October 26, 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.

Nov. 8 is a big day in the world of travel. It is the day the United States ends its travel ban that began more than a year ago for many countries.

Pandemic travel restrictions barred most visitors from the United Kingdom, European Union, Brazil and other countries. The new reentry requirements will apply to them but will also affect unvaccinated American citizens who are coming home.

The Biden administration announced a new wrinkle to the Nov. 8 rules on Monday. Airlines will collect personal information from all U.S.-bound travelers for contact tracing. Airlines are required to keep the information on hand for 30 days so health officials can follow up with travelers who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Let’s start with the new rules for crossing into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada. Starting Nov. 8, fully vaccinated foreign nationals can again cross the land borders for nonessential reasons such as tourism or visiting friends and family.

Foreign visitors and U.S. citizens who are unvaccinated will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day, which is a change from the current three days. Vaccinated citizens and visitors will still have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was taken within three days of departure.

USA Today shares what the Nov. 8 rules mean for travelers from other countries:

The change will make entering the U.S. possible for travelers from countries currently listed on the U.S. travel ban, which prohibits entry for travelers who have been in any of the regions within the past 14 days. The travel bans took effect in early 2020 and include:

  • China
  • India
  • Iran
  • Brazil
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Ireland
  • The European Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City

You can also see the ever-changing list of countries that allow U.S. visitors to enter.

This is a good time to check on the cost of the pandemic on tourism and visitation, and to find out whether bookings are up internationally in anticipation of this change. International visitors stay longer and spend more at destinations than U.S. travelers. Pew Research found:

International tourists comprised about 15% of travel spending in the United States in 2019 though they made just 3% of trips, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a group that advocates for the travel industry.

“International tourism is hugely important,” said Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City. “I cannot overstate the importance.”

Although dollars spent by domestic tourists make up about 60% of total money spent by travelers in the United States, industry experts say that all types of customers need to return — including international tourists and both domestic and international business travelers — for the tourism sector to return to normal.

“From a revenue generation perspective, domestic leisure really can’t make up for the losses in international and business,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association.

Don’t think of this purely as what’s in it for hotels, casinos and restaurants. Think about the ripple effect of international travel to the U.S. since hotels and convention centers also generate tax income for communities.  Colorado Public Radio points out:

The loss of overseas tourism has cost the state billions in revenue. International travelers spent $1.64 billion in Colorado in 2019, compared to $306,000 in 2020, according to the state’s tourism office.

Some city and state governments are aggressively marketing themselves to international travelers. The New York Times details how New York City is changing its message to travelers:

The agency, NYC & Company, has lowered its forecast slightly to 34.6 million visitors this year, including just 2.8 million from outside the country. That’s just over half of the record-setting totals in 2019, when there were nearly 67 million visitors, including 13.5 million from out of the country, according to tourism agency estimates.

Now, the agency plans to spend $6 million on an international campaign themed “It’s Time for New York City” in eight countries. Already, it is switching the message on billboards in London and a few other cities from “New York City Misses You Too” to “New York City Is Ready for You.”

According to Visit Orlando, international tourists contribute $6 billion annually to Central Florida’s economy. WKMG-TV says Orlando tourism officials are accelerating international marketing efforts right away.

Pre-pandemic, a fourth of the people arriving at San Francisco’s airport were coming in on international flights. KPIX reports:

“In 2019, just to give you an example, 63% of all tourism spending in San Francisco is by international visitors. That has been shut down since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president & CEO of SF Travel. “We’re going to be activating a lot of our marketing and sales and promotional programs in Europe and other parts of the world that are opening, saying, hey, San Francisco is ready for you, we’re a safe destination to visit, come on and enjoy the things that you love about this city.”

One more thing. While much of the world is reopening, Australia’s prime minister says foreign tourists won’t be welcomed back there until at least next year. Australia imposed some of the toughest travel policies in the world.

The confusing story over NIH funding of virus experiments at a Wuhan lab

A view of the P4 lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen after a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The battle over whether the National Institutes of Health — headed by Dr. Francis Collins — funded virus studies in Wuhan, China, grew more complicated with the release of an NIH letter that admits to two key points.

  1. NIH funded lab work by EcoHealth Alliance, which does research with partners around the world. EcoHealth worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to enhance a bat coronavirus to become potentially more infectious to humans. NIH called it an “unexpected result.”
  2. That work by EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of its grant conditions. The grant required EcoHealth to report if its research increased the viral growth of a pathogen by tenfold.

But while EcoHealth did not properly report its research in the Chinese lab that some suspect may have been the origin of the COVID-19 virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that work, done with NIH funding, could not and did not create the coronavirus that caused the pandemic. Vanity Fair explains:

The letter from the NIH, and an accompanying analysis, stipulated that the virus EcoHealth Alliance was researching could not have sparked the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, given the sizable genetic differences between the two. In a statement issued Wednesday, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said that his agency “wants to set the record straight” on EcoHealth Alliance’s research, but added that any claims that it could have caused the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are “demonstrably false.”

EcoHealth Alliance said in a statement that the science clearly proved that its research could not have led to the pandemic, and that it was “working with the NIH to promptly address what we believe to be a misconception about the grant’s reporting requirements and what the data from our research showed.”

This is the latest development in a messy and suspicion-inducing series of inquiries about NIH’s funding and EcoHealth’s lack of disclosures. Again, Vanity Fair’s story reports:

Early last month, The Intercept published more than 900 pages of documents it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the NIH, relating to EcoHealth Alliance’s grant research. But there was one document missing, a fifth and final progress report that EcoHealth Alliance had been required to submit at the end of its grant period in 2019.

In its letter NIH included that missing progress report, which was dated August 2021. That report described a “limited experiment,” as the NIH letter phrased it, in which laboratory mice infected with an altered virus became “sicker than those infected with” a naturally occurring one.

Without a doubt, this will add more urgency and pressure to get a full accounting of the work that went on at the Wuhan lab, which the Chinese government has blocked.

Rudeness leads to a shortage of poll workers for upcoming elections

In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, Precinct 36 poll worker Vivian Bibens wears personal protective equipment as she explains the purpose of the ballot scanner to a voter on Election Day in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The board of elections in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, recently reported that a dozen municipalities there were short on election poll workers. The county found that one reason — a big reason — is that poll workers said they would not be back after the 2020 election. County Commissioner John Christopher Soff said, “You wouldn’t think of this some years ago, but in today’s world a voter will walk in and they’ll yell at a poll worker for something they don’t like on the national level, let’s say. And it’s not at all that poll worker’s fault.”

Erie News Now also quoted Soff as saying: “Poll workers have told us they’re being screamed at and it’s a shame. You generally have an older population who have maybe been able to spend the time working the polls and they felt they just can’t do it anymore being treated the way they have been treated by several voters.”

Ohio is 17,000 workers from its 42,000-person goal, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Some polls have less than half of the minimum number of workers needed.

Route-fifty.com reports:

Poll worker recruitment has also been a challenge in states, including New Jersey. To help, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order boosting poll worker pay from $200 to $300 on Election Day. Lawmakers approved $400-a-day payments for poll workers to staff the primary election earlier this year.

The boost in pay has helped attract workers, said Nicole DiRado, administrator of the Union County Board of Elections.

“We were down about 1,000 poll workers. It was looking pretty bleak,” DiRado said.

A report to Congress recently found that poll workers, who tend to be older Americans, grew a little younger last year when states launched recruitment drives during the pandemic.

(U.S. Election Assistance Commission)

Crawford County, Pennsylvania, started recruiting volunteers. One of the answers seems to be high school students who will step in on Election Day.

Female state troopers rose only 1% in 20 years

In 2000, 6% of all state troopers in the United States were women. Now the figure, according to an audit by Stateline, stands at 7%. Women account for 13% of all police officers in the United States.

Women make up 13% of the trooper forces in North Carolina and Vermont but only 2% in Oklahoma and Georgia. Stateline summarizes:

A study of the Chicago Police Department published this year in Science, found that female officers use less force than male officers. Female officers also are less likely to be the subject of citizen complaints, according to a 2008 study published in the Law Enforcement Executive Forum.

Other research also shows that women are more skilled at assessing the policing needs of diverse communities and get better outcomes for victims of sexual assault.

“For all of those reasons, it’s important to have women as part of the workforce,” said Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives. “Our country’s demographics is half women. To not have that reflected in policing is passe. We need to come up with the times. This is a job that women can do.”

The demise of the plastic leaf bag

Georgia Tech professor Kim Cobb is shown at her home raking leaves as her children play in the front yard on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

This is the season — when I lived in Tennessee and Kentucky — when I would fill mountains of plastic trash bags with leaves. But 2021 is showing us that plastic yard bags’ years may be numbered. Cities like Charlotte have all but outlawed plastic bags and even threaten to fine people who use them.

Some people are complaining that compostable paper bags fall apart when they get wet.

The Charlotte Observer says the undesirability of paper bags led to innovation. The Leaf Burrito was born:

The Leaf Burrito is a reusable, mesh yard bag capable of holding grass clippings, leaves, weeds, hedge trimmings and more, inventor and company CEO Marc Mataya told the Observer. And it’s made in Charlotte. Mataya began Leaf Burrito in 2015 when he was throwing a big party at his home and had about 25 bags’ worth of leaves in his front yard. With time running short, he got a large tarp, raked the leaves in it, rolled it up like a burrito and ran down the block to see if Solid Waste Service employees would pick it up. The workers obliged and emptied the “burrito” into the truck, Mataya said. They told Mataya that they preferred doing it his way as opposed to opening multiple plastic bags, he said.

When my son was in second grade, a teacher asked a question that went something like, “What does it mean when the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground?” My son, having grown up in Florida, answered, “It means the tree is dead.”

Correction: The director of the National Institutes of Health is is Dr. Francis Collins. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — headed by Dr. Fauci — is an institute under the NIH umbrella.

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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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