May 26, 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 first winner of the Ohio Vax-a-Million lottery will be chosen today.

The Biden administration says, yes, Ohio caught a nice wave when it offered a lottery for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine — and lots of people did. And now the federal government says it will help other states do what Ohio did if it will encourage vaccinations.

NBC News reports:

Already, more than 2.7 million people have registered for the drawing and 104,386 Ohioans between the ages of 12 to 17 have entered a college scholarship drawing, Ohio public health officials said.

The Department of the Treasury released additional guidance Tuesday on how states can use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for programs that encourage people to get vaccinated, Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said. This includes lotteries, cash or in-kind transfers and other financial incentives for people to get vaccinated.

“Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has unlocked a secret,” Slavitt said during a news briefing. “People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they also have other things they care about. Some of those things might encourage people to think about what might otherwise be a lower priority.”

Similar programs have also been announced in New York, Maryland and Oregon. And United Airlines is offering vaccinated passengers the opportunity to win free flights.

“We encourage states to use their creativity,” Slavitt said. “People might say all this is frivolous. I say anything that ends the pandemic is time for us to pull out now.”

You can add Colorado to the list of states offering a million-dollar lottery for people who get a COVID-19 vaccine. 9 News in Denver reports:

Colorado Lottery will hold five drawings between June 4 and July 7. Anyone 18 and older who is a Colorado resident and has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be automatically entered.

The sweepstakes will be funded by federal funds through the CARES Act that otherwise would have gone into advertising and marketing, Gov. Jared Polis said.

“We have seen this kind of drawing work in states like Ohio, where they saw a surge in interest from launching their drawing,” Polis said. “And we expect that we’ll see the same thing here.”

Tracking breakthrough cases — and there ARE breakthrough cases

As of this morning, there are nine states where at least 70% of the adult population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Washington, Washington, D.C., Minnesota, New York, Virginia and Illinois).

We knew all along that some people who were fully vaccinated would still get infected with COVID-19. The questions have always been how many would be infected and would the vaccine make the so-called breakthrough cases less severe. The data is providing some answers.

And I have some mixed news about that data. On the one hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing state-level breakthrough virus data for most states. But the CDC changed the way it collects breakthrough data starting this month. It is now only collecting data on the most severe cases, so we may not know all of the breakthrough cases that happen as the vaccines in our bodies age.

The largest percentage of the breakthrough cases showed no symptoms, but some fully vaccinated people were hospitalized. About a third of the 955 people who were hospitalized showed up at the hospital with problems unrelated to COVID-19 or were asymptomatic. About 2% of the people who were hospitalized died.

But, and this is important, 28% of the deaths were unrelated to COVID-19. Lots of them suffered from some other problem in addition to the virus. The average age of the people who died was 82 years old.

Here is the overview. Remember, the CDC says it is highly likely that the number of breakthrough cases is far higher. Most people who are fully vaccinated but still get infected don’t know they are infected or have such mild symptoms that they do not get tested:

  • A total of 10,262 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine breakthrough infections had been reported from 46 U.S. states and territories as of April 30, 2021.
  • Among these cases, 6,446 (63%) occurred in females, and the median patient age was 58 years ranging from 48 years to 74 years old.
  • Based on preliminary data, 2,725 (27%) vaccine breakthrough infections were asymptomatic, 995 (10%) patients were known to be hospitalized, and 160 (2%) patients died.
  • Among the 995 hospitalized patients, 289 (29%) were asymptomatic or hospitalized for a reason unrelated to COVID-19.
  • The median age of patients who died was 82 years. 28 (18%) decedents were asymptomatic or died from a cause unrelated to COVID-19.

It is also notable that of the 555 breakthrough cases that researchers were able to sequence, almost two-thirds (64%) were cases in which one of the variant viruses sickened the patient.

The most common variant was the B.1.1.7 (199; 56%) which first identified in the United Kingdonm. The other variants that showed up were B.1.429 (88; 25%) and B.1.427 (28; 8%) B.1.429, first found in California; P.1 (28; 8%), first detected in Brazil; and B.1.351 (13; 4%), first detected in South Africa. Nobody expects you to remember which each of those are so you can go here to learn more.

Here is what the CDC says about how it will collect breakthrough data in the future:

Beginning May 1, 2021, CDC transitioned from monitoring all reported COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections to investigating only those among patients who are hospitalized or die, thereby focusing on the cases of highest clinical and public health significance.

CDC will continue to lead studies in multiple U.S. sites to evaluate vaccine effectiveness and collect information on all COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections regardless of clinical status. Additional information and resources to help public health departments and laboratories investigate and report COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases are available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/health-departments/breakthrough-cases.html.

Keeping in mind that the newest data is being collected differently, this is the latest:

(CDC)

All this data points to a few conclusions. The vaccines are behaving and protecting in just the way the Food and Drug Administration and CDC thought they would. And they are proving to be highly effective, but not invincible.

How the Wuhan lab virus theory went from crazy to not so crazy to possible

A view of the P4 lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen after a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

At this moment, we do not know for certain where the COVID-19 pandemic began. But a theory that it somehow began in a laboratory in China has gained momentum as a plausible notion. The Washington Post created a useful timeline to walk you through the evolution of the changing theories.

The White House said Tuesday that China hasn’t been “completely transparent” in the global investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and that a full investigation is needed to determine if the virus originated from nature or a lab.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters, “We don’t know 100% the answer to that.” And, he said, “It is imperative that we do an investigation.”

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged that it is “one possibility” that COVID-19 leaked from a lab.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the virus “likely came” from an animal host, but the agency has not ruled out the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab. Ghebreyesus added, “Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded. I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”

It was just March when the WHO strongly suggested the notion of the virus originating in a lab was unlikely and the evidence that it came from wildlife was “strongly supported.”

You may be wondering why you should care about the origin of this virus. CNBC explains:

The origins of the coronavirus remain critically important to global public health because it is constantly evolving as it spreads, as highly infectious mutant strains identified in the U.K. and South Africa demonstrate. Scientists also say it is essential to try to understand the origins of the Covid pandemic in order to be better prepared for future pandemics.

Obviously, it would be important to know what viruses exist in labs and whether they are secure. In addition, we need to know whether there is a trustworthy notification protocol in place if one of the viruses did somehow escape. These are critically important issues, far more important than a blame game or political positioning.

When lumber and copper prices go up, so do thefts

Copper pipe installation bringing water to Troy Hernandez’s residence in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Construction sites that used to worry mostly about people stealing their tools now worry a lot more about somebody lifting their plywood stacks.

In Seattle, cops got a call about some guy tampering with light posts, apparently looking for copper wiring to steal.

In Oklahoma, somebody stole enough steel to shut down an entire construction project.

South Carolina criminals stole enough copper wiring to cause a neighborhood blackout.

And in Missouri, some heartless criminal stole the copper pipes being used by an animal shelter’s air conditioning system. Locals donated money for replacement parts and a local heating and cooling company offered to fix it for free.

Other commodities like pork are also thriving right now, with prices higher than they have been since 2014. But before you think pig farmers are getting rich, factor in the much higher costs of feed (also a commodity) and transportation (driven by a shipping shortage).

We’ll be back tomorrow 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,…
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