September 27, 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.

Starting today, all health care workers in New York state — from hospitals to nursing homes — will face termination if they don’t have at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. And the national shortage of health care workers threatens to force some nursing homes to close.

(American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living)

(American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living)

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living say:

  • Nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living community (96%) in the U.S. is facing a staffing shortage.
  • Nearly every nursing home and assisted living community is asking staff to work overtime or extra shifts. 58% of nursing homes are limiting new admissions due to staffing shortages.
  • 45% of nursing homes say vaccine requirements make recruiting difficult.

The Albany Times-Union reported that some staff in group homes and long-term care homes are already working 24-hour shifts.

The staffing crisis has prompted some hospitals to eliminate elective surgeries and to divert some people in need of medical treatment to other facilities.

“While Upstate University Hospital continues to ensure the best care for our patients, we are proactively taking temporary measures to focus on COVID cases, as well as safely meet the critical care needs of the community,” the hospital said in a statement. “This includes postponing some elective surgeries. Upstate is like many other hospitals across the country — balancing staffing challenges as we see increasing demand for patient care. Our nursing staff in particular has been working around the clock helping patients, and we will support them so they can continue to provide the highest level of care.”

As of Friday, about 81% of the health care workers met the vaccine deadline, but thousands of workers are on the edge of losing their jobs.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a compelling essay from two veteran nurses who say in decades on the job, they have never seen turnover like they see now. Here are a couple of passages, but you should read the whole essay:

All the nurses who have worked through the pandemic — who risked their own lives to care for their communities — are truly suffering. Hospitals never staff with any sort of cushion; they never plan for the what-ifs. And as a result, nurses are burned out. They feel unappreciated by hospital management. And they’re either leaving the hospital or the profession, as I did.

We are experiencing a turnover rate now that I’ve never seen in the 30 years I’ve been at Einstein. Every day, someone leaves. Nurses used to be here for three or four years before moving on; now, it’s three or four months. It’s scary on so many levels.

Nurses who are brand-new, just coming out of school, are being thrust into assignments with high acuity even as they’re forced to handle more patients because the units are short-staffed. Experienced resource nurses are just not available to help, and these new nurses are getting burned out very quickly due to the lack of support and great demand put on their shoulders.

A Rhode Island hospital closed part of its emergency room because of the nursing shortage.

Fox2 in Detroit says the shortage is so severe there that one hospital group is recruiting nurses in Canada and even the Philippines.

Officials in Maryland say the nursing shortage is one of the worst ever.

In Phoenix, the nursing shortage is preventing transfers of non-COVID patients.

In West Virginia, hospital care centers say they need nurses right away.

Charter schools way up in pandemic

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has new data that says “hundreds of thousands of families switched to charter schools during the first full school year of the pandemic. During the 2020-21 school year, charter school enrollment grew 7%, the largest increase in half a decade.”

The group says almost a quarter of a million students enrolled in publicly funded and privately managed charter schools even while public school enrollment declined. 39 of the 42 states that allow charter schools reported increases in charter school enrollments, the alliance reports. The group says that the public school move to remote learning was a key reason, because so many parents and students were unhappy about the quality of learning in the 2020-21 school year.

(National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

In the chart below, you will see that of the 42 states that provided data about charter schools, only Illinois, Iowa and Wyoming saw declines in the charter school population.

(National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

Go here to see charter school and district public school enrollment figures for each state going back to 2019.

The National Alliance says it is difficult to say why charter schools grew so much given that many of them also were teaching classes virtually.

The data in this report show charter school enrollment grew in many different types of communities. In a handful of states, full-time virtual charter schools accounted for much of the year-over-year change.

  • Oklahoma, for example, saw tremendous growth in virtual enrollment which resulted in the highest number of new charter school students in the nation — more than 35,000 students.
  • Texas came in second place with slightly more than 29,000 students, but that growth was not due to full-time virtual schools.
  • In some of the nation’s most mature charter sectors like Washington, D.C. and Louisiana, enrollment growth was modest.
  • Other mature sectors like New York still experienced a significant percentage of increased enrollment.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, both Washington and Oregon posted some of the largest gains in the country.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser says one advantage of the charter school model is that the schools can react faster to the changing pandemic. While public schools are still open, some charter schools have switched temporarily back to virtual learning. The story says:

Most charter schools are smaller, Foehr said, and therefore it’s easier for campuses to cope with the pandemic. Department Of Education (public) schools have a statewide enrollment of nearly 160,000 compared to the charters with just over 12,000. The largest DOE school has over 3,000 students, while the largest charter school is less than half that size.

The charter schools follow the same health guidelines and protocols recommended by state Department of Health and followed by the DOE. That includes having students wear masks, wash their hands frequently, stay home when sick and get vaccinated if eligible.

But each charter school’s governing board determines how and when instruction will be delivered and can move quickly to change modes of learning.

“Each charter school has the autonomy to decide what is best for their school community when dealing with COVID-19 cases,” State Public Charter School Commission spokeswoman Sheryl Turbeville said.

We don’t know yet if the current school year will show the people who jumped to charter schools last school year came back to public schools.

Another wave of computer chip shortages

The new car lot at the Jim White Toyota just outside of Toledo, Ohio, is depleted on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, with only a few new vehicles available for sale. A global shortage of computer chips has forced automakers to temporarily close factories, limiting production and driving up prices. (AP Photo/Tom Krisher)

This is a big deal. The Washington Post reports that just when it looked like the global computer chip shortage might be easing, it is growing worse.

The global semiconductor shortage that has paralyzed automakers for nearly a year shows signs of worsening, as new coronavirus infections halt chip assembly lines in Southeast Asia, forcing more car companies and electronics manufacturers to suspend production.

A wave of delta-variant cases in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines is causing production delays at factories that cut and package semiconductors, creating new bottlenecks on top of those caused by soaring demand for chips.

Pat Gelsinger, the chief executive of Intel, the largest chipmaker in the United States, says the shortage may drag into 2023 — and some are guessing it could be the end of 2023.

Ford, Toyota and General Motors have all had to cut production because of the chip shortage. Ford said because of the production issues, sales dropped by a third in August. But it is not just cars and trucks that are affected. Anything that requires a computer chip is hurt, from medical devices to phones. If you want electronics for Christmas, buy as soon as you can.

Popular Science has a deep and easy-to-understand exploration of what is behind the chip shortage.

Another toilet paper shortage?

Yes, it appears we are doing this again, but maybe not as robustly as when we caused the first toilet paper shortage. The cause is hoarding and supply interruptions while paper companies say they are going full-out on their production.

Liquor shortages, too

NPR has the cheerful pre-holiday season news that liquor shortages continue and are not going to be over soon.

Continued reports of shortages from Vermont to New Jersey to Ohio persist more than a year later, and some states are rationing their liquor supply amid ongoing supply chain issues.

The Pennsylvania state board in charge of consumer liquor sales announced last week that it was limiting customers to two bottles of certain alcoholic beverages per day. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said the purchase limit on select items — including Hennessy Cognac, Buffalo Trace bourbon and Patrón tequila — will be in place for the “foreseeable future.”

The 2021 best airports list

People have refreshments during festivities for the opening of the newly built main terminal of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, La., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I resolved that if the Tampa airport was not at the top of J.D. Power’s best airports list, I could consider the survey bogus and ignore it. Behold, the Tampa airport scored second-highest among all U.S. airports. It is behind the Louis Armstrong airport in New Orleans, which I do not get at all.

The pandemic hurt overall satisfaction scores because so many restaurants and shops are not open.

J.D. Power surveyed 13,225 travelers and found:

  • Miami International Airport ranks highest in passenger satisfaction among mega airports with a score of 828.
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (817) ranks second.
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (815) ranks third.
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport ranks highest among large airports with a score of 844.
  • Tampa International Airport (843) ranks second.
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport (841) ranks third.

(J.D. Power)

I would have told them the Minneapolis airport has great shopping, but the gates are so far apart. Same for DFW.

There is this place at Sea-Tac in Seattle called Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Go there. Trust me on that.

Charlotte’s airport is way too crowded.

Denver has a lot of restaurants.

Atlanta is much better since it did the renovations.

If I have to get stuck somewhere, I choose to get stuck in Detroit because it has a hotel in the airport.

O’Hare … just no. I have slept there so many times.

LAX was lucky to break into triple digits.

(J.D. Power)

No way TPA is not No. 1 except New Orleans has beignets and got a facelift.

Nashville and Salt Lake deserve their high standings, for sure.

For ease of travel, nobody beats Kansas City.

Austin and Memphis have the best BBQ.

Midway and Hobby are not plush but are serviceable.

And while it is not on these lists, when you land in Ft. Wayne, they give you cookies from the bakery there. I was impressed.

(Courtesy: Ft. Wayne Airport)

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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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