February 10, 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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines for how and when to reopen schools around the country will be a roadmap, not an order. What will these guidelines say and what do stakeholders hope for?

Teachers want the new guidelines to say that educators and support staff should get vaccinated before classrooms reopen. The American Federation of Teachers says educators should be considered front-line workers just as health care workers are.

Almost certainly, the guidelines will include increased ventilation for classrooms and will call for fewer students per square foot.

The Hill spells out the opposing pressures at play:

Democratic governors and mayors from Chicago to San Francisco feel enormous pressure to reopen schools as data shows children are falling behind in their studies, delinquency rates are rising and many young people are suffering isolation trauma.

Most private schools for wealthy children are open, while most public schools remain closed, raising concerns about equity in education for low-income students and racial minorities.

At the same time, unions, which have enormous sway in the Democratic Party, are expressing concern about reopening public schools too quickly as new viral strains emerge.

Some unions are saying their teachers won’t return to the classroom until they’ve been vaccinated, putting them at odds with the CDC.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfood (D) have criticized the unions for what they describe as unrealistic demands. Republicans have been hammering Democrats on school reopenings, viewing it as a potent wedge issue heading into the midterm elections.

The American Federation of Teachers lays out what it considers to be a blueprint for reopening classrooms. It includes:

  • Lots of COVID-19 testing in schools (20% of staff and students tested every week)
  • Increased ventilation in classrooms
  • Lowering the number of people in any room
  • Developing a protocol for closing classrooms and schools. Here’s an idea of how that might work:

(American Federation of Teachers)

The checklist below is used in public schools in Washington, D.C. The Federation of Teachers says this is the kind of immutable list that would help schools reopen safely.

(District of Columbia Public Schools)

Will there be mandatory summer school?

This is a serious consideration in some communities. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta’s school system presumes about half of all students will attend summer classes:

Atlanta Public Schools will offer a four-week summer school program to help students who struggled academically before and during the pandemic.

As an indication of just how dire officials think learning loss could be, the district is exploring a dramatic step: Requiring some students to attend the June session.

The Summer Academic Recovery Academy will run five-days-a-week and will be offered both online and in-person.

“At this time, we are strongly encouraging daily student attendance for the full four weeks, but we are working closely with our legal department to explore options for mandatory student attendance,” Yolonda Brown, chief academics officer, told school board members this week.

I am seeing similar plans developing in Virginia.

A nonprofit in Michigan says it polled hundreds of parents, who said they wanted to see summer classes make up for what kids have missed out on in this school year.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten says mandatory summer school is not going to fly, but schools should consider how to offer a summer semester to families that want to make up for some of what they have lost during the virtual semesters.

The New York Times’ Dana Goldstein and Kate Taylor recently explored whether summer classes were a possibility. Their reporting notes a difference between an effective plan and a funded and staffed-up program.

Governors have few ways to compel districts to expand summer offerings. Local contracts typically make it impossible to require teachers to work over the summer, and a recent poll of educators found that only 19 percent support a shorter summer vacation in 2021 or 2022.

Teachers who did agree to work over the summer would need to be paid at a time when districts are already stretching their budgets to cover costs such as updating ventilation systems, hiring school nurses and testing staff and students for the coronavirus.

If summer programs prove effective in making up for what COVID-19 cost students, there could be long-term effects. Some experts say it could spark interest in year-round teaching that keeps students from losing what they learned over long breaks in the summer and winter.

A 2021 trend: dying at home, not the hospital

When patients and families have to make choices about where they spend their last days, they are increasingly choosing not to die in hospitals and nursing homes, places where family cannot be near. An Associated Press story reports:

Across the country, terminally ill patients — both with COVID-19 and other diseases — are making similar decisions and dying at home rather than face the terrifying scenario of saying farewell to loved ones behind glass or during video calls.

“What we are seeing with COVID is certainly patients want to stay at home,” said Judi Lund Person, the vice president for regulatory compliance at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “They don’t want to go to the hospital. They don’t want to go to a nursing home.”

National hospice organizations are reporting that facilities are seeing double-digit percentage increases in the number of patients being cared for at home.

The phenomenon has played out Carroll Hospice in Westminster, Maryland, which has seen a 30% to 40% spike in demand for home-based care, said executive director Regina Bodnar. She said avoiding nursing homes and coronavirus risks are the biggest factor behind the increase.

The most painful apology

I have been meaning to pass along a comment that Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis made recently while warning about the danger of family gatherings. I spotted this passage in People:

Continuing her remarks by stating that “dying from COVID in the hospital means dying alone,” Solis, 63, shared that family members succumbing to the novel respiratory illness have been saying their goodbyes to loved ones on tablets and mobile phones as “visitors are not allowed into hospitals for their own safety.”

“One of the more heartbreaking conversations that our healthcare workers share is about these last words when children apologize to their parents and grandparents for bringing COVID into their homes, for getting them sick,” she said. “And these apologies are just some of the last words that loved ones will ever hear as they die alone.”

“Please don’t let this be your family. Don’t let this be your parents or your grandparents,” Solis added. “Please, for your loved ones, stay home, stay safe, keep your loved ones alive.”

Unauthorized occupant evictions, the way around eviction moratoriums

Demonstrators call for passage of rent forgiveness and stronger eviction protections legislation in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Landlords who are looking for a way to boot people who are not paying rent  — some of whom will soon reach the one-year mark since they last saw a check — have found a growing loophole. A New York Times story says eviction cases involving “unauthorized occupants” are growing more common as renters take in family or friends.

Kaitlin Heinen, a staff attorney at theHousing Justice Project in Seattle, said that over the past few months she had seen a marked increase in “unauthorized occupant” cases, in which a landlord seeks to evict someone for allowing an off-the-books roommate into the unit.Claas Ehlers, chief executive of Family Promise, a homeless-prevention nonprofit that has more than 200 affiliates in 43 states, said people without leases constituted an outsize share of the group’s requests for rental aid and assistance.

“We’re seeing this domino effect where cheaper affordable housing is still saturated, so now we’re getting into unauthorized occupants,” Ms. Heinen said.

It is a world of cash rent and oral agreements that are unstable and easily torn — a big reason that various studies show informal tenants are more likely to become homeless.

Try the other arm if you had a reaction to the first COVID-19 shot

One of my favorite readers, Anna Stern, spotted some gems in this story by USA Today. Some people — we don’t know how many — developed a rash on the arm where they got their first Moderna COVID-19 shot. Barely more than a dozen cases have been reported but there might be a lot more.

There is no indication the reaction is anything but a topical — and brief — response as the body’s immune system goes to work, said Dr. Esther Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We want to reassure people that this is a known phenomenon,” she said. “Having a big red splotch on your arm for a couple of days may not be fun but the reality is there’s no need to panic and no reason not to get your second shot.”

What’s unusual is that the rash typically shows up five to nine days after the first immunization — on average, a week later. That makes it different from most vaccine side effects, which typically occur within a day or two.

“People are a little surprised because it’s a long time after the shot,” Freeman said.

The CDC wants to hear from people who have had skin reactions like this and has set up a page for people to report them. Some of these rashes can be five or six inches across. The experts are saying not to let a COVID-19 arm rash stop you from getting a second dose, but they say you might try using the other arm.

The pandemic pressures some nonprofits

The research firm EAB, which follows fundraising trends in higher education, says 2020 was a particularly rough year for colleges and universities. 65% of the schools raised less money last year than in 2019, and not just by a little bit. Giving is down 30% year to year.

Here is a quick summary of what EAB found:

54% of institutions saw dollar declines, with the median institution experiencing a 9.4% drop in the value of new gifts and pledges. For 46% of institutions, the declines reached into the double digits.

Much of the revenue pain is attributable to a slowdown in major gift activity. Development teams have broadly struggled to reorient their work to the Zoom era. Few have found reliable ways to keep cultivation and solicitation activity high.

As a result, a plurality of our partners, 49.5%, saw a decline in the number of new $25,000+ proposals, compared to 41.6% who saw an increase and 8.9% who stayed flat. Nearly 2 in 5 saw crippling double-digit proposal drops.

Many of these declines came for the first time after years of growth within major gifts teams, which had helped lift overall productivity. This year, though, the return on that staffing investment stalled.

The study says that, more generally, the nonprofit fundraising world saw a small percentage of major gifts that blunted the significant erosion going on among the much larger pool of givers.

One area that raised a lot more money in 2020 is nonprofit bio-pharma research. That giving was centered on supporting research for vaccines and treatments of the coronavirus. Social justice charities also saw a surge of new interest in 2020.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is just out with their list of America’s top donors, where they live and what they support.

The Hill says despite a pandemic and troubled economy, most Americans say they donated almost as much last year as they did in 2019:

More than 70 percent of Americans made an average donation of $348 to charitable organizations last year, according to a recent survey, more than the 62 percent in 2019, but just under last year’s average of $379. Nearly 90 percent of those who didn’t cited a lack of disposable income as the main reason why. And while the CARES Act upped the deduction for charitable gifts, 83.5 percent said this didn’t affect the amount they gave.

Roughly a quarter of those donated to two different organizations and more than half donated to health-related charitable causes, followed by nonprofits focused on animals and then religion. Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, as well as the LGBTQ+ community, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, which only exacerbated existing inequities.

Despite a surge in activism driven by the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, only 16.3 percent donated to civil rights causes, although another 18.8 percent donated to education, 18.8 to communities and 17.4 percent to poverty.

It’s not just how much Americans are giving but also how they’re giving that has changed in recent years. Another report by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that more Americans are giving directly to charitable organizations, other individuals or businesses.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. 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,…
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