July 2, 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.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gave senators conflicting advice this week.

On one hand, he said the number of COVID-19 deaths and infections are “going to be very disturbing.” But he also said, “I feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can to get the children back to school.”

As workplaces begin to open up in some places, the pandemic’s economic aftereffects are closing day care centers nationwide. Axios laid out the crunch ahead:

School district plans are starting to reveal a scary reality for the 40% of U.S. workers between 20 and 54 who have children at home.

“Most working families need care for at least 40 hours a week, and schools were providing that,” says Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “If that’s gone, there’s nothing to fill the void.”

Care for children under five is also in crisis, she says. The Center for America Progress projects that the pandemic will put up to 50% of day care centers out of business, erasing some 4.5 million slots for young kids.

Fewer slots — combined with the cost of enhanced safety measures at facilities —will drive up already sky-high price of childcare.

As Axios put it so beautifully, “What seemed like a temporary predicament is turning into an ongoing ordeal.”

The Center for American Progress broke down its forecast to show the number of day care slots that could be lost in every state.

The Minor League Baseball season is done

Major League Baseball still harbors hope for something that resembles a baseball season, but Minor League Baseball is done for 2020. And some teams could be done for good.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which for 119 years has governed Minor League Baseball, said half of the 160 teams are in dire financial condition because of the pandemic. The League announced:

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

Minor league teams depend on ticket sales for revenue, whereas big league ball also has TV revenue that could still help it to survive if there is a season.

Back-to-school shopping lists will be way different this year

The superintendent of the school system in Jefferson County, Kentucky — where Louisville is — estimated that schools would need $10 million worth of masks to make it through the school year. Who knows where that will come from?

Parents are used to kids coming home with requests from classroom teachers to send in tissues, paper towels and healthy snacks. I remember one cooking class asking the kids to bring in ingredients because the school could not afford the supplies.

Can you imagine how much hand sanitizer schools will go through? Will schools post their classroom shopping lists earlier than usual?

The National Retail Federation said parents spend an average of $669 per child on back-to-school expenses (that seems awfully high). But you can bet retailers will be pressing early and hard this year to try to recapture sales that could be lost to online stores.

Don’t freak out about the African swine flu

A new study that said the African swine flu may be able to jump species and infect humans got some press this week.

This swine flu is not new. The fever spread rapidly through pigs in China last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture — which refers to the virus as the African swine fever — said the virus wiped out vast numbers of animals there. Pork prices nearly doubled in China as a result. There is no vaccine for it.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, reported that scientists have been monitoring the swine flu virus for seven years and have noticed a change.

CNN reported:

But Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s public health school, warned the public not to “freak out.”

“Our understanding of what is a potential pandemic influenza strain is limited,” she posted on Twitter. “Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it’s not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans.”

Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, agreed:

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before the Senate Tuesday that “it is not a so-called immediate threat” but that “we need to keep our eye on it.”  Dr. Fauci reminded senators that, in 2009, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people globally.

150 agriculture groups joined together to say it is time for the U.S. government to fix a $630 million shortfall for the Customs & Border Protection’s Agriculture Quarantine Inspection at U.S. ports of entry to prevent the introduction of infected products into the U.S.

The inspection programs ordinarily are funded by Agriculture Quarantine Inspection user fees that are collected by an inspection service from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But with so few people traveling internationally, those user fees have dropped dramatically, especially because the pandemic hit cargo imports hard.

The Pork and Beef Councils said this is a critical issue that needs to be fixed to keep foreign animal diseases out of the U.S.

Is police “defunding” already underway?

Cities and counties are drafting budgets right now for 2021. In addition to having a lot less tax revenue to fund essential programs, local governments are rethinking their police budgets.

Call it “defunding” or “reallocating” or “reprioritizing” but, whatever it is, it is likely not to mean more money for police, but less.

New York City cut the police budget by $1 billion this week. That still leaves $6 billion for the NYPD. About $354 million will be reallocated from the police to other departments, like the Department of Education, the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and the Department of Homeless Services.

Axios collected some other examples:

The Baltimore City Council approved a $22.4 million budget cut for the police department.

The Portland City Council cut $15 million from its police budget earlier. $5 million of that would be put toward a new program that sends unarmed first responders to answer homelessness calls.

Philadelphia canceled a planned $19 million increase for the police department and shifted $14 million of the police budget elsewhere — including affordable housing.

In Seattle, every department budget is being trimmed by around 10%, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told Axios’ Dan Primack on the Re:Cap podcast. “We have to rethink what remains in the police department.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has a working group that produced a guidance document to help mayors think through budget priorities. This is one of the more profound notions in the document:

We need to ask, “Who is best equipped to be the first responder in addressing a long list of calls for service?” The reflexive answer cannot be “the police.” When the government has no presence in communities in a healthy and supportive way, the primary governmental actor that people see and identify are the police. In the absence of appropriate levels of funding for things like mental health care; affordable, high quality health care; accessible housing; healthy food options; good paying jobs; quality and safe education options; and other social services, the police are consistently thrust into a role of addressing these various social issues — a role for which they were not created and for which they will never be properly equipped.

There is also the following passage, which will warm journalists’ hearts. It speaks to making police camera video and incident reports more public.

Technology that can enhance accountability — such as body cameras and early warning systems — should be utilized. Cities should adopt uniform policies for the prompt release of video, audio and initial police reports on all matters of public interest, including specifically those arising from police-involved shootings, deaths in custody, or allegations of First Amendment violations. The collective bargaining agreements between cities and their police departments should provide fair, sensible and workable accountability mechanisms and eliminate any provisions that are roadblocks to addressing conduct that is inconsistent with the policies and laws that 4 govern our officers.

Where is an American vacationer to go?

European Union countries disinvited Americans from coming to Europe this summer because we cannot get our COVID-19 outbreak under control. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have said to much of the country that if you want to visit you should spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.

If you just can’t stand staying home any longer (though you should stay home),  does anybody want you to visit? If you take a COVID-19 test and provide proof that you are not infected, Fodors has a list of places — especially in the Caribbean — that will let you in.

Keep in mind that most of these places also require a two-week time out, which may be a deal-killer for people who don’t want to spend a couple of weeks sitting in a beachside hotel room eating room service. Although, as I write this, it does not sound like THAT bad of an idea.

Is this a signal that the worst has passed?

While American Airlines and United Airlines started to pack their planes wall-to-wall this week, Delta announced that it is going to serve beer and wine to First Class and Delta Comfort passengers and flights more than 500 miles.

(Screenshot, Delta Air Lines)

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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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