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 federal district court in Georgia slammed the brakes on President Joe Biden’s mandate for millions of federal contractors to get vaccinated against COVID-19. A federal judge in Georgia approved an injunction that says that the president’s order needs congressional approval to be valid.
The lawsuit was brought by the states of Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia; the governor of Georgia; the governor of Alabama; the governor of Idaho; the governor of South Carolina; the board of regents of the University System of Georgia; and several other state officials and the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association.
Judge Stan Baker noted in his ruling that states and state universities have billions of dollars in federal contracts. For example, he notes, Georgia Tech has 16,000 employees who work on a range of federal grants — including the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NASA. That school alone has $664 million in federal contracts that would be affected by the vaccine mandate.
The president’s order would have required millions of contractors to get vaccinated by today, but the order was pushed to Jan. 4. Now it is on hold awaiting an appellate court hearing.
An even bigger part of the president’s mandate is also on ice for now. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration planned to require all employers with more than 100 employees to require either vaccinations or regular testing. But a federal court of appeals in New Orleans ruled that order was an overreach of authority, too.
Personal pandemic-era savings are drying up
In the early days of the pandemic, when the government was sending families big COVID-19 survival checks, the personal savings rate grew to an average of 34%. That means one out of every three dollars of disposable income went into savings. Those savings are now dwindling and, in some cases, are gone. The New York Times crunched the numbers.
We are spending far less time in traffic thanks to the pandemic
Maybe you were like me. When the pandemic began, I tried to find a bright spot in the situation. I dreamed of all of the extra time I would have because I would not be driving to work, or anywhere else for that matter. (I didn’t anticipate that I would be working more. Stupid me.)
But the latest calculations show even now we are spending a fair amount less time in traffic than we did before the pandemic.
Mobility research firm INRIX says we are not making as many trips downtown as we used to. So many people still are not returning to the office that the traffic is lighter in many big and even medium-sized cities.
- The average American driver lost 36 hours due to congestion, costing $564 in wasted time
- Chicago (104 hours), New York (102 hours) and Philadelphia (90 hours) lost the most time to traffic congestion in the U.S. despite being -27% to -37% below 2019 levels
- Las Vegas (28 hours) saw the one of the largest increases in congestion, 76% over pre-COVID; Washington, D.C. remained -65% below normal, the largest decline of U.S. metros
- San Francisco (-49%), Detroit (-41%), and Washington, D.C. (-38%) have continued to see significant reductions in downtown trips, yet San Antonio (-5%), Tampa (-6%) and Phoenix (-7%) inched closer to pre-COVID levels.
Return-to-office pushed back to March as COVID-19 concerns rise (again)
This item is related to the one above it.
Every time the return to the office seems to be on the horizon, a new surge or variant pushes it back again. Ford just told 30,000 office workers to keep working from home until March. Assembly line workers have been in the factories since May 2020, and the offices were to reopen next month. Omicron changed those plans.
Google and Uber have also delayed their planned return to offices but have not announced a new target date.
More than one in 10 workers in America are working from home right now, according to the Labor Department.
Omicron boosts boosters
The omicron variant pushed people in the United States to get vaccinated and especially to get boosted.
Men spread the virus more than women
Add this to the list of things you can blame on us guys: A new study by Colorado State University researchers found that men spread more virus particles than women or children. KCNC in Denver explains the study and findings:
More than 75 different people participated in the study which largely took place in a chamber used for testing particles in the air. Participants were of different ages and skillsets. Some were asked to sing songs like “Happy Birthday” repetitively. Others were asked to perform songs on instruments.
“Adults tend to emit more particles than children,” (Colorado State University professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering John) Volckens said. “The reason men tend to emit more particles is because we have bigger lungs.”
Volckens said the virus also spreads more easily among those who speak at louder volumes.
“The volume of your voice is an indicator of how much energy you’re putting into your voice box. That energy translates to more particles coming out of your body. These are particles that carry the COVID-19 virus and infect other people,” Volckens said.
Volckens said indoor venues which are louder are at greatest risk for spread of COVID-19. Loud enclosed locations like bars, sports arenas and concert venues can be susceptible to high levels of spread. Volckens said other events, like a ballet with infrequent loud audience responses, are more safe than a concert with thousands of screaming or singing fans.
So there is a positive side to church congregations who mumble their way through hymns. At least they are not hurting anybody by spitting out their viruses.
Support for gun control is at the lowest point since 2014
Americans’ support or opposition to gun control generally rises and falls in reaction to big news events like mass shootings and court cases. There is a predictable renewed conversation going on in the Michigan legislature and in Congress to rethink gun laws. So far, the efforts have gone nowhere. That too, is predictable, especially when you look at the public attitude toward gun restrictions.
The Gallup polling organization has tracked attitudes toward gun control for more than 30 years and support for gun control is at its lowest point since 2014.
This polling was completed before the mass shooting at a Michigan school and the high-profile trials in Wisconsin and Georgia involving people who were prosecuted for using their weapons on public streets while claiming the right to defend themselves with deadly force. And, soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in what could be a landmark decision involving gun rights. That lawsuit has to do with a New York rule that requires pistol owners who want a license to carry a concealed handgun to show “proper cause” for the license. But gun rights advocates say the Second Amendment should allow people to carry concealed weapons in public anytime they wish, without proving a need.
Perhaps predictably, the division between people who identify themselves as Democrats and Republicans has never been wider on this issue.
And, there has been no letup in mass shootings either. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 638 mass shootings so far in 2021.
The Supreme Court will soon rule on New York’s gun law. The court may rule that a person’s gun-carrying rights are assumed as a right, not earned by need.
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.