October 21, 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.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows summarized the talks with House Democrats to reach a stimulus bill by saying the two parties were “still several hundred billion dollars apart.”

In a normal world, “hundreds of billions” would sound like an untenable standoff. But considering they were more than a trillion dollars apart not long ago, I suppose that is progress in 2020.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says not to make too much of the fact that she said if there was no agreement Tuesday that there would be none before Election Day. She said talks will continue on Wednesday.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is warning that any agreement would have a rough go in the GOP-controlled Senate.

In summary, if you are a small business wanting a paycheck protection loan, an unemployed worker hoping for federal bucks to supplement state jobless benefits or if you are in need of a $1,200 stimulus check, don’t hold your breath.

New polling Tuesday found two-thirds of Americans favor a $2 trillion stimulus bill.

New data: How long after COVID-19 are you immune?

A big question we all want the answer to is, “If I get COVID-19, am I immune, and if so, for how long?”

Early studies found your body might produce some immunity, then more research emerged that said, “maybe not.” Two new studies have emerged and been published in peer-reviewed journals that say:

… people who survive a COVID-19 infection continue to produce protective antibodies against key parts of the virus for at least three to four months after developing their first symptoms. In contrast, some other antibody types decline more quickly. The findings offer hope that people infected with the virus will have some lasting antibody protection against re-infection, though for how long still remains to be determined.

One of the two studies cited above was at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and the other was from the University of Toronto.

The National Institutes of Health has this banner at the top of its webpage, which gets my attention:


With the banner in mind, consider that the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, says the COVID-19 task force has “not met with the President in quite some time” and is currently meeting “about once a week.”

Dr. Collins told NPR Tuesday that the earliest we might have a vaccine that is considered safe and effective is near “the end of the year.” He said he is “guardedly optimistic” about that timeline.

Pfizer now says it is possible that it could have good data by late November to send to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. Moderna says December is the earliest possibility for its drug data.

Keep in mind that even these projections depend on a couple of big factors. First, the drug trials must produce a vaccine that has positive results. Then the government must react to the data the drug trials send. It could take weeks or longer from the time the data is presented to the FDA for the government to approve a drug for public distribution.

All of this vaccine news may make it seem like we are stuck in the mud, but it is just the opposite. There is a lot of exciting and encouraging research unfolding. For example, the NIH saw one drug that is in very early testing that seemed to be especially promising for vaccinating seniors against the coronavirus.

These three New York Times charts helped me see the big picture, but they do not tell the story of the big spikes in areas like the Dakotas and Wisconsin.

(The New York Times)

(The New York Times)

(The New York Times)

When police dogs are used as weapons

In Indianapolis, one person is bitten by a police dog every five days.

I want to call your attention to a significant body of work by The Marshall Project, AL.com, The Indianapolis Star, The Invisible Network and the USA Today Network.

In a year when we focused on issues of excessive force by police, this investigation is one I have never seen or even considered until now.

Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons, looked at police violence through the lens of a dog bite. The national investigation showed:

People are bitten across the country, but some cities use biting dogs far more often than others. There’s no national database of police dog use and who is bitten. Our reporting found bites in nearly every state, though data from more than 50 police departments shows the numbers vary widely by city.

  • Police in Chicago almost never deploy dogs for arrests and had only one incident from 2017 to 2019.
  • Washington, D.C., had five.
  • Seattle had 23.
  • New York City, where policy limits their use mostly to felony cases, reported 25.
  • By contrast, Indianapolis had more than 220 bites and
  • Los Angeles reported more than 200 bites or dog-related injuries.
  • The Sheriff’s Department in Jacksonville, Florida, had 160 in this period.

I am struck that five of the top 20 cities on the list are in Texas, and that the biggest cities with the most people and the most police are not at the top of the list.

Bites can cause life-altering injuries, even death. Dogs used in arrests are bred and trained to have a bite strong enough to punch through sheet metal. Their bites can be more like shark attacks, according to experts and medical researchers.

Many people bitten were not violent and were suspected of minor crimes — or no crime at all.

Most bite victims are men, and studies suggest that in some places, they have been disproportionately Black. A statistical study found that police dog bites sent roughly 3,600 people to emergency rooms each year from 2005 to 2013; almost all were male and Black men were overrepresented.

Police officers sometimes can’t control the dogs, worsening injuries. Even when dogs are trained to release their bites with a verbal command, they sometimes don’t let go.

There’s little accountability or compensation for many bite victims. Excessive force lawsuits over dog bites are difficult to win. Police officers are often shielded from liability, and federal civil rights laws don’t typically cover bystanders who are bitten by mistake.

The reporters who worked on this story are promising follow-ups:

Our reporters will continue publishing stories from this investigation in the coming weeks, including the story of a Washington, D.C., woman who went for a walk, then encountered a police dog; an examination of the police department with the worst dog-bite rate among the nation’s 20-largest city agencies; and an examination of police dog use in Alabama and the state’s most dangerous K-9 unit.

Already, the Indianapolis police department has responded to this investigation. They announced that officers “would no longer deploy dogs on suspects in misdemeanor cases unless they believed that person is armed, though dogs would still be justified in all felony cases.”

How tech companies will report election results on smart devices

Axios says tech companies are going to be using Associated Press data to send election results to personal devices. The results will include nuanced answers when a race is too close to call or has not produced enough data to yet report. A quick summary:

  • Google will use the results to power its Google Search queries and all of its voice-enabled devices. It will feature results on its search results page in more than 70 languages. Results will not be featured in Google News.
  • Amazon will use the results to power voice search queries via Alexa.
  • Microsoft will use the AP data to power results for Microsoft News and Microsoft Bing that refresh every minute.
  • AT&T will use the AP data feed to power a special channel on DirecTV with real-time election results alongside video coverage from different networks.

These kinds of “quick check” services will get a real workout, especially in those places where it will take days to count the votes.

Opposing candidates run an ad together that says we can disagree without hating each other

You can watch the ad. It may give you a glimmer of hope that we have not lost our collective minds. Though there was some Twitter feedback that this is not a time for civility, and rather it is a time to oppose what you oppose.

Spencer Cox is the Republican lieutenant governor of Utah and Chris Peterson is a law professor running as a Democrat. No Democrat has been elected Utah governor in four decades, and a new poll showed two-thirds of Utah voters said they had not heard of him with a couple of weeks to go before the election. So it may not be so tough for these two to have a “why can’t we get along” kind of moment. But still, it is noteworthy.

The way we work now

When I am out on the road teaching at conferences and broadcast conventions, I often cross paths with Valerie Geller, one of the best-known coaches and consultants in the radio world. She just recorded a 15-minute podcast coaching radio stations on how to succeed during the shift in listenership because of COVID-19.

I think what she says about great radio also applies, of course, to podcasting, and even to those of you who write columns.

The way we vote now

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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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