December 6, 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.

To understand this item, you need to learn a new phrase: zoonotic event. That’s when a pathogen in an animal spreads to humans. Sometimes, as we have seen in COVID-19, people can pass the virus to other species. We call that reverse zoonosis.

When a virus passes from humans to animals, the virus can morph and adapt and pass back to humans as a new variant.

One theory gathering support from people who know about such things is that the omicron variant may be a case of species jumping, not unlike the theory that the original COVID-19 virus may have come from bats. It has also shown up in deer, dogs, mink, house cats and big cats in zoos.

Stat reports:

The theory goes that some type of animal, potentially rodents, was infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus sometime in mid-2020. In this new species, the virus evolved, accumulating roughly 50 mutations on the spike protein before spilling back over into people.

Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute, is among those who has been raising the idea that Omicron may have emerged from a reverse zoonotic event.

“I know that most people think that these (come from) immunocompromised individuals, and I do think that that’s plausible, but to be perfectly honest, I actually think this reverse zoonosis followed by new zoonosis seems more likely to me given just the available evidence of the really deep branch, and then the mutations themselves, because some of them are quite unusual,” Andersen told STAT.

“I don’t think we should dismiss that possibility, because I think it’s definitely on the table.”

The reason this theory is getting any attention is because the omicron variant has so many differences from previous versions of the virus. Even though this cross-species notion is not out of the question, experts told Stat that it is more likely that the omicron variant developed in an immunocompromised human.

If you are interested, I found this deep scientific study on the many viral outbreaks that have links to animals, including the bird flu, swine flu, MERS and SARS.

I don’t mean to add something else to the list of things to stress you out, but some virologists are concerned that even when we get control of COVID-19 in humans, the virus could find a place to survive and adapt by jumping to another species and then to other species and/or back to humans. Explore that in this piece from Wired.

Daily COVID cases and deaths are about even with November 2020

Wednesday will be the two-year anniversary of the first case of the novel coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic showing up at a hospital in Wuhan, China.

Right now, our new infection and death rates from COVID-19 are about where they were in November 2020, a month before vaccines became widely available.



The omicron variant has now spread to California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

How did we come up with the 6-foot social distancing rule?

A sign reminds fans to stay six feet apart outside Roger Dean Stadium before the start of a spring training baseball game between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

I have been wondering if there was any real science behind the determination that 6 feet is the right distance for people to consider a safe space for COVID-19. Is there something about that distance that is related to how far you cough up viruses?

You may have guessed that the distance is a bit arbitrary. Nobody is saying it is wrong, exactly, but it may not be right for every situation and for every cough. Some scientists at the University of Cambridge became curious about why the “safe” distance started at 3 feet when the World Health Organization wrote guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved the distance up to 6 feet.

The Cambridge researchers wrote:

When a person coughs and isn’t wearing a mask, the scientists wrote, “most of the larger droplets will fall on nearby surfaces. However, smaller droplets, suspended in the air, can quickly and easily spread well beyond (6 feet). How far and how quickly these aerosols spread depends on the quality of ventilation in the room.”

The researchers added:

The results, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, suggest that social distancing is not an effective mitigation measure on its own, and underline the continued importance of vaccination, ventilation and masks as we head into the winter months in the northern hemisphere.

It’s interesting that some of the researchers for this project specialize in “fluid mechanics” which as I understand it, investigates how fluids travel from place to place, influenced by air flow, turbulence and such things. I suppose we can be grateful that somebody studies coughs and sneezes.

One study by experts at MIT found that you could be just as vulnerable at 60 feet depending on the circulation of the air around you you are when somebody expels the virus.

COVID linked to heart inflammation in college athletes

The Washington Post reports:

A small but significant percentage of college athletes who have been diagnosed with covid-19 develop myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can only be detected by a cardiac MRI, according to a study presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

But the details are important. The study included 1,597 MRIs of athletes from 13 schools. The study found:

Thirty-seven of the athletes, or 2.3%, were diagnosed with COVID-19 myocarditis, a percentage on par with the incidence of myocarditis in the general population.

However, an alarmingly high proportion of the myocarditis cases were found in athletes with no clinical symptoms. Twenty of the patients with COVID-19 myocarditis (54%) had neither cardiac symptoms nor cardiac testing abnormalities. Only cardiac MRI identified the problem.

“We still don’t know the long-term effects,” Jean Jeudy, M.D., professor and radiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said. “Some athletes had issues that resolved within a month, but we also have athletes with continued abnormalities on their MRI as a result of their initial injury and scarring. There are a lot of chronic issues with COVID-19 that we need to know more about, and hopefully this registry can be one of the major parts of getting that information.”

Are athletes really collapsing after getting vaccinated?

It is my experience that anytime you see a headline like the one I posted here — one that ends with a question mark — the answer is almost always no. If athletes had been collapsing after getting vaccinated the headline would have said so.

This is a rumor that just won’t die, and by the way, the athletes didn’t die from vaccines. For starters, this is the list of cases that the rumor mill points to.

PolitiFact found that the rumor appears to be based on a German news report but misrepresents what the actual reporting found.

Reuters and Snopes looked into this rumor after videos started showing up, like these, (here, here) showing athletes from various sports collapsing on tennis courts, soccer fields and basketball floors.

Reuters found:

  • Of 19 cases investigated, “Some individuals had not received a jab, while others were down to other medical conditions such as low blood pressure, heat exhaustion, historical heart issues or COVID-19 infection-induced myocarditis.”
  • One of the deaths captured in the videos was from six years ago
  • “45 cases were unverifiable for several reasons, such as some of the clips and headlines providing insufficient information to research, coroner reports not yet being completed, or clubs and sporting organizations not yet responding for comments.”

Reuters reports:

Reuters presented the posts to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the British regulator for drugs and vaccines, which said there is currently no supporting evidence to back up such claims.

MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said: “The MHRA closely monitors the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, including reports of suspected heart inflammation, myocarditis or pericarditis.

How will/should we support children orphaned by COVID?

PBS and Kaiser Health News raised a question that deserves your exploration. The report said, “No concerted government effort exists to help the estimated 140,000 children who have lost a parent (to COVID-19) — or even to identify them.”

In some places, more office space vacant than filled

A pedestrian walks past a vacant commercial property on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Bloomberg got its hands on data from the last month involving New York City office space. The survey included:

Things improved by November, as new survey information, obtained from October 19 through 29 from major employers by the Partnership for New York City, suggests. But not by that much.

On an average weekday, only 28% of workers are in situ. More than half (54%) remain fully remote, and the other 46% range some number of days during a week. Only 8% were back in their offices five days a week.

Employer expectations are that by the end of January 2022, 57% will be back in the office at least three days a week while 21% will stay remote only, which isn’t good news for office property owners.

In Chicago, vacant downtown office space is at an all-time high according to WGN. The empty office space in Chicago is equal to about five empty Willis Towers, the Chicago Tribune estimated.

In places like Calgary, some nonprofit organizations are raising money to buy up unused office space and turn it into affordable housing.

The cost of French hens, turtle doves and geese-a-laying are all way up this year

PNC Bank tries every year to calculate the cost of buying all 12 days of Christmas items.

(PNC Bank)

The price is up more than 5% this year, but the big jumps seem to be largely related to birds.

(PNC Bank)

A hundred bucks a goose seemed high to me, but I checked and, sure enough, that is about the cost of a middle-grade goose. A show goose can run $150 to $175.

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