July 3, 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 government’s unemployment figures released yesterday don’t tell the whole story.

Some businesses have started to shut down again since the Department of Labor gathered the data and more than half of the country has seen COVID-19 cases spike again.

But another consideration: Millions of workers have taken pay cuts to keep their jobs. Somewhere around 6 million workers have had their hours trimmed enough to now label those workers as part-time. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows a huge spike in part-time workers in May (look at the right side of the graphic).

(Data and graphic from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

The Washington Post reported:

At least 4 million private-sector workers have had their pay cut during the pandemic, according to data provided to The Washington Post by economists who worked on a labor market analysis for the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute.

Workers are twice as likely to get a pay cut now than they were during the Great Recession, according to the group’s analysis of data from the payroll processor ADP. Salary cuts are spreading most rapidly in white-collar industries, which suggests a deep recession and slow recovery since white-collar workers are usually the last to feel financial pain.

The Post added:

The ever-growing list of large companies that have slashed pay includes General Motors, BuzzFeed News, Occidental Petroleum, HCA Healthcare, Mass General Brigham, Tesla, Sotheby’s, state of Ohio employees and Major League Baseball.

“The pay cuts seem to be geared toward higher-paid workers in positions that are hard to rehire,” said Nick Bunker, research director at Indeed Hiring Lab. “But it’s also a sign that if there is slippage in the overall economy, we might see layoffs extend to higher-wage positions as well.”

People are dying from heart disease because they’re avoiding hospitals

Watch the TV commercials that hospitals are running right now and you’ll get a sniff of the data behind a story by The Washington Post. The Post said thousands of Americans have died from heart disease but might not have if they had sought medical attention — which they avoided because of fears over COVID-19.

This is a particularly important story for you to cover locally as hospitals begin to fill up and the number of COVID-19 cases increases. Hospitals are urging people who have legitimate medical needs not to avoid getting care. You can bet they will be more than willing to talk about how they are trying to reserve capacity for emergency cases.

The Post looked at a targeted dataset from five hard-hit states — Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York state — and New York City and found “there were 8,300 more deaths from heart problems than would have been typical in March, April and May — an increase of roughly 27% over historical averages.”

Reporting that unfolded at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City noted that heart attack and stroke cases nearly vanished from hospitals for a time despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The question was where were those cases going? It was implausible that people suddenly were not having heart problems.

In May, some hospital emergency rooms reported half the number of usual heart cases. Some experts like Dr. Matthew Solomon, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, said it didn’t make sense that heart cases would decline since usually when people get anxious, such as after 9/11, heart attacks increase.

Now it appears they were just staying home and, as a result, dying without care.

Gallup found that Americans want MORE immigration

I love naturalization swearing-in ceremonies, and July 4 naturalization ceremonies are the best. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services paused naturalization ceremonies for a while because of COVID-19 but restarted in early June with smaller and shorter gatherings. The government expects to clear the backlog of citizens-to-be this month.

Under the shortened format, all legally required portions of the ceremony will take place. Attendance is limited to the candidates who are scheduled to be naturalized, parents or trusted adults for candidates who are minors and individuals providing disability assistance to candidates.

If you end up doing a July 4 story on immigration, here is some new polling that might add some context. A new Gallup poll found Americans said they want more immigrants:

34% would like to see immigration to the U.S. increased

28% would like to see immigration to U.S. decreased

Democrats (50%) most likely to want increase in immigration

(Data and graphic from Gallup)

Gallup said:

This is the highest support for expanding immigration Gallup has found in its trend since 1965. Meanwhile, the percentage favoring decreased immigration has fallen to a new low of 28%, while 36% think it should stay at the present level.

This marks the first time in Gallup’s trend that the percentage wanting increased immigration has exceeded the percentage who want decreased immigration.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center also provided these myth-busting facts:

(George W. Bush Institute)

Sailors at sea during the pandemic have set records

On the eve of July 4, I am thinking of the crews of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS San Jacinto, who are under orders to keep moving and not stop for port visits because of COVID-19. This week, they broke the record for the number of consecutive days at sea, 160, and they will not land again until later this year in Virginia.

The ships left port in January, before the pandemic, and have been sailing ever since.

FleetTracker shows generally where the ships are.

Why there may NOT be a COVID-19 vaccine this year

The race to find a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine hit a speed bump this week when the Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines for a vaccine. In a 24-page document sent to drug developers, the FDA said, “To ensure that a widely deployed COVID-19 vaccine is effective, the primary efficacy endpoint point estimate for a placebo-controlled efficacy trial should be at least 50%.”

That means, to be approved, a vaccine would have to be shown to prevent the disease, or decrease its severity, in at least 50% of the people who receive it. And the drug company that develops the vaccine would have to follow up to see if there are lingering aftereffects. The FDA also said it will require vaccines to be tested on a range of patients, including seniors and minorities.

And Barrons reported the FDA’s guidelines may require a lot more time than drug companies anticipated:

“The FDA seems to suggest that thousands of subjects of safety, and at least six months duration of observation, and clinical efficacy, are all required before any vaccine approval,” wrote SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges in a note out Wednesday. “This is not consistent with the many developers who have suggested that they could be on the market by the end of this year.”

In the new document, the FDA lays out a stringent set of safety and efficacy criteria a Covid-19 vaccine would need to meet, though it allows for what Porges terms “manufacturing shortcuts.”

A 50% efficacy rate would be about in line with the seasonal flu vaccines. But other vaccines — including for measles, mumps and rubella — are considered to be 97% effective. You have to wonder whether enough people would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it only had a 50/50 chance of protecting them.

43 college teams have been dropped. The purge has begun nationwide.

Look at this remarkable list of how many college athletic programs have already been cut. A lot more are on the way. Axios’s Kendall Baker said:

43 Division I teams have been eliminated in the last 12 weeks, and more than 130 programs have been cut across all NCAA levels. By comparison, just 57 programs were cut in the last three years, combined.

Men’s and women’s tennis have been hit the hardest, as have Olympic sports like volleyball. That could impact future podiums: 88% of American summer Olympians in Rio had played their sport in college.

While schools claim these are money-saving decisions, many point to the reluctance to touch where the real fat sits — the football budget — as proof that the NCAA model has been corrupted.

No Power 5 schools (the biggest conferences) have eliminated a sports team yet. But that will change if the football season is impacted and they lose out on lucrative TV deals, which comprise roughly a third of their revenue.

As you move down the divisions, the reliance on government and institutional funding only increases. So, the situation is bound to get worse as the economy suffers, campuses remain closed and enrollment plummets.

Baker is all over this story. Follow him.

How about three things that are not so depressing?

Over the last week, a couple of readers have told me they love this column but it is getting too depressing. I hear you, so let me tell you a few things that make me, and I hope, you, happy.

Black-owned businesses see new support

Black-owned businesses have reported a surge in sales since the protests started.

CNN reported:

According to Google Trends data, searches for “How to find black owned businesses in your area” saw a 300% spike from June 1 to June 2 in the United States, while searches for “Black owned restaurants near me” tripled.

Forbes gave an example:

Calvin Quallis, the founder of men’s grooming supplies brand Scotch Porter, says that his company has seen a 45% increase in sales over the last 3 weeks. Quallis attributes this to shoppers tagging the brand on social media as a company to support. “Customers who have purchased from us will create a story [on Instagram], and use the hashtag #blackownedbusiness, or will tag the company in a post asking about which black-owned businesses to support,” Quallis says.

Elk have returned

In my home state of Kentucky, something wonderful is happening. The state has been working for almost two decades to bring back elk. The state is using reclaimed coal mine areas as land where nobody will bother them. It is working.

The state now has 13,000 elk, almost all in the coal counties in the east part of the state. The New York Times did a nice job on this story.

Elk hunting is a growing trend and is elk tourism is also growing, though 90% of the permits went to Kentuckians this year because of people not traveling.

Kindness is good

And finally, it turns out that kindness is “good for us.” New studies show that when you feel bad, being kind to others can make you feel better. And when psychologists listed a bunch of different values comparing kindness to “having an exciting life,” or “security” or “creativity,” kindness beat those and every other tested value as being a quality that people say they value the most.

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,…
Al Tompkins

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