccinated that they would have to get the shot to do routine things like board a plane.

This is the future as some experts see it: a world in which you’ll need to show you’ve been inoculated against the novel coronavirus to attend a sports game, get a manicure, go to work, or hop on a train.

“We’re not going to get to the point where the vaccine police break down your door to vaccinate you,” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University’s School of Medicine. But he and several other health policy experts envision vaccine mandates could be instituted and enforced by local governments or employers — similar to the current vaccine requirements for school-age children, military personnel, and hospital workers.

In the United States, most vaccine mandates come from the government. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices makes recommendations for both pediatric and adult vaccines, and state legislatures or city councils determine whether to issue mandates. These mandates are most commonly tied to public school attendance, and all 50 states require students to receive some vaccines, with exemptions for medical, religious, and philosophical reasons.

NatGeo said if you go back 100 years, you would find examples of states and cities that forced adults to be vaccinated against smallpox. In fact, one city levied a $5 fine (worth $150 today) on people who refused.

If you think the blowback over mask mandates has been hot, wait until you see a battle over sticking a needle into people’s arms.

How we make fires worse

George Coble carries a bucket of water to put out a tree still smoldering on his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill City, Oregon. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The New York Times ran a thoughtful piece about how we need to rethink where we build homes and how we manage fires. The story said aggressive firefighting may not be the best idea because it allows fuel to build up.

Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas outside of cities, and communities often resist restrictions on development. A century of federal policy to aggressively extinguish all wildfires rather than letting some burn at low levels, an approach now seen as misguided, has left forests with plenty of fuel for especially destructive blazes. This is all in an era when global warming is creating a hotter, drier environment, loading the dice for more extensive fires.

Some cities and states have taken important steps, such as imposing tougher regulations on homes built in fire-prone areas. And there has been movement toward using prescribed fires to scour away excess vegetation that can fuel runaway blazes in forests and grasslands.

But these changes are still happening too slowly, experts say, and have been overtaken by the rapid increase in wildfires.

The Times continued:

One major reason that wildfires are becoming increasingly costly is that more Americans are moving to areas outside of cities near forests, known as the wildland-urban interface. Between 1990 and 2015, one study found, 32 million new homes were built in these areas. Only about 15% of the wildland-urban interface has been developed, and further growth is expected.

One question for the fire-prone areas is whether states and local governments will impose safety upgrades to homes in forested areas.

Some cities, like Austin, Texas, step up their safety requirements for anybody who wants to build in a fire-prone wildland-urban area. Austin requires such homes to be built with materials that don’t burn so easily.

This story resonated with me, living in Florida. A similar issue arises here, where we keep building condos and hotels along the hurricane-prone coast. If your home suffers serious damage and you plan to rebuild using federal flood insurance, you have to make structural changes to prevent the same damage from happening again.

Why do some people evacuate, and others don’t?

Here is an interesting study that tries to get to why some people wait until the last minute to evacuate when wildfires approach. The study suggests that when you are near a fire, you might smell smoke for days before the fire is close enough to force you out, so you get desensitized to the threat.

The study, published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce), said:

Gender also had a powerful effect, as women were almost three times more likely to evacuate than men. Studies of other extreme events, such as hurricanes, have suggested that this outcome could be in part because women are more likely to take on caregiving roles, Emily Walpole, a NIST social scientist and co-author of the study said.

The effects of household preparedness were split. Those that took measures to make their residence more fire-safe — clearing vegetation around the house, installing more fire-resistant roofing, etc. — were more than twice as likely to stick around, as they may have felt more secure at home. However, having an evacuation plan, which could make evacuating a more approachable option, made households about twice as likely to clear out.

The study said once people see flames they take evacuation orders more seriously, but sometimes they might smell smoke for weeks before seeing flames.

Police have killed at least one Black person every week this year

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, police killed 164 Black people in the United States. Using databases from Mapping Police Violence and The Washington Post, CBS News compiled a list of the names and what we know about the cases. CBS noted that many of the cases remain under investigation.

COVID-19 is a leading cause of death for law enforcement officers

This is not “official” data, but it is certainly worth your local exploration. The Officer Down Memorial Page lists the causes of known deaths involving police officers. The website lists the leading cause of death so far in 2020 as COVID-19.

 

Here is a sample from the list just from the early months of the pandemic. These officers include corrections officers, Homeland Security officers, local police and deputies and tribal officers.

The times in which we live

This is from my friend, a news director in Denver.


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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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