October 19, 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.

If you had asked me the No. 1 and 2 issues on the minds of teens today, I would not have guessed “political divisions” and “health care costs.” But that is exactly what new Washington Post/Ipsos polling finds — which is why polling is valuable; to challenge assumptions with data. (Read the raw polling data here.)

(The Washington Post)

Here is another interesting finding. Today’s teens are fairly optimistic about their own futures. In fact, Black teens are the most optimistic.

(The Washington Post)

61% of white teens said America’s “best years might already be behind us.”

The top three goals for teens are 1) being successful in a career 2) having enough time to do things they want to do and 3) graduating college.

Half of teens polled say the pandemic has hurt them academically.

The Post finds:

A surprising silver lining: Nearly 4 in 10 teens say the pandemic has had a positive impact on their relationships with their parents, compared with about 1 in 10 who say it had a negative impact and roughly half who say it had no impact. For once, the whole family was at home instead of running off in different directions. There were long stretches of not much to do and more time to talk, some teens said.

Only 3% of teens say they envision running for a political office. It made me think back to a time when grandparents would say “someday she/he might be president,” as if that was the pinnacle of success. It makes me wonder how we can make public service more attractive, which will be vital to the future.

Colin Powell’s death shows the importance of vaccination

Vaccine doubters are wrongly pointing to Colin Powell’s death as evidence that vaccines do not work. Powell was “fully vaccinated,” according to his family. But his long-time assistant said he was immunocompromised because he was fighting a type of blood cancer.

The real story here is about how immunocompromised people depend on us all to be vaccinated because the vaccines do not stimulate their immune systems as effectively.

I wrote more about this issue here.

Powell’s death is an opportunity to teach the public about the estimated more than 3 million Americans who are immunocompromised and who depend on the rest of us to get vaccinated to lower the chances that they might be infected with COVID-19.

The life of a car salesperson in a pandemic with few cars to sell

The Wall Street Journal found that even in a pandemic-induced shortage of new and used cars, it is not a bad time to be a car salesperson. These days, with vehicles in short supply because of a global computer chip shortage, the haggling that drove down prices and ate up time and energy is a thing of the past. Buyers now pretty much pay sticker price, or close to it. Supply shortages do that. And the higher prices mean better commissions for salespeople.

COVID-19 rises to No. 2 cause of death among American adults

For most of 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death for American adults. But early this year, COVID-19 became the No. 1 cause of death in America, even surpassing heart disease and cancer. Now, COVID-19 is the No. 2 cause of death in this country after being as low as the seventh leading cause this summer. In other words, we went backward.



The Kaiser Family Foundation took all of the fatality data and dropped it into a table that sorts leading causes of death by age. The darker the color, the higher the ranking for that age. In other words, look at the people who died in January of this year. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for every age group over age 45. And notice that for children under age 14, COVID-19 has not been above the sixth leading cause of death all year.


Parents access ‘private’ teen health records

The Association of Health Care Journalists posted an interesting piece about how parents often get access to their teens’ electronic health records that should be private. This has become a topic of conversation recently for teens who wanted to take the COVID-19 vaccine but whose parents did not agree. The story says:

Adolescent online patient portals can be set up confidentially so information about pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health, and drug and alcohol use, etc., are kept private from parents and guardians. But a new study published in JAMA Network Open from three children’s hospitals revealed that more than half of adolescents’ accounts were inappropriately accessed by parents and guardians.

The AHCJ article says if teens can’t trust that their patient records will remain confidential, they may not get the care they need.

“The 21st Century Cures Act has encouraged the sharing of health information with patients, which we totally endorse and really want to happen,” said senior study author Natalie Pageler, M.D., the chief medical information officer for Stanford Children’s Health, and a clinical professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University, in a phone interview. “It’s the right thing to do for patients and families. But we think this issue [of parents accessing their teenagers’ accounts] is under-recognized…Many parents are getting access to information that they shouldn’t be, which creates a risk for teens.”

This includes the risk that if teens don’t trust that they have a confidential relationship with their provider, they won’t seek the care they need, Pageler said. Worse, for some teens there may be a risk of physical violence or retribution from parents.

The study looked at 3,429 accounts and close to 26,000 messages involving nearly 1,800 teenage patients.

I suspect a lot of parents and teens do not know the HIPAA rules about teen medical records. Here is a summary, although states also have their own provisions in some cases.

People without housing and sidewalk cafes trying to coexist

Patrons are assisted while dining along a sidewalk on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, N.C., Friday, April 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The pandemic induced restaurants to serve customers outside and on sidewalks, which makes the customers more accessible to panhandlers. I suspect this story in The New York Times resonates around the country and beyond. Some restaurants opened feeding missions for people who needed food but could not pay for it. Others report near-daily confrontations. In some cases, street tables and seasonal enclosed eating tents sit in spots people had staked out as places to sleep. Many rescue missions reduced their capacity because of the pandemic.

Rising rent fuels inflation

Buried in the Consumer Price Index figures last week is one item that deeply concerns economists. When rent rises, as it is now, the increase tends to stick around longer than, for example, fuel or food price increases. Last month, rent rose .5%, which may not sound like much, but it is the fastest pace in about 20 years.

Since January, rents, on average, have increased by 16.4%, according to one industry metric, spurred by the frenzy in the housing market.

Goldman Sachs points out that the CPI revealed the fastest pace of inflation for rent since the 2006 housing bubble.

When you look at that increase compared to pet food (up .8%), lawn care and trash pickup costs (up more than 1%), motor vehicle insurance (up 2.1%), tires (up .8%), vehicle parts (up .9%), shoes (up 3% for some categories) and furniture (up 3.5%), you start to understand that many of the things you buy are more expensive. But none make up as much of people’s monthly expenses as rent. In addition, all of those other prices rise and fall or go on sale, making it easy to shop around to find deals.

The CPI includes rent in the category called “shelter.” The Economist explains why that section of the CPI is so influential:

Shelter has the biggest weight in the CPI, making up 32% of the basket of goods and services used to construct the index. The component is broken into two main buckets: regular rents paid by tenants, and the imputed cost of living in owned homes.

Although house prices rose by 20% in the year to July, they do not feed directly into the CPI. That is because statisticians treat home purchases as investment rather than consumption. Instead, they capture homeownership by estimating “owners’ equivalent rent”, the amount an owned property could collect based on leased ones nearby. The rental market, therefore, is what drives shelter inflation.

Stephanie Link, chief investment strategist at Hightower Advisors, tweeted last week, “Rent of Shelter is now shooting higher, after being held down by the eviction moratorium and lack of mobility.”

Because housing is such a big part of the CPI, in markets like Phoenix, where rents have gone up faster than the national average, the national inflation rate significantly understates the actual rate of inflation. KJZZ Radio explains:

Molly Boesel is an economist at Core Logic, a housing analysis firm. She said single-family rents increased 19% in Phoenix in one year — from July 2020 to 2021. That’s the fastest of more than 100 metro areas the firm looks at and at more than double the national rate.

“They weren’t really prepared for this increase in demand last year,” she said.

Boesel said housing makes up about 30% of core inflation, a measure based on the CPI (Consumer Price Index) and that number is underestimated right now, not reflecting actual rental costs. Boesel says Phoenix’s actual inflation rate is actually higher than the CPI shows and is also expected to increase for the remainder of this year and into next year.

What makes people want sneakers so badly that they use bots to snap them up?

A pair of 2016 ”Nike Mag Back to the Future” shoes on display at Sotheby’s auction house in New York on July 12, 2019. The shoes auctioned online for $50,000. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The New York Times looks at the competitive world of athletic shoe sales. People snap up the latest styles of shoes so fast that they can sell out worldwide in minutes. Some of these shoes are selling for tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t understand the minds of shoe collectors, but the story took me to a place I would not go on my own.

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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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