October 4, 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.

A widely circulated study that linked heart inflammation with the COVID-19 vaccines has been withdrawn by researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute because of a math error.

This is another example of why it is dicey business for journalists and bloggers to publish preprint studies before they have been peer-reviewed.  It is especially hazardous to publish such studies when the results are contrary to mountains of other peer-reviewed evidence.

News organizations must consider how they will correct the information that is in their archives. Simply removing the story might not be enough, but posting the correction boldly on the page might.

The original, now withdrawn study said falsely that around one in 1,000 patients who got the vaccines develop a heart condition called myocarditis and suffer an increased death rate. The Heart Institute posted this:

(University of Ottawa Heart Institute)

Reuters reported how the university’s researchers erred:

Between the week beginning May 30 and the week starting July 25, there had been 845,930 vaccines administered in the Ottawa region, according to data published by Ottawa Public Health, which is far greater than the figure used to calculate the incidence rate (32,379) ( here ).

The denominator (total vaccines administered over a two-month period in Ottawa) used to calculate the incidence rate of myocarditis in the pre-print study was approximately 25 times bigger than the correct figure.

Canadian health officials said Friday that the risk of heart inflammation is higher after being infected with COVID-19 then it is after taking the vaccination. That is a significant, headline-worthy statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is staying alert to how often people develop heart inflammation after being vaccinated. So far, the calculation is that the virus is a far greater risk than the rare incidences of myocarditis, which are routinely treatable.

What new Israeli data shows us about vaccines and young people

Israel is already administering COVID-19 vaccines to young people and, so far, the results have shown very few — as in very, very few — cases of heart inflammation after vaccination. According to Israeli Health Ministry data, 331,538 children aged 12 to 15 received one dose of the vaccine, and 255,444 received two doses. The ministry says 12 children contracted myocarditis after two doses, but there is no clinical proof that links the vaccine with the condition since, for example, there were about 10 to 20 cases of myocarditis per 100,000 young people in the U.S. before the pandemic and vaccines.

Food stamp benefits just increased by a lot

Cars wait in line during a Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank drive-up food distribution in Duquesne, Pa., Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

42 million Americans are seeing more food stamp benefits starting now. Depending on where you live and what your circumstances are, it could amount to $251 per person per month. CNN reports:

Benefits will jump 27% above pre-pandemic levels, on average — the largest increase in its history. The change stems from a revision of the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the benefit amounts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for food stamps.

The update comes as part of a US Department of Agriculture review of the food stamp program required under the 2018 Farm Bill. The then-Republican-led Congress ordered the agency to reevaluate the plan by fiscal 2022 — and every five years thereafter. It was last adjusted in 2006.

Under the revision, which is permanent, beneficiaries will see a $36 hike in average monthly benefits. They received $121 per person before the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Department of Agriculture says:

  • 81% of SNAP beneficiaries are either individuals who are part of a working family, people with severe disabilities or senior citizens living on a fixed income.
  • Roughly 19% are what we refer to as able-bodied adults without children.
  • 39.8% of SNAP participants are white, 25.5% are Black, 10.9% are Hispanic, 2.4% are Asian, and 1% are Native American.

Here are two charts from Statistical Atlas that may point out to you how big an impact this change in food stamps means to your coverage area.

(Statistical Atlas)

(Statistical Atlas)

(Statistical Atlas)

I share this data because of the common misconception about how people use SNAP benefits and how much they can buy. It is somewhere around $4 a day and, in some cases, less. Go ahead, live on what your local SNAP benefits allow and see how that goes for you. Talk with people about the public shame they feel using the benefits that you pay into just for times like these. I have known people who do not apply even though they qualify because they do not want to be seen as “on welfare.”

Business Insider reporter Kathleen Elkins once tried living on a food stamp-sized budget for just a week. The results:

My experimental week clearly does not fully represent the food insecurity that millions of Americans face, but it allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day struggles they might experience. The fatigue from small portions and an unbalanced diet is inescapable; your body constantly feels disrupted and “off;” and you never feel like you can fully focus on one task, as the thought of food consumes you. While I fully expected to feel physically weaker, perhaps the most surprising part of the week was the mental and psychological strain.

You could try the same experiment today … or just ask your friends who are TV newscast producers, radio reporters or newspaper beat reporters how they are doing. They may be living the life already.

Big corporation tells 40,000 employees they can work remotely permanently

Accounting and consulting giant PwC just told its 40,000 U.S. client services employees that they can live and work anywhere they want from now on. Reuters has the details:

PwC’s deputy people leader, Yolanda Seals-Coffield, said in an interview that the firm was the first in its industry to make full-time virtual work available to client services employees. PwC’s support staff and employees in areas such as human resources and legal operations that do not face clients already had the option to work virtually full-time.

PwC employees who choose to work virtually would have to come into the office a maximum of three days a month for in-person appointments such as critical team meetings, client visits and learning sessions, Seals-Coffield said.

There is a catch, however. Seals-Coffield tells Reuters, “Employees who opt to work virtually full-time from a lower-cost location would see their pay decrease.” PwC says this remote-work allowance is an attempt to attract new hires and hold on to great employees. The company expects at least a third of all employees will take the offer to stay remote.

School boards ask for federal help

Someone objecting to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate for Louisiana schools scrawled an anti-mask message and left it at the door of the hearing room for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. The board refused to hold a public hearing on the mask mandate because the room was crowded with people who refused to put on face coverings. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

Read the letter that the National School Boards Association sent to President Joe Biden asking that the federal government help protect school boards from the violent outbreaks that you have seen at board meetings coast to coast. The letter mentions school board meetings that produced angry outbursts in California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The letter says the FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice should step in:

We ask that the federal government investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against our public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses.

NPR summarizes the association’s appeal to the president.

Some Broadway shows go dark again because of COVID breakthroughs

Disney Theatrical Productions said it canceled all shows of “Aladdin” until Oct. 12, after “additional breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected.” Yes, it is sad news for people who have waited so long for shows to reopen during the pandemic, but you could also see this as proof that the monitoring system the shows are using works.

FDA sets hearings on Moderna and J&J boosters, plus vaccines for youngest children

Here is the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it will hold hearings on booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines Oct. 14 and 15. Both companies want clearance for their vaccines to be given to all adults age 18 and older, which would be a wider distribution than the FDA gave to the Pfizer vaccine.

Then, on Oct. 26, committee advisers will hear evidence about whether Pfizer’s vaccines are safe and effective for 5 through 11-year-olds.

These are often newsworthy events. The FDA intends to livestream the VRBPAC meetings on the agency’s YouTube page:

Oct. 14 meeting link

Oct. 15 meeting link

Oct. 26 meeting link

The meetings will also be webcast from the FDA website.

The pandemic has made private jet business soar

Demand for private jets is so strong that companies are raising prices and now require more time to fill reservations. Some jet companies say that they cannot get repair and replacement parts and that means they are grounding expensive aircraft until the part comes in. CNBC reports:

July was the busiest month ever for private jet flights, with more than 300,000 flights, according to Argus International. While business usually cools in the fall, September saw nearly 300,000 flights and Argus projects October’s pace will break the July record.

The flood of new private jet customers — driven by health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic and the rapid creation of wealth — is now taxing an industry geared for slower growth. A shortage of new and used planes, delays getting aircraft parts, crew and pilot shortages, catering snafus, and air traffic problems are combining to create a growing number of delays and cancellations, according to industry executives.

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.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News