November 8, 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.

Over the weekend, a federal court in Louisiana froze enforcement of President Joe Biden’s mandatory vaccination order for private-sector workers until the court could hear arguments.

The Biden administration has until 5 p.m. today to respond to the order. (Read the order here.) The lawsuit is called BST Holdings v. OSHA but includes plaintiffs ranging from the Christian Daystar Television Network to the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah. The Liberty Justice Center, which represents the petitioners, explained some of their concerns:

The Trosclair family operates 16 supermarkets (Ralph’s Market, Butcher Boy, and Save A Lot) in southern Louisiana and Mississippi with almost 500 employees. The Trosclair companies already face a shortage of full-time employees and the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will make hiring and keeping employees harder for them because many employees do not want to get the vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing.

The three-member panel ruled, “Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby stayed pending further action by this court.” The lawsuit argues the requirements conflict with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr lays out the main complaint this way:

The federal government has no authority to force healthcare decisions on Georgia’s companies and its employees under the guise of workplace safety. We are fighting back against this unprecedented abuse of power to stop this mandate before it causes irreparable harm to our state and its economy.

The federal government’s response today will likely sound something like what Justice Department spokesman Anthony Colley said over the weekend:

The OSHA emergency temporary standard is a critical tool to keep America’s workplaces safe as we fight our way out of this pandemic. The Justice Department will vigorously defend this rule in court.

Less than 24 hours after the U.S. Department of Labor revealed the new federal mandate to vaccinate private-sector workers, two dozen states sued the federal government over the mandate, which applies to companies with 100 or more employees.

  • 11 states (Missouri, Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, New Hampshire and Wyoming) joined together to file a suit that calls the mandate unlawful and unconstitutional. 10 of the attorneys general filing the lawsuit are Republicans. One, from Iowa, is a Democrat. The suit says compulsory vaccines should be left up to states as has been the case historically. The suit says, “Its unlawful mandate will cause injuries and hardship to working families, inflict economic disruption and staffing shortages on the States and private employers, and impose even greater strains on struggling labor markets and supply chains.”
  • 3 states (Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) joined a second lawsuit, this one focusing on whether the federal government can mandate federal contractors to require vaccinations. The states point out that many county governments have contracts to hold people in local and state jails and prisons on federal charges.
  • Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi filed a lawsuit saying such a mandated vaccine should require congressional approval and not be the product of an executive order.
  • Texas filed its own lawsuit. Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “The Biden Administration has repeatedly expressed its disdain for Americans who choose not to get a vaccine, and it has committed repeated and abusive federal overreach to force upon Americans something they do not want.”

Some local angles on the infrastructure bill

A diesel-powered school bus is shown parked at MAST Academy, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Miami. The Miami-Dade County School Board has joined a growing list of school districts transitioning from diesel to more environmentally-friendly electric school buses. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

It is difficult to understand what billions and trillions of dollars really mean to how the infrastructure bill will affect everyday people’s lives.

You might start by looking at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ report card for every state. The annual assessment will help you to understand your states’ needs, which you can compare to whatever plans the state might have to spend the billions heading its way. The report card evaluates everything from levees to bridges, solid waste to drinking water and transit.  Earlier this year, the White House listed some of the highest priority issues and The Associated Press summarized them:

  • There are 7,300 miles of highway in Michigan alone that are in poor condition. Damaged streets in North Carolina impose an average yearly cost of $500 on motorists.
  • Iowa has 4,571 bridges in need of repair.
  • There is a roughly 4-in-10 chance that a public transit vehicle in Indiana might be ready for the scrap yard.
  • Pennsylvania’s schools are short $1.4 billion for maintenance and upgrades.
  • California has 14,220 miles of highway in poor condition.
  • Mississippi needs $4.8 billion for drinking water and $289 million for schools. Nearly a quarter of households lack an internet subscription, and a similar percentage lives in areas without broadband. Mississippians who use public transportation have to devote an extra 87.7% of their time to commuting.

Read the White House’s infrastructure fact sheets for each state: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.

To get local on the infrastructure bill, you might look at the aging school bus fleets that schools say they can’t replace. The infrastructure bill will replace old buses with electric buses. This is what the White House promises:

The legislation will deliver thousands of electric school buses nationwide, including in rural communities, helping school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero emission buses, and replace the yellow school bus fleet for America’s children.

The legislation also invests $5 billion in zero emission and clean buses and $2.5 billion for ferries.

Check with your local airport and port authority. The Build Back Better bill promises to pour $25 billion in airports “to address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion and emissions near ports and airports, and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies.” Would this get airlines back on time and reduce tarmac delays? Would this end backlogs — like we see in the Port of Los Angeles — that interrupt the national economy?

The bill promises to help make high-speed internet affordable. What are the actual internet speeds in your community and how much do connections cost? Do your local providers actually deliver the speeds they promise? Field test them with independent experts. Remember to get out of town and test rural speeds that need the most help. The White House promises to,  “Help lower prices for internet service by requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost affordable plan, by requiring providers to display a “Broadband Nutrition Label” that will help families comparison shop for a better deal, and by boosting competition in areas where existing providers.”

The Build Back Better bill promises to harden the electrical grid. Have you ever looked at how often there are power outages in your community? What do we know about the causes of outages and what would prevent them? Build Back Better supporters claimed they would make the electric grid more reliable, saying, “A Department of Energy study found that power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion annually.”

Journalists should directly address Aaron Rodgers’ concerns over COVID-19 vaccines and fertility

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says one reason he didn’t want to take a COVID-19 vaccine is that he wants to be a father and, he says, “To my knowledge, there’s been zero long-term studies around sterility or fertility issues around the vaccine, so that was definitely something that I was worried about and it went through my mind.”

Journalists, I have seen that sound bite quoted over and over during the weekend, and I think it is a disservice to allow Rodgers to raise such a concern and not dig into what the research says. He raises concerns that a lot of unvaccinated people voice and there actually is clinical evidence to address those concerns. Don’t just let his questions hang in the air as though they are unanswerable.

Let’s address Rodgers’ statement in parts.

If you think of “long term” as years, he is right that there are no long-term studies because the virus and the vaccines have not been around that long. But the studies that have been done around fertility, pregnancy and pregnancy losses have resulted in the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s conclusion that the risk from COVID-19 is greater than the risk from vaccines.

The rumors raising concerns about fertility began even before there was a fully vetted vaccine. Scientific American recalls:

One origin of fertility falsehoods about the vaccines may be a letter co-written by a former Pfizer researcher and sent to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in December 2020. The two authors asked that all vaccine studies be suspended. They claimed that vaccine-induced antibodies against a protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter human cells might also attack another human protein needed for embryo implantation. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID.

Researchers have said all along that they believed two of the three approved vaccines did not have the capacity to change human fertility because the vaccines contain mRNA and not the live virus, and the vaccine affects a protein spike, not DNA.

Daniel C. Gonzalez, a medical student at the University of Miami School of Medicine, conducted a study that examined the effect of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines on sperm quality. That study included 45 men. It found:

  • 12 of the men measured an insignificant decrease in sperm concentration and total motile sperm count.
  • 33 of the men had no significant change after vaccination.
  • After the second vaccination, the median sperm concentration significantly increased, and semen volume and sperm motility also significantly increased. But the study says that may have more to do with a longer period of abstinence before the second dose, not the vaccine itself.

The researchers did note that one man had a significantly lower sperm count after vaccination, but the study could not say if the vaccination had anything to do with that change. The study summary said “vaccines do not negatively impact male fertility potential.”

But again, to Rodgers’ point, it is not a long-term study and it is a small sample. Some vaccine-doubters point out that side effects of the vaccine could include a fever, and fever can affect sperm production. Again, true and true. But, the CDC says, “there is no current evidence that fever after COVID-vaccination affects sperm production.”

While there is no evidence that vaccines cause male infertility, being infected with COVID-19 could affect male reproductive health. Scientific American notes a COVID-19 infection may cause erectile dysfunction:

Ranjith Ramasamy, director of reproductive urology at the University of Miami, has published several studies describing the novel coronavirus in penile and testicular tissue and its effects on erectile dysfunction. He and his colleagues also looked at the potential effects of vaccines in these areas and found none.

That study, which again was a small sample, showed COVID-19 affects blood vessels and the effects of the virus can stay in the body for nine months. SARS-CoV-2 also lingers in the testes and autopsies on deceased COVID-19 patients found the virus lingered in patient’s testes.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine says, in a headline, “Covid Vaccine Does Not Cause Female Sterility.” The CDC notes:

A recent report using the v-safe safety monitoring system data showed that 4,800 people had a positive pregnancy test after receiving a first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (i.e., Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna).9 Another report using data from 8 U.S. healthcare systems documented more than 1,000 people who completed COVID-19 vaccination (with any COVID-19 vaccine) before becoming pregnant.

Various studies around in-vitro fertilization (although limited to fewer than 200 patients) show similar pregnancy rates between both vaccinated and unvaccinated women.

On the other hand, pregnant women who get infected with COVID-19 may experience severe complications. Doctors call them “highly increased risk” patients. And Scientific American points to another consideration:

The immune system effects of pregnancy itself make an infection about five times more likely, says Jane Frederick, a reproductive endocrinology and fertility specialist and medical director of HRC Fertility in California. “You get infected more quickly, and pregnant women can go downhill fast,” she adds.

People should take the opportunity to get vaccinated before conceiving, but the vaccine is safe across all three trimesters of pregnancy, says Mary Rosser, director of integrated women’s health at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. In early August, 22 medical groups released a joint statement saying that “the best way for pregnant individuals to protect themselves against the potential harm from COVID-19 infection is to be vaccinated.”

Healio quotes Dr. Linda G. Kahn, an assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and population health at NYU Langone Health:

  • Nearly half of mothers in New York City who had been trying to become pregnant before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped trying during the first few months of the outbreak
  • A third of the women who were thinking about becoming pregnant before the pandemic but had not yet begun trying said they were no longer considering it.
  • The researchers further noted early evidence of a birthrate decline in the United States during the pandemic.
  • The nation saw approximately 300,000 fewer births in 2020 than experts had expected based on annual fertility trends, with a particular drop during the last 2 months of the year, which corresponds with fewer conceptions at the pandemic’s beginning in March.

MORE FROM POYNTER: What is the media saying about the unvaccinated Aaron Rodgers?

Aaron Rodgers takes ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine

We now know what Rodgers meant when he lied about being vaccinated and said he was “immunized.” (Remember, reporters asked him, “Have you been vaccinated?” and the first words of his response were, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized …”)

Rodgers, who tested positive for COVID-19, said Friday, “I’ve been taking monoclonal antibodies, ivermectin, zinc, vitamin C and D, HCQ, and I feel pretty incredible.” Again, journalists have an obligation to not just leave things there but to dive into what we know about these drugs.

The FDA has cautioned people not to take hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital setting because of heart rhythm risks. The FDA warns, “This includes reports of serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.” The FDA says clinical drug trials have shown these medicines (hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine) “showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.”

Ivermectin is an FDA-approved drug but it is not approved as an antiviral medication. Rodgers said he has an allergy to “one of the ingredients” of the mRNA vaccines, and that he didn’t trust Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine, so he sought alternatives.

NPR and Kaiser Health News teamed up on a story that looked at how Republican politicians are pushing to allow doctors to prescribe ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment even though it is not approved for that purpose:

The pleas to public officials have been building. And now they’re beginning to act, largely to satisfy their conservative constituents.

Ivermectin is a generic drug that has been used for decades to treat river blindness, scabies and even head lice. Veterinarians also use it, in different formulations and dosages, to treat animals for parasites like worms.

After the pandemic began, scientists did launch some clinical trials to see if ivermectin could help as a treatment for COVID. Some of those are still ongoing. But most doctors won’t currently prescribe it as a COVID treatment, citing the poor quality of the studies to date, and two notorious “preprint” studies that were later taken off the Internet because of inaccurate and flawed data.

Many Americans remain convinced that ivermectin could be beneficial, and some politicians appear to be listening to them, rather than the current scientific consensus.

Are we over the whole exercising at home thing?


Peloton starts the week worth a lot less than they were a week ago after the company took a beating by investors. On Friday, the company’s stock price dropped by a third. The reason may be in part that people are done with the whole pandemic-era exercise-at-home thing. The Washington Post found:

For a variety of reasons, fewer people are working from home. Just 11.6 percent of workers older than 16 were teleworking as of October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the lowest portion at any time during the pandemic, and a far cry from summer 2020, when roughly a third of employed adults teleworked.

As some analysts noted during Peloton’s epic run last year, homes can start to feel less like sanctuaries when people spend enough time in them, and are forced to do everything — eat, work and exercise — in their most intimate spaces. What might have felt like newfound convenience — hopping off a work call for a 30-minute spin session — can start to resemble a domestic trap.

“People in general are more social creatures,” said Joanna Zeng O’Brien, a senior Moody’s Investors Service analyst who covers the fitness industry. “They go to the gym for the energy, for the group classes. You can buy yourself a Peloton bike or treadmill, and work out in your basement or bedroom, but it’s a different experience.”

Sales of home fitness equipment in 2021 are still up about 100 percent over 2019, and roughly 20 percent over last year, according to sales figures maintained by NPD Group.

Big Bird promotes vaccines for children, Ted Cruz attacks

Sesame Street characters have promoted vaccines for years. So when the CDC and FDA approved vaccines for children, Big Bird and friends did what they could to help children understand the shots.

Because this is 2021 and everyone has to have an opinion about everything, Sen. Ted Cruz called it “government propaganda … for your 5-year-old!”

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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,…
Al Tompkins

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