September 28, 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.

Scientific American gathered two data sets that are worth comparing.

One is a poll of unvaccinated Americans who said they would quit if their employer forced them to get vaccinated.

The poll, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found, “Among those who said they were ‘vaccine hesitant’ — almost a quarter of respondents — we found that 48% would quit or look for another job.” Back in June, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found similar figures.

But what they said and what they did are quite different. Scientific American reports:

Houston Methodist Hospital, for example, required its 25,000 workers to get a vaccine by June 7. Before the mandate, about 15% of its employees were unvaccinated. By mid-June, that percentage had dropped to 3% and hit 2% by late July. A total of 153 workers were fired or resigned, while another 285 were granted medical or religious exemptions and 332 were allowed to defer it.

At Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh, New Jersey, only five of its 527 workers quit following its vaccine mandate. Two out of 250 workers left Westminster Village in Bloomington, Illinois, and even in deeply conservative rural Alabama, a state with one of the lowest vaccine uptake rates, Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center lost only six of its 260 employees.

Delta Airlines didn’t mandate a shot, but in August it did subject unvaccinated workers to a US$200 per month health insurance surcharge. Yet the airline said fewer than 2% of employees have quit over the policy.

And at Indiana University Health, the 125 workers who quit are out of 35,800 total employees, or 0.3%.

The experience with mandatory vaccines in the workplace, so far, shows that if employers supply reliable information and make it easy to get vaccinated, mandates may significantly increase vaccination rates.

The newest data on whether masks in schools matter

People who oppose masks in schools are not going to want to see this. A new analysis of more than 500 counties that have a policy on the use of masks in public schools — that is, the schools either had all kids wear a mask or no kids had to wear a mask — found that counties without school mask requirements experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates compared to counties that had school mask requirements.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that counties with mask requirements in schools experienced significantly lower new cases among school children than those without such mandates.

(CDC)

And yes, the researchers considered all sorts of contributing factors for their findings, including vaccination rates, community transmission, population density and percentage of students living in poverty.

Another CDC study looked at schools without mask requirements versus those that started the school year with requirements. The data shows that schools without requirements were more than three times as likely to have outbreaks than those that required masks for students and staff.

(CDC)

That study focused on Arizona schools. And the findings were stark. Of the 191 schools that reported COVID-19 outbreaks early in this school year:

  • 8.4% of the outbreaks were in schools with early mask requirements.
  • 32.5% were in schools with late mask requirements.
  • 59% were in schools without a mask requirement.

And a third CDC-published study looked at which states had the most COVID-caused school closures so far this school year. There is a correlation between the least vaccinated states and states with the most closures:

(CDC)

Are Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients in a booster shot purgatory?

New York Magazine’s Benjamin Hart writes that people like him who got the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine are in a sort of purgatory when it comes to booster shots. The 15 million people who took the Johnson & Johnson shot know that they will probably, someday, need a booster shot, but there is not enough data to know when.

Killings, gun deaths increase in the pandemic

People march to remember those lost to gun violence in recognition of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims in Harlem, New York City, on Sept. 25, 2020. (mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX)

There was reason to hope that if there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it could be that gun violence might decline if we all stayed home more.  Sadly, that didn’t happen. The FBI’s newly released data shows killings, especially from guns, increased last year. Overall, killings rose 30% — the single largest one-year increase in murder and manslaughter cases in the almost 60 years the government has kept such figures.

The one crime statistic that did fall during the pandemic was property crimes. But assaults and other violent crimes rose. Violent crime is still rising this year, but not as much as it did in 2020.

The FBI summarizes the data this way:

In 2020, there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes. When compared with the estimates from 2019, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 9.3% and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 12.0%. The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 12.1%, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4%.

Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,452,038 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 7.4%, larceny-thefts decreased 10.6%, while motor vehicle thefts rose 11.8%.

Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $17.5 billion in 2020.

You can pull state-level data here, but please read below. The FBI has a warning about how to use this data in reporting.

Caution Against Ranking — Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing crime data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.

Federal police reform bills are all but dead

2021 began with promises and big talk about how Congress might reform policing and fulfill President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda post-Black Lives Matter protests. But now, negotiations have fallen apart and most reforms will have to happen at the state level. The major issues involved:

  • Whether to end qualified immunity for police, which makes it more difficult for a victim of police abuse to successfully sue an officer
  • Changes in acceptable standards for lawful use-of-force
  • A standard for training and accreditation for a department to qualify for federal funds
  • Keeping data on police use of force and for cases that involve police killing someone

Even while the federal government’s negotiations ground to a halt, some states enacted policing reforms. The Brennan Center for Justice collected the output of state legislatures:

For example, Austin, Los Angeles, and at least 12 other cities pledged to cut police budgets with plans to reinvest in community programs such as supportive housing, violence prevention, and other services. Some local governments have since walked back some of these promises: Minneapolis never disbanded its police department, instead spending $6.4 million to recruit more officers.

  • Notably, San Francisco launched crisis response teams to respond to behavioral health calls in lieu of police, and Berkeley voted to limit law enforcement involvement in low-level traffic stops.
  • Minneapolis and other cities made commitments to end or reduce police presence in schools.
  • New York City, home to the nation’s largest police force, just became the first municipality to end qualified immunity for officers (joining Colorado in doing so).
  • Citizens also drove changes through the ballot box, with at least 18 ballot initiatives strengthening law enforcement oversight nationwide, including in localities like Kyle, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

States too have responded to calls for change. Throughout the past year, at least 30 states and Washington, DC, enacted one or more statewide legislative policing reforms, ensuring greater policy uniformity within each jurisdiction. While the new laws cover a wide range of issues, 25 states and DC addressed at least one of three areas directly related to the circumstances of Floyd’s killing:

  • use of force
  • duty for officers to intervene, report, or render medical aid in instances of police misconduct; and
  • policies relating to law enforcement misconduct reporting and decertification (i.e., the revocation of a person’s authorization to serve as a police officer.)

(Brennan Center for Justice)

A number of states changed their laws about the use of force. Many now define the acceptable use of deadly force as being “only as a last resort after exhausting all nonviolent options.”

Many states enacted laws requiring officers to intervene if they witness abusive behavior from their fellow officers. The Brennan Center summarizes:

  • 12 states and DC have created a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene in cases of excessive or illegal force or misconduct, with penalties for officers who fail to do so ranging from discretionary decertification to criminal liability.
  • All but one state also included a requirement for officers to report excessive force or misconduct to supervisors. And eight states created a duty to render medical aid for anyone under an officer’s custody or care.
  • Even without state action, many localities are taking the matter into their own hands: 21 of the nation’s 100 largest police agencies have adopted duty to intervene policies since June 5, 2020, bringing the total to 72 agencies.

In the last year, at least 14 states enacted laws that established or strengthened law enforcement decertification processes, which would make it more difficult for officers who have been disciplined in one city or state to get a job in another location.

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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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