August 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.

We may find out very soon whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newest ban on evictions will hold legal water.

Even President Joe Biden, who said he wanted the CDC to explore options to extend the ban, admitted that the Supreme Court seems to say clearly enough that any extension of the ban — which has been repeatedly renewed for more than a year — should come from Congress. The House of Representatives adjourned without acting on evictions, saying the president could extend the ban. 

The CDC’s newest order is not a national blanket action but instead applies to areas of the country experiencing high levels of coronavirus infections. The protection will last for 60 days, until Oct. 3, and could cover about 90% of renters.

​​The new order includes some of the same structure of previous orders, including:

  • The renter must not have earned more than $99,000 in 2020 or $198,000 filing jointly.
  • The renter cannot make a full payment because of a substantial loss of income due to a loss of employment, drop in wages or high medical bills.
  • The renter must have made an effort to make payments.
  • If the renter is evicted, they will likely become homeless.
  • And — this is a new addition to the CDC’s order — the renter lives in an area with a “high” or “substantial” rate of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC.

That means that counties that are in red or orange on this CDC map are covered. 

(CDC data, updated Aug. 3)

That means that in some places — including New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, California, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Colorado — some counties are covered while others are not. And much of the Northeast would not be covered by the CDC’s newest moratorium. A fair amount of Puerto Rico is not covered, either.

Around 11 million people are still behind on their rent and face evictions. Most of the $45 billion of rent relief is stuck in state agencies that are trying to figure out who qualifies and how to distribute the relief and that are working with landlords to agree on settlements.

Even if landlords go back to court — which they almost certainly will — the legal process might take long enough that states might get the money to the renters who need it by the time the courts nullify the moratorium.

Journalists, there are lots of stories in this. One is the story of the renter. There is also the avalanche of foreclosure orders stacking up. Landlords are in a big bind having, in some cases, gone more than a year with no income while footing ongoing expenses. You could also take us inside the state agencies that are trying to figure out how to send billions of dollars out the door responsibly.

ABC News reports:

Some cities with the most cases, according to the Eviction Lab, are Phoenix with more than 42,000 eviction filings, Houston with more than 37,000, Las Vegas with nearly 27,000 and Tampa more than 15,000. Indiana and Missouri also have more than 80,000 filings.

Cal Matters says moratoriums do not stop evictions. Landlords can use a loophole to evict people. If the landlord says they need to do repairs to a unit, they can evict its renter. The only requirement is that the work amounts to a “substantial remodel,” which is not well defined. In addition, undocumented renters rarely fight eviction, even in a pandemic, because of their legal status. Cal Matters reports:

From July 2020 through March 2021, sheriff’s departments across California enforced lockouts of at least 7,677 households, according to data obtained through public records requests from all but two of California’s 58 counties. Similar data from March 2020 until August showed the state carried out at least 2,000 evictions, bringing the total number of California households locked out throughout the pandemic to nearly 10,000, at minimum.

The number of evictions has accelerated in 2021 — and they are happening despite a series of moratoriums, approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, that are supposed to protect people who were barely scraping by when the pandemic made them sick or cost them jobs, leaving them unable to pay rent.

WBRC in Birmingham talked with landlords who said they are going to move slowly. It is not a voice you hear very often but should.

The FDA could give final approval to a COVID-19 vaccine next month

Until now, it appeared that the Food and Drug Administration might not consider final approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine until late this year or early next year. But The New York Times is quoting multiple sources as saying that the FDA could consider approval by Labor Day or sooner.

If this happens, it could be significant.

As you know, the vaccines are currently distributed under an emergency order and a final order requires significantly more documentation of a drug’s safety and efficacy.

Businesses and even the military have said they would be more likely to consider requiring vaccinations if the FDA clears the vaccines for full approval. Some experts have said that approval would put employers on more sound legal footing to make such a requirement of workers.

When the Kaiser Family Foundation listened to unvaccinated people’s reasoning about what it would take to convince them to take the shots, KFF found:

Consistent with last month’s results, three in ten unvaccinated adults, rising to about half of those in the “wait and see” group, say they would be more likely to get vaccinated if one of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use were to receive full approval from the FDA.

However, this finding likely suggests that FDA approval is a proxy for general safety concerns, as two-thirds of adults (including a large majority of unvaccinated adults) either believe the vaccines currently available in the U.S. already have full approval from the FDA or are unsure whether they have full approval or are authorized for emergency use.

Hospital staffing shortages loom

As COVID-19 cases rise and hospitals in some states fill, staffing is becoming a problem.

Hospitals in Jacksonville and the Tampa Bay area in Florida are nearing capacity. Some are limiting nonemergency procedures.

(Bloomberg)

Bloomberg reports:

Although Florida has the worst momentum, 14 states — including Alabama, Louisiana and Oklahoma — are reporting more critical staffing shortages as a percentage of total facilities. Some of that may reflect structural differences unrelated to Covid-19.

KATU in Portland, Oregon, reports:

“We are probably at the most challenging time of the pandemic with respect to staffing. We’re hearing reports from multiple hospitals that their staffing is severely constrained,” said Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

“A survey about two months ago found that about 30% of healthcare workers nationally were contemplating leaving the profession,” said Hultberg.

(Our World in Data)

Becker Hospital Review, an industry monitor, summarizes the situation in several states:

Florida: Orlando Regional Medical Center’s ICU was at 97 percent capacity July 19, with the hospital saying it is “seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients reflective of the spread within the community.” UF Health Jacksonville broke its record for most hospitalized COVID-19 patients July 19, according to NBC News. At one point on July 19, the hospital reported 126 COVID-19 patients, up 40 percent in one day. “We’re gaining cases at such a rapid rate we don’t really know where it’s going to stop,” Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of infection prevention, told NBC News. “We aren’t even thinking a couple of months. We’re thinking what’s going to immediately happen in the next week.”

Iowa: For the last several weeks, Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines has been at or near capacity as more children have required treatment for COVID-19 and other illnesses, hospital officials told KCCI Des Moines 8. “Our PICU is full. Our general pediatric floor is full. We’re like, rooming children in the halls of the ED. And so, it really creates a situation that if those numbers continue, and we go back to school with no masks and undervaccinated children, it’s going to be very difficult rooming every child who needs a hospital bed,” Joel Waddell, DO, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Blank, told the publication.

Tennessee: Methodist University Hospital in Memphis is expanding its COVID-19 units to address and prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals in Nashville say they have open beds but not enough staff to work at capacity. In Texas, the staffing shortage is nothing new, but COVID-19 made it worse.

In some other places with high vaccination rates, like Colorado, hospitals say they are not in danger of nearing capacity.

Biden says he supports proof of vaccination efforts

President Biden said Tuesday that he supports efforts like New York City’s that require people to prove they have been vaccinated before they enter restaurants, theaters, gyms and more.

The New York effort begins Sept. 13. The city has not figured out how the enforcement will affect children 12 and under since they are not yet eligible for vaccinations.

In France, when the government began a similar campaign, a wave of people flooded vaccination venues even while there were a lot of protests about the government’s plan.

How to prove your vaccination status

The Excelsior Pass app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. (NY Governor’s Press Office via AP, File)

Starting next month, if you want to dine, go to a fitness center or attend a theater performance in New York City, you will have to prove you are vaccinated against COVID-19. But how will you do that, given that the U.S. does not have a vaccine passport as some other countries do? State efforts like New York’s Excelsior Pass have not been warmly embraced …  yet.

There are some options to use your smartphone to prove your vaccination. The Seattle Times rounds up some options:

  • Now states including California, Louisiana and New York offer portals to download fully authenticated vaccination information, and more are on the way.
  • And millions across the United States have access to digital records from Walmart, CVS and Walgreens.
  • Keep a shot of your CDC card in your photo album. Pros: Photos are easy to take, and they’re convenient to access when needed. Cons: Storing these images securely is easier on some phones than others.
  • Download an official digital health record using CommonPass, Excelsior Pass, Clear. Pros: It’s 100% verified. Cons: Every state and provider does it differently, and setup can be complicated.

Should insurers charge more for people who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations?

Here is an interesting (and probably controversial) opinion that’ll give you something to think about.

A former emergency room physician suggests that health insurance companies charge more for people who refuse the COVID-19 vaccination. Here is the reasoning, from Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal (@RosenthalHealth):

Insurers could try to do more, like penalizing the unvaccinated. And there is precedent. Already, some policies won’t cover treatment that results from what insurance companies deem risky behavior, such as scuba diving and rock climbing.

The Affordable Care Act allows insurers to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than what nonsmokers pay for some types of health plans. Four-fifths of states in the U.S. follow that protocol, though most employer-based plans do not do so. In 49 states, people who are caught driving without auto insurance face fines, confiscation of their car, loss of their license and even jail. And reckless drivers pay more for insurance.

The logic behind the policies is that the offenders’ behavior can hurt others and costs society a lot of money. If a person decides not to get vaccinated and contracts a bad case of Covid, they are not only exposing others in their workplace or neighborhoods; the tens or hundreds of thousands spent on their care could mean higher premiums for others as well in their insurance plans next year. What’s more, outbreaks in low-vaccination regions could help breed more vaccine-resistant variants that affect everyone.

Review of NCAA recommends a combined Final Four tourney for men and women

Stanford players celebrate on the court after the championship game against Arizona in the women’s Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Stanford won 54-53. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The NCAA commissioned law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to look at how men’s and women’s basketball programs are funded. The investigation, not surprisingly, found evidence of “systemic gender inequity issues.” One key finding had to do with media and sponsorship inequities.

The report says, “Gender inequities were baked into the very fabric of the tournaments and how the tournaments were viewed by the NCAA.”

The report recommends that the NCAA “(h)old the men’s and women’s Final Fours together in one city.”

Here are some other passages that will resonate with universities big and small nationwide:

It is beyond dispute that there were significant disparities between the 2021 Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships. As highlighted on social media, there were differences in the goods, services, and resources provided to the women’s basketball players, including their weight training facilities, COVID-19 tests, food, recreational opportunities, and gifts and mementos. In addition, there have been significant — and longstanding — disparities in the production and operation of the championships, including, among other things, differences in the quality and quantity of branding and signage at the arenas and host cities; in the use of the “March Madness” trademark; and in the sponsorship of the fan festivals, etc. In all of these areas and more, the experience of the women’s tournament participants was markedly different from and inferior to that of the men’s tournament participants.

The research ranges from the multi-million dollar media contracts for men’s and women’s tournament games to the meals and swag bags given to athletes. Women playing in the NCAA tourney got swag bags worth $60 while the men got $125 worth of goodies from sponsors. The women got boxed meals; the men got big spreads of hotel-prepared meals.

(NCAA External Gender Equity Review)

Interestingly, the report includes this screenshot:

(NCAA External Gender Equity Review)

The men’s tourney is called March Madness. The women do not get to use the phrase.

There are so many more examples in this report that are worth your examination and reporting. The NCAA has not yet responded to the report. Women athletes deserve better, for sure, and I suspect a lot of people will be saying so.

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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