March 18, 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.

It seems that some of us have grazed our way through the pandemic while others have been too upset to eat.

New Harris polling done for the American Psychological Association shows 42% of Americans have gained a stunning 29 pounds on average during the pandemic while 18% have unintentionally lost weight for an average loss of an equally surprising 26 pounds.

(American Psychological Association)

Essential workers gained the most weight and also lost the most weight.

More than half of parents gained weight, an average of 36 pounds.

There were generational differences:

Gen Z adults (ages 18–24): 22% of Gen Z adults report undesired weight loss, with an average weight loss of 22 lbs. 52% of Gen Z adults report undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 28 lbs.

Millennials (ages 25–42): 22% of Millennials report undesired weight loss, with an average weight loss of 26 lbs. 48% of Millennials report undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 41 lbs.

Xers (ages 43–56): 17% of Xers report undesired weight loss, with an average weight loss of 24 lbs. 41% of Xers report undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 21 lbs.

Boomers (ages 57–75): 14% of Boomers report undesired weight loss, with an average weight loss of 26 lbs. 37% of Boomers report undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 16 lbs.

Older adults (ages 76+): 5% of older adults report undesired weight loss and 25% report undesired weight gain. There was an insufficient sample size of older adults to report average pounds of unwanted weight loss or gain.

Federal courts say the CDC overstepped its authority in ordering an eviction ban

Let’s start with some context. Nearly one in five of all renters say they are not caught up on rent, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of a Census Bureau survey. Renters owe an estimated $57 billion in back rent, according to a Moody’s Analytics report. Another 2.6 million homeowners are behind on their payments. A federal ban on most evictions keeps a roof over their head, but it may not be in effect much longer.

Two federal judges — one in Texas and, more recently, one in Ohio — have ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the legal authority to order a ban on evictions and foreclosures.

It is important to take a deep dive into this because the federal ban expires at the end of this month. If the Biden administration attempts to renew it, there might be a real chance of losing a court fight. If the moratorium is not renewed, millions of renters who are behind on their rent and 2.5 million homeowners who are behind on their mortgage face a new reality.

The most recent ruling came when U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese held that the CDC’s order exceeded its authority under the act (Skyworks, Ltd., et al. v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al., N.D. Ohio, Case No. 5:20-CV-02407). The National Association of Home Builders joined in as plaintiffs.

The previous ruling that also said the CDC lacked the authority it claimed was in a case styled Lauren Terkel, et al v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al., E.D. Tex., Case No. 6:20-CV-00564.

Judge Calabrese zeros in on Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 264), which is the authority the CDC leans on to impose the evictions ban. Let’s look at the specific wording of the ruling:

Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, enacted in 1944, permits the Secretary of the Department of  Health and Human Services to authorize the CDC to “make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States or between States.

Section 361 goes on to direct the HHS secretary to make and enforce regulations for specific actions:

For purposes of carrying out and enforcing such regulations, the (secretary) may provide for such inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, destruction of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings, and other measures, as in his judgment may be necessary.

Pay attention to the last part of that last sentence, because the lawsuits hang on what the courts say that means: “… and other measures, as in his (or her) judgment may be necessary.”

A liberal reading of that would give the CDC the authority to do whatever is necessary to control the pandemic. But Calabrese says Congress cannot hand off that much authority. The judge said the CDC’s power is limited to specific actions like fumigation and pest extermination. In other words, small and specific actions, not something broad and sweeping like a national ban on evictions.

The judge ruled that for the CDC to act, there must be an assumption that there is a threat that a disease will spread across state lines and that state actions would not be enough to control that.

While two federal courts have now ruled against the CDC’s actions, neither was willing to grant an injunction to stop the order because there is no proof that damage from the order is irreputable.

There are other similar lawsuits still making their way through the courts.

Bloomberg CityLab reports:

Legal challenges to remove tenants are up almost everywhere, according to a year’s worth of data across 27 U.S. cities tracked by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab and reviewed by Bloomberg CityLab. Even with the CDC moratorium in place and extended into spring, evictions are rising, which has advocates worried about displacement without more decisive federal action.

“Generally speaking, the CDC moratorium is doing what it was intended to do,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “But there are many shortcomings in the order and an alarming number of evictions despite the moratorium. We have been calling on Biden and CDC Director Walensky to not only extend the moratorium, but to strengthen and improve and enforce the moratorium.”

(Bloomberg)

Even with the most recent rise, evictions are still below where they were before the pandemic. Look, for example, at three cities in Ohio:

(Bloomberg)

Landlords are finding new ways to evict renters

Vox published a story about how landlords are looking for ways to force nonpaying renters to move. In some cases, when a rental contract expires, the landlord just refuses to write a new contract if renters are behind on their payments. In other instances, landlords try to show renters are a nuisance. Vox reports:

In countless cities across the country, calling 911 can get you evicted. You, the caller, that is, not the person you’re calling the police on — all because of policies called “nuisance ordinances.”

In Maplewood, Missouri, one victim of domestic violence was forced out of her home after contacting the police because of the town’s particularly egregious rental restrictions.

Vox says that in some cities and towns, a landlord can be held accountable if they do not evict problematic renters. The landlord becomes an arm of law enforcement.

Another form these policies take is through “crime-free leases,” with addendums in rental leases that would allow or mandate eviction after sometimes just a single instance of alleged nuisance activity. Some cities mandate the use of these leases, while others incentivize them. These lease provisions are often enforced by the police, which pressure landlords to evict “undesirable” tenants.

However, the police have a great deal of discretion in when and how they penalize potential “nuisances.” Researchers have shown that this discretion has meant poorer residents, women, and people of color bear the brunt of enforcement.

Landlords are under financial pressure

The National Board of Realtors says if the eviction ban continues, landlords will go further into the financial hole:

Renters continue to face a tough time paying rent, but the burden is also falling on small landlords. Based on a household level tabulation of the January 6-18 US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data, 19.2% of renter households, or 8.1 million renter households, are not caught up on rent payments.

Slightly more than half, or 53.4% of renter households, who are not caught up on rent, live in one-family detached and attached homes and 2-to-4- unit properties. One third of renter households not caught up on rent live in one-family homes (detached and attached).

Missed rent payments have a serious impact on small landlord businesses because 73% of rental properties with 1-to-4 units are managed by “mom-and-pop” landlords who are the owners or have an unpaid agent to manage the property, according to the US Census Bureau 2018 Rental Housing Finance Survey.

NPR has a really useful story about landlords who are trying hard to help renters get the assistance they need to stay in their apartments. It also gives us a look at the ways that some landlords are really stretching to help renters who make some effort to pay what they can.

How to tap into rental and mortgage assistance

The American Rescue Plan Act includes $27 billion in rent relief, $10 billion in mortgage payment relief and $5 billion to address homelessness. But you won’t get a check or have money auto-deposited in an account. This help goes through local and state agencies.

You will find links to programs state and local emergency rental assistance programs at the National Low Income Housing Coalition website and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

Two new studies show masks do not affect blood oxygen levels

Perhaps it is of no surprise but worth noting that the CDC points us to two more studies — one involving children and the other involving adults — that show that masks do not reduce your oxygen levels. The study involving children tests mask use on babies as young as four months. There are at least a zillion studies that all point to the same result: Wear a mask.

The AstraZeneca vaccine does not offer much protection against the so-called ‘South African variant’

This is not the news we hoped for. A study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine says the AstraZeneca vaccine “did not show protection against mild-to-moderate Covid-19 due to the B.1.351 variant.” The study included more than 2,000 participants and still shows 66% to 74% efficacy in protecting against other variants of the virus.

Does the time of day affect your COVID-19 test result?

Tony Rath, a junior kicker at Pacific Lutheran, uses a nose swab to take a three-times-a-week COVID-19 test, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Every day it seems we get new clinical findings that make us say “huh?” Here is another one that is still making its way through the peer-review process. This study from researchers at Vanderbilt suggests that the time of day that you take a COVID-19 test may determine the likelihood that you will get a false-positive result. Your body, it seems, sheds viruses more in some parts of the day than others.

Amazon is now No. 1 in clothing sales

Until now, Walmart and Target have been America’s leaders in clothing sales. Now it is Amazon. MarketWatch summarizes:

Wells Fargo estimates that U.S. sales of clothing and shoes on Amazon, including third-party sellers, grew 15% in 2020, reaching $41 billion.

“While this was only a modest increase of +15%, we believe that overall demand for apparel was stifled by the pandemic, and Amazon’s customers were more focused on ‘essential’ items and/or items that catered to the newfound work-from-home environment,” the Wells Fargo report said.

Vaccinated mother gives birth to baby who also has antibodies

As disappointing as the AstraZeneca news is, here is something that is really hopeful. Keep in mind, this is a “preprint” study, meaning it still has to go through review. But a health care worker who had been vaccinated recently gave birth and the baby’s blood includes antibodies. It may mean that vaccinating pregnant women offers some inoculation for babies.

Next, researchers say they want to figure out when the ideal time might be to vaccinate a pregnant woman to give both her and her baby maximum protection.

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.

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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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