September 23, 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.

Seven states with low vaccination rates and high COVID-19 infection rates are using most of the drug that hospitals administer to people who are infected.

Alabama, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana have used so many monoclonal antibodies that the nation’s supply is getting tight and some patients who might have been treated won’t be.

Tennessee is recommending that doctors and hospitals not give monoclonal antibody treatments to people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but instead to save them to treat people who have chosen not to be vaccinated. As NBC News reports, Tennessee, which has a 44.1% vaccination rate — one of the worst rates in the country — will be a place where “the patients first in line for the monoclonal antibody COVID-19 treatment are likely to be the ones who landed in the emergency room because they did not get vaccinated.”

NBC explains the logic behind the decision:

“What the state is doing is putting the highest risk patients first in line,” Dr. Karen Bloch of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said. “And not having a vaccine does place one at a higher risk of dying from Covid. So, identifying those most at risk makes sense.”

The drug works best if it is administered within 10 days of a person being infected or exposed to the virus. It is generally given to high-risk patients who have heart disease, diabetes or obesity. It has a track record of reducing hospitalizations if the infection is caught early enough.

Dr. E. Turner Overton, co-director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says monoclonal antibody infusions lower the odds of hospitalization by 70% in high-risk unvaccinated people.

Georgia is another heavy user of monoclonal antibodies, and the state just got word that the federal government is now going to control distribution. Georgia Health News reports:

Michael Purvis, CEO of Candler County Hospital in east Georgia, said his hospital was down to just four doses over the past weekend, then got a resupply of 48 more on Monday.

The hospital normally delivers 100 to 125 doses to patients a week, he said. “I’m not going to get as much,’’ Purvis said.

South Georgia Medical Center last week said that it postponed monoclonal antibody infusion treatments. The Valdosta hospital reported giving more than 100 doses per day. Also last week, Colquitt Regional Medical Center in southwest Georgia temporarily closed its infusion center.

Anna Adams, a Georgia Hospital Association executive, said that “we’ve got hospitals that have had to cancel appointments and shut down their (infusion) sites, waiting for supplies.”

“If people don’t have access to this, their chances of being hospitalized are much greater,’’ she said, adding that some smaller hospitals “have had the busiest sites.’’

The federal government has shipped about two and a half million doses of the drug to 8,000 hospitals and clinics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 44% of that supply has been used up. In June, health care workers were administering about 10,000 doses a week. It now is being used at a rate of 200,000 a week.

MSNBC published an opinion piece that tries to reconcile the thinking that COVID-19 vaccines are somehow not trustworthy but monoclonal antibodies administered by hospitals are. The piece notes that the drugs “have until recently flown under the radar and once received a high-profile endorsement from former President Donald Trump. And the fact that the drug can be administered after one falls ill makes it compatible with the ruthless individualism championed by the right throughout the pandemic.”

By the way, monoclonal antibodies are about 100 times more expensive than the vaccine that likely would have prevented the need to use them. And, MSNBC reminds us:

Medical experts have cautioned that monoclonal antibodies can’t substitute for the vaccines because they’re not as durable and because they’re effective for only a certain window of time after symptoms appear.

The cost of remote work

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Nature just published research on the work habits of 61,182 U.S. Microsoft employees during the pandemic and it found some interesting costs of working remotely. The study found “the shift to firm-wide remote work caused business groups within Microsoft to become less interconnected.”

The researchers said that when we work around other people, our relationships “bridge structural holes in the company’s informal collaboration network.” In other words, when we are around people we know and trust, we hear information that might not have passed through formal company informational channels. But since we moved to remote work, we spend less time with the people who used to bridge information gaps and spend more time with people with whom we already have strong ties and less time with people with whom we have weak ties. As a result, we are missing out on new information that we would have casually gained in person.

The study also found that while working remotely, we add fewer new ties to people we didn’t know well before. Think about the cost of that considering how much our workplaces and customers have changed since March 2020.

The study also points to research showing that we do not build meaningful rapport by email or messaging. Phone calls and video calls work better for building rapport and knowledge transfer. (To which I say, “AMEN.”)

The study said:

Remote work obviously eliminates in-person communication; however, we found that people did not simply replace in-person interactions with video and/or voice calls. In fact, we found that shifting to firm-wide remote work caused an overall decrease in observed synchronous communication such as scheduled meetings and audio/video calls. By contrast, we found that remote work caused employees to communicate more through media that are more asynchronous — sending more emails and many more IMs. Media richness theory, media synchronicity theory and previous empirical studies all suggest that these communication media choices may make it more difficult for workers to convey and/or converge on the meaning of complex information.

The study said previous research on remote work fails to consider how remote work in a pandemic — when workers also are balancing child care and other responsibilities at home — is different. It’s very different from the volunteer work-from-home models we had before the pandemic.

The study of Microsoft employees also showed what you likely know too well. Working remotely means working about 10% more hours. One reason seems to be that the distractions of working at home make it more difficult to get our work done in the normal work hours.

You have to wonder whether company decisions in the last few weeks to not return to the office until January are contributing to what some call the “great resignation” involving thousands of workers who say they are going to change jobs.

Vaccinations rising fast in rural America

A Daily Yonder analysis finds, “New vaccinations in rural America last week reached their highest level in three months. The increase in newly completed vaccinations came as the rural death rate from COVID-19 climbed to twice that of metropolitan areas.”

(Daily Yonder)

Cops, educators, store clerks rising up for and against COVID safety mandates

I am seeing more stories that involve educators at all levels being asked — or taking action on their own — to try to control COVID-19 in the classroom.

50 University of Georgia faculty members say they plan to make masks mandatory in their classrooms, and it could cost them their jobs. The teachers fired off a letter to the school administration saying they will start imposing mask mandates in a couple of weeks, but at least one professor is not waiting. It is interesting how many of the teachers who signed the letter are biologists and geneticists. UGA urges but does not mandate masks in classrooms.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, some teachers and students are suing to fight mask mandates. State troopers in Massachusetts are suing over that state’s vaccination mandate at universities. United Airlines employees are suing over the company’s vaccine mandate. 500 LA Firefighters are suing because the city is forcing them to get vaccinated.

In Sarasota, Florida, a beads and crafts store owner is suing the state surgeon general because the state does not allow businesses to require proof of vaccination for entry.

A Florida state representative is suing the state Department of Health to get COVID-19 data.

New website gives you quick access to nursing home vaccination data

Medicare has a new web tool that enables you to know how many people working at any nursing home that accepts Medicare payments (which is most of them) have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. One in five COVID-19 deaths occurred among nursing home patients but now more than 80% of patients are vaccinated. The real concern is that only 64% of the people working at nursing homes are fully vaccinated.

A job site for people who do not want a vaccine

This summer, web-based job boards popped up just for people who reject vaccines and want to work for somebody who feels the same way. Red Balloon is just one such site. Business Insider explains why so many workers are attracted to it.

The state of the First Amendment

The Freedom Forum asked 3,000 Americans how they viewed the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. 94% of Americans consider those rights to be “vital.”

Here are some of the takeaways … with an alert: Not everybody agrees that journalists should be government watchdogs and many do not trust journalists much to begin with.

(Freedom Forum)

(Freedom Forum)

There is a lot to explore in this survey. It was taken not long after the height of the Black Lives Matters marches, so you might have expected that the Freedom of Assembly would have scored higher than it did. Freedom of speech came up as a big concern of people who are focused on online speech. It is an especially hot topic for younger people who do not want their employers telling them what they can post online, away from work.

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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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