April 2, 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.

As eyewitness testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial has shown, reliving memories of that day can conjure up painful trauma for viewers, listeners and readers — and also journalists.

Mental health experts say we should be aware that the day-after-day coverage of this trial may traumatize our audiences. ABC News reports:

These images may rekindle feelings of racial trauma, with mental health experts warning that watching the trial could have profound emotional and psychological consequences for Black Americans.

“Revisiting the events connected to George Floyd’s death serve as a visual reminder of the devaluing of Black life and the potential costs associated with racism and discrimination,” said Steven Kniffley Jr., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Spalding University’s School of Professional Psychology.

Research shows that repeated exposure to racism, such as watching the televised trial, is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance-use disorders and suicide.

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, Ph.D., L.P., a clinical psychologist and executive director of the African American Child Wellness Institute, said rewatching the dramatic death of Floyd on television and social media can have devastating mental health impacts, a phenomenon called vicarious, or secondary, trauma.

While the ABC News story spoke to how this coverage may affect viewers, I want to remind journalists that this applies to you, too. Maybe especially to you. The public can choose whether to follow the story hour after hour, but covering it is your job, so you will be exposed to the images and emotions from the incident over and over.

Symptoms to look out for range widely, from difficulty managing emotions; feeling emotionally numb or shut down; experiencing fatigue, sleep disturbances, flashbacks or intrusive memories; and physical problems or complaints, such as aches, pains and decreased resistance to illness.

Why you should not laminate your vaccine card (yet)

Sandy Boeckl holds her inoculation card Monday, March 29, 2021, as she waits to receive a drive-through vaccine at “Vaccine Fest,” a 24-hour COVID-19 mass vaccination event in Metairie, La., just outside New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I was planning to get my vaccination card laminated until I saw this story in the Tampa Bay Times. Lots of people who have had their cards laminated are finding that the hot lamination process may make some information on the cards unreadable. This may not be true everywhere, but if the information on your card such as the name of the drugmaker or a lot number was printed with a thermal printer, lamination may make the information illegible.

WMAQ-TV in Chicago says it is possible that you will have to add more information on your card even after you get your second shot; if there is a booster shot, for example.

“Those vaccine cards are really important. They provide proof that you were, indeed, vaccinated,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Dr. Joshi said he understand why people would want to preserve it, but the additional lines at the bottom of the card, marked “Other,” are there for a reason.

“It is possible that in coming months, or coming years, there may be a need for a booster shot, and that booster shot could potentially be reported on that vaccine card. So you may want to hold off on laminating it for now,” Dr. Joshi said.

The best advice, for now, seems to be to take a photo of your vaccination card and keep the photo handy. I think I am going to take a photo, color print it and then laminate the copy.

Why are COVID-19 vaccine passports controversial?

A man presents his “green passport,” proof that he is vaccinated against the coronavirus, on opening night at the Khan Theater for a performance where all guests were required to show proof of vaccination or full recovery from the virus, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

For now, those little vaccination cards are your only way of proving you have gotten your COVID-19 shots. But inside and outside of state and federal governments, talks are underway about whether and how to develop what some are calling a “vaccine passport” that you could show as proof of vaccination.

It could become important as sports teams, cruise lines and even a university announced they are planning to require vaccinations. Starting today, vaccinated Miami Heat fans will have their own section in AmericanAirlines Arena. And you will have to have some sort of proof of vaccination to fly internationally.

Bloomberg Businessweek calls vaccine passports “the new golden ticket as the world reopens.” International airlines are already pretty far along in developing plans for a vaccine credential that would be recognizable across borders. Bloomberg reports:

In the U.S., American Airlines Group Inc. has signed on with the VeriFly app being rolled out by biometric software company Daon. United has developed its own in-house platform, Travel Ready, which will allow passengers bound for certain destinations to upload vaccination records starting in early April.

Bloomberg raises the question of whether the passport systems recognize vaccines from Russia and China. Requiring vaccines might penalize countries that have not gotten them yet.

More fundamental are questions surrounding the fairness of vaccine passports, which would inevitably favor the inhabitants of richer nations over poorer ones where the distribution of shots has barely begun. And vaccine passports would initially open up travel to a cohort of the elderly and middle-aged that have been prioritized for inoculation, leaving younger people in effective travel curfew while their parents and grandparents jet off to warmer climes.

At PortAventura World, a theme park and resort complex near Barcelona with 2,200 rooms, managing director David Garcia says he expects vaccine passports to unleash pent-up demand from international markets in the third quarter.

But you can almost hear the conspiracies cooking about a national vaccine credential. The Washington Post includes the voices of some of the people warning against doing this badly:

“If it became a government mandate, it would go down a dark road very quickly,” said Brian C. Castrucci, who leads the Bethesda, Md.-based de Beaumont Foundation, a public health group funding Luntz’s research into why some Americans are balking at the vaccine. “It becomes a credential. It becomes a ‘needing your papers,’ if you will. That could be dangerous — and it could turn off people.”

“It has to be that everyone can get it, and it’s their choice, as it were,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a University of Pennsylvania bioethics expert who co-authored a Journal of the American Medical Association article last year about the ethics of such certificates and advised Biden’s transition team on the coronavirus. “The one thing I am concerned is that some people won’t be able to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons.”

Emanuel added that the passports will be an element of global travel — not just domestic policy. Key aviation and travel associations on March 22 called on the White House to finalize its vaccine credential plan by May, saying it was essential for the safe resumption of international travel.

Republicans are lining up against vaccine passports. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is ready to forbid businesses from refusing to serve customers who cannot prove they have been vaccinated.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” DeSantis says.

One of the many complexities behind this idea is how to gather vaccination data from the many agencies that hold the records but not allow the federal government to store the records. And if proof of vaccination becomes common, what are people who cannot take the vaccine because of health complications to do?

The Biden administration may leave any sort of national vaccine verification program up to the private sector to solve. Some 225 organizations, from health care providers to tech companies, created a coalition called the Vaccination Credential Initiative that is working to digitize vaccine records that you might display on your phone.

Business Insider reports that in some places, the verification certificate has moved beyond the idea stage:

Last month, vaccinated Israelis started getting a “green pass” that allows for access to venues and events. European leaders have backed the use of a “Digital Green Certificate” that would provide digital proof of vaccination and permit travel within the EU.

Meanwhile, New York on Friday became the first state in the country to introduce a vaccine verification app, which was tested earlier in the month at Brooklyn Nets and New York Rangers games. New York is opening up vaccine access to all adults in early April.

Gostin underscored that equitable distribution of vaccines is crucial to requiring some form of a digital health pass.

Dive deeper by reading what my colleagues at PolitiFact have found about why people support and oppose vaccine passports.

Ontario about to go on lockdown, again

Starting Saturday, Ontario will go back on a modified lockdown plan as COVID-19 cases spike again there. Nonessential retail stores can stay open but will have to limit occupancy. Indoor restaurant dining will be off-limits for all of April. Bloomberg reports:

Toronto and some other regions are already under similar rules. The government’s move tightens them further and extends them throughout the province, including Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

“The variants of concern are spreading rapidly. This is a new pandemic. We are now fighting a new enemy,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “Please understand folks, this decision weighs extremely heavy on me.”

Variants of concern are also affecting younger patients: Almost half of those admitted to ICUs from March 15 to March 21 were under age 60.

Ontario hospitals are under strain, Brown said, with some entire families ending up in intensive care. There are 430 Covid-19 patients in ICUs.

Meanwhile, only 64% of the over-80 population is vaccinated, excluding those at long-term care facilities. That drops to 39% for people 75 to 79 years old and 16% for those 70 to 74.

Overall, Canada has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

COVID-19 was the No. 3 cause of death in 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the numbers are preliminary, but it appears that COVID-19 was the No. 3 cause of death in 2020.

(CDC)

COVID-19 bumped “unintentional injuries” down the list, which also includes chronic respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, influenza and suicide.

Suicides declined in 2020

Again, keep in mind this is preliminary CDC data for 2020 and the numbers may change, but this first look shows that suicides seem to have fallen in the last year. This is contrary to what experts believed was unfolding during the pandemic.

The CDC data says from 2019 to 2020, deaths by suicide declined by 5.6%, from 47,511 to 44,834. It was the third consecutive year of decline, but it is still the 11th leading cause of death.

Axios’ reporting indicates we should put some context around the numbers:

“The general reaction is ‘Great, but let’s not do what we did with opioids and see only a small decrease and claim victory,’” Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust, tells Axios.

Deaths of despair, he added, “are made up (of) not just suicide, but drug overdose deaths and alcohol deaths. Both of the latter two we know we are still on the rise.”

There might be a connection to the fact that national mental health crisis hotlines saw many times the normal number of calls in 2020. Perhaps, experts say, making those resources more available is contributing to the decline.

Whatever the reason for the decline, experts worry that we will think suicides are no longer the issue they once were and move on to other problems.

The drop in seasonal flu may have taught us ‘masks forever’

It is not what a lot of people want to hear, but without a doubt, fewer people caught the seasonal flu this year because we stayed home and wore masks. Which raises the reasonable question of whether we will keep wearing masks, maybe just during flu season, after the pandemic lifts.

Nashville Public Radio reports:

A study released this month in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, led by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, found that across 44 children’s hospitals the number of pediatric patients hospitalized for respiratory illnesses is down 62%. The number of kids in the U.S. who have died of the flu this season remains in the single digits. Deaths have dropped dramatically, too, compared with the past 10 years: The number of flu deaths among children is usually between 100 and 200 per year, but so far only one child has died from the disease in the U.S. during the 2020-21 flu season.

Adults aren’t getting sick either. U.S. flu deaths this season will be measured in the hundreds instead of thousands. In 2018-19, a moderate flu season, an estimated 34,200 Americans died.

Some experts, like researchers trying to improve masks, argue that more societies should embrace masking — as some Asian countries have. But even infectious-disease experts like Dr. Ricardo Franco of the University of Alabama-Birmingham doubt that’s practical.

But even if it is not practical to think everyone might keep wearing masks, Franco says at least health care workers will routinely wear masks all the time at work.

Business offering discounts to vaccinated customers faces backlash

In little Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a gift and home décor shop offered a 10% discount to customers who have been vaccinated. The store faced an avalanche of criticism. The shop owner says the discount offer stands and that quite a few people have taken her up on the offer.

More states ban transgender athletes

In just the span of this month, three states have banned transgender girls and women from competing on women’s sports teams. Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas have enacted such laws. And, as Axios reports, “Republicans in at least 25 states have introduced more than 60 bills targeting trans youth since January.”

More than 500 college athletes have appealed to the NCAA to refuse to hold any championship games in states that ban transgender athletes. The NCAA has a policy of allowing trans athletes to compete and promotes inclusiveness in athletics.

We’ll be back Monday 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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