July 20, 2021

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.

COVID-19 cases are rising in every state and, in some states, rising fast. Only Vermont shows up on the latest tracking maps as less than a hot spot and, even there, a small number of people are testing positive for the virus in a half dozen counties. Vermont can point to its high vaccination rate as one reason it leads the country with a low new case count. Two-thirds of the population is fully vaccinated and three-fourths have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Let’s pull up the New York Times tracking chart. You will see that, despite Vermont being one of the most highly vaccinated states, it is also recording one of the highest percentages of new cases compared to its population.

(The New York Times)

In short, cases are actually rising in all 50 states.

Pediatricians say all students and staff should wear masks back to school

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is going beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for mask wearing as schools reopen in the next couple of weeks.

“The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in all circumstances,” the guidance says.

The AAP finds:

  • 45% of 16- to 17-year-olds have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • 32% of 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated with at least one dose.

Of course, a smaller percentage have been fully vaccinated, meaning both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, including:

  • 36% of 16- to 17-year-olds
  • 24% of 12- to 15-year-olds

In addition to the fact that the majority of young people who are eligible for vaccines remain unvaccinated, we also have to keep in mind that elementary students are not yet eligible for vaccines, so they are most at risk of being exposed to the virus when their unvaccinated older siblings come home from school infected.

For the billionth time, Dr. Anthony Fauci said we can expect more hospitalizations and even deaths among the unvaccinated.

Canada reopens the US border on Aug. 9 if you are vaccinated and test negative

Starting Aug. 9, Canada will let American citizens who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 cross the border without requiring them to quarantine.

They will have to present a negative COVID-19 molecular test taken within 72 hours of flight departure or arrival at a land crossing. Canada also requires travelers to use a government app to upload proof that they have received a full series of an authorized coronavirus vaccine at least 14 days before departure to Canada.

Unlike the U.S., Canada’s infections are still on a steady decline.

Health Canada also says:

On September 7, 2021, provided that Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remains favorable, the Government intends to open Canada’s borders for discretionary travel by travelers from any country who have been fully vaccinated with Government of Canada-accepted vaccines at least 14 days prior to entering Canada and who meet specific entry requirements.

Despite rising cases, UK fully reopens

People on the dance floor shortly after the reopening, at The Piano Works in Farringdon, in London, Monday, July 19, 2021. Thousands of young people plan to dance the night away at ‘Freedom Day’ parties after midnight Sunday, when almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be scrapped. Nightclubs, which have been shuttered since March 2020, can finally reopen.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

In the United Kingdom, health officials say people should keep wearing masks … but they don’t have to. 68% of Brits are not fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases are rising. With that backdrop, the U.K. is reopening. MarketWatch notes:

Theaters, cinemas and night clubs can now operate at full capacity without any limits, and legal obligations to wear masks in public spaces such as transport have been removed. The move comes as the delta variant continues to spread and the number of people testing positive in the last seven days jumped to nearly 317,000, up 43% over the previous week, according to official numbers.

Pressure is building to reopen international travel to the US

Lots of countries have reopened to U.S. travelers but Politico says they are growing impatient that the U.S. is still closed to much of the world.

The Biden administration is not asking for a national vaccine passport, but Politico says the administration is pushing airlines to ask for proof of vaccinations.

More vaccinated Olympians test positive

People wearing face masks stand the countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games near Tokyo station Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Tokyo. The countdown clock for the Tokyo Olympics sat at 3-days-to-go on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Add WNBA star Katie Lou Samuelson to the list of members of the U.S. Olympic team who will stay home after testing positive for COVID-19.

She says she was fully vaccinated:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Katie Lou Samuelson (@katielou33)

Tennis star Coco Gauff also will be staying home after testing positive.

Officials have reported at least 12 new coronavirus cases connected with the games since Sunday and already tests have surfaced the first cases among athletes inside the Olympic village.

Toyota pulls Olympic ads

Toyota, which is a major financial supporter of the Olympics, is pulling its Olympics-related ads airing in Japan. It is a response to how polarizing the games have become in Japan just days from the opening ceremonies.

SEC says it will not delay games this year if a team is infected

The Southeastern Conference is not forcing football players to be vaccinated this fall, but commissioner Greg Sankey warned that the conference will not reschedule games this season if a team gets infected with COVID-19. If the team is not healthy enough to play, it will forfeit. Only six of the 14 SEC teams have 80% of their players fully vaccinated with six weeks to go before kickoff.

Federal judge upholds state university’s vaccine requirement

A federal judge says that Indiana University can require all students to get COVID-19 vaccinations before returning this fall. It is the first of what is certain to be a lot of lawsuits involving the more than 500 universities nationwide requiring students to be vaccinated.

Judge Damon Leichty wrote, “Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”

Eight students filed the lawsuit opposing the mandatory vaccinations. The students say they will appeal the decision.

Mayors are making COVID-19 decisions when the feds or states won’t

The mayor of Orange County (Orlando), Florida is urging people to wear masks when they are indoors. Orange County reported nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in three days — all among unvaccinated people. The mayor cannot force a mask mandate because Gov. Ron DeSantis forbids local governments from issuing local mask orders.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says he won’t impose a new mask mandate on his city even after the head of the New York health committee said the city should impose mask restrictions.

The sheriff of Los Angeles County says his department will not enforce Los Angeles’ mask mandate.

A hospital requiring vaccines is seeing a case spike

Methodist Hospital in Houston, which made news recently when it fired workers who refused to get vaccinated, says it is seeing an “alarming” spike in new COVID-19 cases, including its first case of a variant you probably have not heard of — the Lambda variant.

KPRC TV reports:

As of Monday, it has more than 185 COVID-19 patients. According to officials, the majority of its hospitalizations are those who are unvaccinated. About 85% of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients have the Delta variant, officials said.

Wall Street is taking the rise in COVID-19 cases seriously, S&P drops 1.6%

Your retirement savings took a hit Monday as Wall Street tried to digest what a rise in COVID-19 cases means to travel, tourism and spending. Norwegian Cruise Line and United Airlines each fell 5.5%, which is a lot for one day. Both had been soaring as Americans grew optimistic — maybe overly optimistic — that the pandemic was behind us.

Shortages may ease soon

If you have tried to buy a washing machine, furniture, a car and a zillion other things, you know about the global supply shortage of all sorts of materials. A new report from the Bank of America says the worst of the shortages may be over. One shortage that may not be over, the report says, is the labor shortage, as businesses struggle to hire people. But the BOA research says as extended unemployment benefits expire in September, more people may take jobs that they don’t want now.

The spin rate on MLB pitches is way lower since a ban on sticky substances

What a cool story. If you look at the timing of Major League Baseball’s crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances on baseballs and compare that to how quickly balls have been rotating since then, there seems to be a big change.

The spin rate changes how a ball “moves” on the way to a batter. Just a small increase in rpms can make a significant difference in how difficult it is to hit a pitch.

Since the spin rates started to drop, the number of batters being walked is up while strikeouts are down. And the number of batters getting on base is up since the new enforcement.

The New York Times analyzed 1.7 million pitches from the last four years and they came up with a list of the pitchers whose pitches are spinning a lot less right now.

(The New York Times)

The Times warns that before you jump to conclusions, “There are many ways to identify which pitchers have been affected the most, and none are perfect. We could measure the simple change in spin rate before around the time of the ban, as we did above. We could measure this as a percentage, which may identify some pitchers whose fastballs were affected significantly even if they threw at lower speeds. Or we could measure change accounting for velocity of the fastball, since faster pitches naturally spin more.”

This sure should lead to some good interview questions, like, “Hey, James, can you say why your spin rate is down 325% since enforcement began in June?”

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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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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