March 16, 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.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned us again this weekend to pay attention to the unfolding new wave of COVID-19 cases in Europe. It just grew more concerning.

Much of Italy is now in full lockdown through at least Easter. In Paris, hospitals are moving about 100 patients to another region to open up some intensive care unit beds. Paris hospitals are canceling nonemergency surgeries as a steady stream of new COVID-19 cases come in. Hospitals say they have more cases now than at any time since November. Two-thirds of the new cases are of the COVID-19 variant varieties.

The Guardian reports:

Emmanuel Macron has warned tough new measures may be needed to contain a new wave of coronavirus in areas of France where infections and deaths continue to rise.

The French president said on Monday “new decisions” would be taken in the coming days to rein in the further spread of the virus.

He said he had asked his government to work quickly to give “our citizens some visibility” of any new restrictions.

Parisians have been warned that the French capital, one of a number of areas of concern, is facing a new lockdown if the situation continues to worsen.

As the number of new cases rose to almost 400 in every 100,000 people in Paris — and higher in some surrounding suburbs — officials said a new patient was being admitted to intensive care every 12 minutes.

Bruno Riou, the crisis medical director of the Paris public hospital authority AP-HP, said the situation was becoming “very worrying”.

“It’s not yet out of control, but it will be,” Riou told France Inter radio. “I’m hearing lots of people say that another week that goes by without a lockdown is another week we have gained. I don’t share that analysis; for me, it’s a week lost.”

In the U.S., spring breakers party like there is no pandemic

People party on Fort Lauderdale Beach on March 14, 2021, as spring break crowds draw a concern during a critical moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. (MPI10 / MediaPunch /IPX)

So many spring break partygoers gathered in Miami that cops dispersed them with pepper spray. While masks might have helped with that pepper spray, Florida does not allow local cops to cite people for not wearing them.

Keep in mind that, for all of the optimism about vaccines, we are still recording new COVID-19 cases at about the same rate we were in October.

Yahoo News reports:

Speaking during a White House coronavirus task force briefing on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reminded the public that her agency’s guidance against nonessential travel remains in place. But such travel is already happening, with the Transportation Security Administration screening 1.3 million travelers last Friday, the most since the pandemic began.

A good number of those travelers appear to be traveling to states like Florida and Texas, where Republican governors have done away with virtually all coronavirus restrictions. The Biden administration worries that not only is such travel premature, but it could be counterproductive in battling the pandemic.

“We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless,” Walensky said. “This is all in the context of, still, 50,000 cases per day.” She added that a recent spike in Europe was a warning of what could be in store for the United States if caution went to the warming spring wind.

“They simply took their eye off the ball,” Walensky said, in apparent reference to countries like Italy and Germany.

Germany, France and Italy join others in putting the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold

The number of European countries that have sidelined the AstraZeneca vaccine is growing. Germany and France joined the list Monday. The main concern is over whether the vaccine is connected to blood clots. Some researchers and the drug company itself insist there is no proven link and that delaying the vaccine is a much greater risk right now.

CNN puts this in some perspective:

AstraZeneca doubled down on the safety of its shots Sunday, saying that a careful review of the 17 million people inoculated with it in the EU and Britain found again that there was “no evidence” of a link with clots.

It found that of those millions of people, there have been 15 events of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported after vaccination; lower than the number that would be expected to occur naturally within that population size.

Nonetheless, the death of one woman in Denmark prompted a number of countries to pause their rollouts until reviews have been conducted. The Danish Medicines Agency said on Monday the woman in question had an “unusual” combination of symptoms before she died.

If I have had COVID-19, do I really need two shots?

Let’s say this right up top, yes, the current protocol is for everyone who gets the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine to get two doses.

But there is a growing body of evidence that is leading researchers to wonder whether people who have been infected by the virus really need two doses. The suspicion is that since they had the virus, they have already developed some antibodies. Business Insider reports:

In a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, 32 researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai wrote that a single-dose strategy for people who’d already had the virus “requires investigation.”

The team found in a small study that people who’d previously had COVID-19 developed 10 to 45 times as many antibodies after their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine as the average uninfected person did. The research is still awaiting peer review.

If the theory proved to be reliable, 29 million Americans who have had the virus would only have to take one dose, freeing up about 15 million doses to go to other people.

But let’s repeat, the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration is to get both doses.

Many businesses are still being started in a pandemic

The number of new business applications has cooled a little bit from last summer, but the figure is still ahead of where it was when the pandemic began a year ago. Axios reports:

The rate at which entrepreneurs kick-started companies over the past year far outpaced the same metric reached during the Great Recession as would-be business owners hoped to turn quarantine into opportunity.

As you can see in the chart from the Census Bureau, new business applications cooled in the summer and then lit back up again.


Again, from Axios:

There has been a “freakish” turnaround in those applications starting in December, notes Swati Bhatt, an economics professor at Princeton University who closely monitors this data.

“What I believe is this is when the rubber hits the road. … We are seeing an implementation of all these technologies coming together in what might be causally called an app-based economy.”

New data from Yelp shows nearly a half million businesses have opened in America during the coronavirus pandemic. Yelp says:

Of the newly opened businesses, 76,051 were restaurant and food businesses, down by 18% year over year (YoY).

With people spending more time at home and in their cars (as many people opted for road trips instead of air travel) 286,879 new professional, local, home and auto businesses opened — on par with the year prior, down by only 1% YoY.

In the restaurant and food categories, food delivery services (up 128%), chicken shops (up 23%), desserts (up 17%) and food trucks (up 12%) saw the largest increases in new business openings, compared to the prior year.

Notaries (up 52%), landscaping (up 42%), auto detailing (up 37%) and contractors (up 5%) saw the largest increases in the professional, local, home and auto services categories.

Psychics get some extra business in a pandemic

Barber Rick Cook holds the sign he playfully displayed in his “Psychic Barber” shop, closed because of the coronavirus outbreak on June 4, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

I suspect they saw this coming, but psychics had a bit of an upturn in business during the pandemic according to Yelp.


Why are so many members of Congress still unvaccinated?

Almost a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives still have not been or are at least not reporting themselves as vaccinated. It could be they are avoiding the vaccine or have some medical condition that prevents vaccination. It matters partly because, until the members get vaccinated, the House will not get back to work as normal. It also matters because — why aren’t elected officials getting vaccinated and what message does that send?

New word for the week: ‘Vaxication’

Travel agents say that vaccinated people are booking trips to burn off pent-up energy and saved-up money.

Bloomberg reports:

As the US vaccination rollout has sped up, so, too, have requests for vaxications. “We have seen a 25% increase in travel inquiries since the first round of vaccinations became available,” says Leah Smith, president of Denver-based Tafari Travel. “Pretty much weekly, I am getting emails from clients saying they just got their first vaccination and are ready to plan the next two years of travel.”

“It’s not uncommon to get up to four trip requests in one email,” Smith continues. “Many clients aren’t even waiting for the second round to book a trip.”

Of course, all of this goes against what the CDC says we should be doing. As Bloomberg points out, travel, especially international travel, is still complicated:

There’s still a catch: Vaccination doesn’t make the hassles of traveling during a global pandemic disappear.

“There’s a whole layer of procedure and regulations people aren’t used to, and it keeps changing,” says Biggs Bradley. “It’s not as simple as having a passport and vaccine.”

Many clients think they can spread their wings two weeks after their second shot, and her team has had to rein them back to the realities of quarantine rules and border closures that still apply to vaccinated travelers.

The pandemic has us grinding our teeth

Here’s something to chew on. The stress of the pandemic is showing up in your mouth. More than 70% of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute are seeing an increase in patients who have been grinding and clenching their teeth, which may be symptoms of stress.

(American Dental Association)

This is an increase from ADA data released in the fall that showed just under 60% of dentists had seen an increase among their patients.

Dental practices are slowly recovering

Something else you can sink your teeth into: Dentists have had a tough time during the pandemic. Patient volumes and collections are way down and have been for a year. The American Dental Association tracks the recovery week by week and even breaks it down by state.

The newest Associated Press polling shows almost half of us have delayed medical care during the pandemic.

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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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