November 5, 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.

I point you to an in-depth piece I just wrote about the new national vaccine mandate. It explains that employers (including newsrooms) will have to allow paid time off for people to get vaccinated and, if they have a reaction to the vaccine, they will get paid time off for that, too.

This is the biggest effort so far to force millions of Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The new rule requires employers with 100 or more workers to mandate employees be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face fines up to $14,000. The lawsuits to block the rule will roll in soon.

The rule:

  • allows workers to avoid the shots but undergo weekly testing
  • does not require employers to pay for the tests
  • requires unvaccinated workers to wear masks

Except for the smallest independently owned stations, publications and online news organizations, journalists nationwide will soon be covered by this mandate.

The deadline for federal employees to get fully vaccinated is still Nov. 22.

Fourth wave coming: WHO issues warning of ‘grave concern’ over rising infections in Europe

This week, Germany saw the biggest daily increase in new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. World Health Organization Europe director Hans Kluge quoted one “reliable projection” of another half million COVID-19 deaths by February. Look at this map of Germany as of Thursday. Darker colors indicate a more severe outbreak.

(Robert Koch Institute)

The BBC reports:

The WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said over the past four weeks cases across Europe had soared over 55%, despite an “ample supply of vaccines and tools”, and colleague Mike Ryan said Europe’s experience was a “warning shot for the world”.

But as Hans Kluge points out, the surge in cases is not confined to Germany.

The most dramatic rises in fatalities have been in the past week in Russia, where more than 8,100 deaths were recorded, and Ukraine, with 3,800 deaths. Both countries have very low rates of vaccination and Ukraine announced a record 27,377 new cases in the past 24 hours.

(BBC)

The BBC gives us other evidence that a fourth wave may be developing as colder weather forces people inside and closer together, and as people act as if the pandemic is over while shunning vaccines:

  • Romania recorded its highest number of deaths in 24 hours this week at 591.
  • This week the Dutch government said it would reimpose mask-wearing and social distancing in many public settings as it emerged that hospital admissions had gone up 31% in a week.
  • In Hungary, daily Covid infections have more than doubled in the past week to 6,268. Mask-wearing is only required on public transport and in hospitals.
  • “At the moment we seem to be hell-bent on a course that says the pandemic is over, we just need to vaccinate a few more people. That is not the case,” said Dr (Mike) Ryan (of WHO), who called for every country to plug the holes in their response.
  • Croatia recorded 6,310 new cases on Thursday, its highest number so far. Slovakia has reported its second highest number of cases and Czech infections have returned to levels last seen in spring.

The first COVID treatment in a pill approved

Mixed with the deeply concerning new warning is a bright spot: The United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve Merck’s new anti-COVID molnupiravir antiviral pill that the nation’s health minister called “a game-changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed.” Merck’s drug is promising because it is a pill that can be taken at home rather than administered intravenously, which requires a hospital or clinic visit. It could become especially useful in places with low vaccination rates but a rising infection rate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking at Merck’s data and may consider approving the drug’s use in the U.S. soon.

Another widely reported ivermectin study retracted: made-up data, nonexistent patients

This study has been out there since May, but has now proven to be fraudulent and wrong. The BBC started asking questions about why data involving 11 patients seemed to have been copied and pasted over and over, and why some patient profiles were simply made up. The researchers withdrew the “study” and said only that there was an “error between files used for the statistical analysis.”

The BBC didn’t stop with one ivermectin trial:

The BBC can reveal that more than a third of 26 major trials of the drug for use on Covid have serious errors or signs of potential fraud. None of the rest show convincing evidence of ivermectin’s effectiveness.

Dr Kyle Sheldrick, one of the group investigating the studies, said they had not found “a single clinical trial” claiming to show that ivermectin prevented Covid deaths that did not contain “either obvious signs of fabrication or errors so critical they invalidate the study”.

Major problems included:

  • The same patient data being used multiple times for supposedly different people
  • Evidence that selection of patients for test groups was not random
  • Numbers unlikely to occur naturally
  • Percentages calculated incorrectly
  • Local health bodies unaware of the studies

The pandemic-era car loan mess: a Consumer Reports investigation of 858,000 loans

In this Sunday, April 5, 2020, photograph, a couple considers a sedan in a long row of 2020 models on display at a Mercedes Benz dealership in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Supply chain issues have driven up the price of new and used cars. Buyers are paying top-dollar for cars at a time of economic instability and lenders are charging stratospheric interest rates to buyers.

Consumer Reports spent a year analyzing over 850,000 auto loans from 17 different lending institutions. The data showed an average monthly payment of nearly $600 for new cars — a 25% increase in the past decade. And that’s not the worst part. Consumer Reports says:

  • In recent years, tens of thousands of consumers have found themselves in financial sinkholes after receiving high-interest, longer-term auto loans.
  • CR’s investigation found that interest rates charged can be stratospheric; in some cases APRs stretch beyond 25 percent. But our analysis also reveals that consumers who are financially similar and have comparable credit scores can be charged wildly divergent interest rates. Even people with high credit scores can be charged exorbitantly.
  • Dealers and lenders may be setting interest rates based not only on risk — standard loan underwriting practice — but also on what they think they can get away with. By spring 2021, an estimated 1 in 12 people with a car loan or lease, or almost 8 million Americans, were more than 90 days late on their car payments, according to a CR analysis of data from the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Philadelphia.
  • Moreover, a significant number of auto loans nowadays come with negative equity from the outset. Almost half — 46 percent — of the loans in the data we reviewed were underwater; that is, people owed more on the car — $3,700 on average — than what the vehicle was worth.
  • Total auto loan debt held by Americans has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, surpassing $1.4 trillion — more than the gross domestic product of Australia. Because of recently skyrocketing prices for new and used cars, that debt is likely to grow even more.
  • A credit score doesn’t necessarily dictate the terms of the loan offered. Borrowers in every credit score category — ranging from super-prime, with scores of 720 and above, to deep subprime, with scores below 580 — were given loans with APRs that ranged from 0 percent to more than 25 percent.
  • Some high credit scorers get high-priced loans. While, on average, borrowers with low credit scores are offered the worst terms, about 21,000 borrowers with prime and super-prime credit scores, about 3 percent of the total borrowers in that group, received loans with APRs of 10 percent or greater — more than double the average rate for high scorers in our data.
  • Many borrowers are put into loans they might not be able to afford. Experts say that consumers should spend no more than 10 percent of their income on an auto loan. But almost 25 percent of the loans in the data CR reviewed exceeded that threshold. Among subprime borrowers, that number is almost 50 percent, about 2.5 times more than prime and super-prime borrowers.
  • Underwriting standards are often lax. Lenders rarely verified income and employment of borrowers to confirm they had sufficient income to repay their loan. Of the loans CR looked at, these verifications happened just 4 percent of the time.
  • Delinquencies are common. More than 5 percent of the loans in the data — 1 in 20, or about 43,000 overall — were reported to be in arrears. While delinquencies declined over the past year and a half, likely thanks to pandemic-related deferment programs, industry groups and regulators are bracing for a potentially sharp uptick in the coming months.

(Consumer Reports)

Consumer Reports says all 50 states have a wide range of regulations and confusing and contradictory laws about how much lenders can charge for car loans.

This is a big and detailed report truly worth your time. Don’t be surprised if some new regulations and oversight result from this one.

The longer pain of the 2021 car loan situation

Some are comparing what is happening with our overextension on car loans with the 2008 housing loan crash. MarketWatch noted cracks in the auto loan sub-prime financing market a year ago, and yet investors keep pouring money into these bonds just as investors did when people were buying houses they could not afford and should never have been given loans to buy.

Yes, we are protesting a lot more these days

A campaigner from the environment group Ocean Rebellion wears a fish head mask during a protest stunt against the Marine Stewardship Council, on the fringes of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

A new study finds that we are protesting more these days. In fact, a lot more. Protests around the world have tripled in the last 15 years.

The study counts 2,809 protests between 2006 and 2020 in 101 countries that cover more than 93% of the world population. Middle-income and higher-income countries have the most protests, while poor countries have the least, partly because of repressive regimes that don’t allow them.

(Data and chart by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue)

It is not the first time we have been in the mood to protest. It happens every four or five decades, including 1830 to 1848, 1917 to 1924, and the 1960s.

So, what are people protesting about? This is really interesting.

(Data and chart by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue)

The research found that 54% of protests had to do with governments that were not responsive to the people. The most common theme from protesters is they wanted “real democracy,” which includes representation for people who feel they are not being heard. The next big chunk of protests had to do with corruption. A third gripe was a lack of action over climate change.

Global research like this makes me think about how alike humans are. We want to be self-governing, we want a say, we want governments to be honest and responsive and we expect governments to get things done and serve in the public interest.

We’ll be back Monday 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,…
Al Tompkins

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