August 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.

America is now posting about 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 each day. Just a couple of months ago, that number was around 11,000 per day. 93% of the new cases are the delta variant. New pediatric COVID-19 cases jumped up 84% in one week.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. will likely see its rate of new cases reach as high as 200,000 “before this thing turns around.”

Fauci says that unless we get a handle on the delta variant, and soon, the coronavirus will have time to morph again. This time, it could change into something more severe, something that could escape the vaccines. Here is an excerpt from McClatchy’s reporting:

“If we don’t crush the outbreak to the point of getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, then what will happen is the virus will continue to smolder through the fall into the winter, giving it ample chance to get a variant which, quite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said. “We’re very fortunate that that’s the case. There could be a variant that’s lingering out there that can push aside delta.”

“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”

Indeed, what may be a new variant has shown up in the United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China. Some people call this one “delta plus” because it seems to spread so quickly.

Half of unvaccinated people fear the vaccine more than the virus

The newest Kaiser Family Foundation polling found that half of unvaccinated Americans falsely believe that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus.

Unvaccinated adults, especially those who say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, are much less worried about the coronavirus, the Delta variant, and have less confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines compared to those who are vaccinated. More than half of unvaccinated individuals say getting vaccinated is a bigger risk to their health than getting infected with coronavirus.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Three in ten adults remain unvaccinated including one in ten who say they want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works for other people before getting vaccinated and 3% who say they will do so “only if required” (down from 6% in June). An additional 14% say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, a share that has held relatively steady since December.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

The increase in COVID-19 cases and news of the Delta variant spreading in the U.S. has made some people say they are more likely to wear a mask in public or avoid large gatherings, though this is mainly driven by vaccinated adults.

WHO asks countries to stall booster vaccines until others get their first vaccines

A number of countries are administering or planning to administer COVID-19 booster shots, especially for seniors and other vulnerable people, but the World Health Organization says they should wait until underserved countries have been vaccinated.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “We cannot — and we should not — accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”

Israel already has a booster program underway and Germany said this week that it would also offer booster shots to vulnerable populations. The United Kingdom bought Pfizer doses to begin a booster campaign and France, Hungary and Russia are also planning to offer booster shots.

U.S. health authorities have not approved or recommended a booster yet, although the vaccine makers say it is a good idea.

Vaccine mandate may come ‘soon’ for active US military

Hawaii Military Medicine provides the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible U.S. military personnel on a voluntary basis at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Feb. 9, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

CNN reports that the Pentagon is moving forward with plans to require vaccines for all active members of the military. The Department of Defense initially planned to wait for the Food and Drug Administration to “fully approve” the vaccines, but CNN says Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin may ask this week for a presidential waiver to allow the vaccine to be administered to troops before the FDA gives full approval.

CNN reports:

The current thinking at the Pentagon is to have the military services and geographic commanders work together to establish new schedules for vaccination of troops around the world. Troops scheduled for upcoming deployments could be among the first to have mandatory vaccines, officials say.

Defense Department civilians would fall under any rules established for federal employees. National Guard forces would only be covered by the mandate when they are activated by federal, not state, authorities.

Yahoo puts the story in perspective:

Jonathan Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says the Biden administration’s approach to vaccinating the more than 1 million active-duty members of the military makes sense.

“The military does have a complicated history around requiring, especially people in uniform, to take certain medications or to be vaccinated,” he said, referring to the controversial decision in the 1990s to compel members of the military to get an experimental anthrax vaccination.

As the commander in chief, Biden could immediately order that members of the military be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Moreno, though such a move would likely create a backlash, as it did with anthrax.

To date, about 64 percent of the military is fully vaccinated; that’s slightly higher than the national average but still below what political and military leaders would like to see.

Business travel may not come back. Conventions are canceling… again

Late Wednesday, organizers canceled the international auto show that was supposed to be held in New York City. It is just one more indication that the wave of new infections threatens to interrupt the reopening of business as usual in America.

Convention centers around the country are putting on a brave face. In Boston, the people who oversee conventions said “there is light at the end of the tunnel.” San Diego reopened its convention center even with a new COVID-19 spike unfolding. Las Vegas convention and hotel planners are nervous about the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

A big nursing convention just canceled its meeting in Orlando. WFTV reports Orlando is feeling the pain of Florida’s record-breaking COVID-19 surge:

Since January, there have been 21 events canceled with more than 300,000 attendees and a $667 million impact. The economic impact of the canceled nurses convention was more than $12 million, and bring about 5,000 people.

For more than a year, the convention center was used as a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site.

There were talks of using it to house COVID-19 once hospitals reached capacity. The executive director of the convention center said that’s not being discussed at this point.

Businesses somehow figured out a way to keep going without sending employees here and there on airplanes. And now businesses are saying, “Maybe we didn’t need to do all of that travel.”

Deloitte research finds that by the end of 2022, most businesses expect to only be doing about 75% of the travel they did in 2019. This data could be vitally important to every one of your communities that rely on conventions and visitors. The shockwaves will ripple through hotels, restaurants, taxi and ride-share services, airlines and convention centers.

(Deloitte)

In fact, look at these projections, which may be far slower than you might have expected if you thought this fall would begin the return to 2019 levels of travel and meetings. As grim as this data is, keep in mind that it probably is too optimistic since the data was collected before the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in much of the country.

Q1 2022 projected range of US business travel spend as a share of 2019 spend: 35%–45%

Q2 2022 projected range of US business travel spend as a share of 2019 spend: 40%–60%

Axios compiles other reporting to see what business travel might look like:

“Companies used to send maybe eight people to close a deal. Now they’ll send two people, and the rest will be on Zoom,” says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a passenger-advocacy organization, and one of the architects of a recent Wall Street Journal analysis that projected the pandemic would permanently reduce business travel by 20-40%.

Business travelers only make up around 10% of airline passengers across the major global carriers, but they account for 55%–75% of revenue because they’re typically the ones who spend big on last-minute tickets or book premium seats, the New York Times’ Jane Levere reports.

MeetingsNet includes this:

According to the research from Tourism Economics, domestic group travel, at its current pace, will return to the spending levels of 2019 by 2024. International group travel is predicted to take an additional year to recover. But U.S. Travel wants to speed that recovery. It’s “too long to wait,” Dow said in a U.S. Travel press conference.

Sure, some travel is necessary because some relationships are face to face. And some business travel is necessary to maintain equipment or conduct in-person training. But there are lots of other reasons that business travel will be slow to make a comeback.

  • Travel restrictions, especially for international travel, make it difficult and unpredictable.
  • Hotel and airfare rates are high.
  • There is no internationally accepted vaccination passport.

Why one Southern GOP governor wishes he had not approved a mask mandate ban

The Arkansas state legislature rushed back into special session Wednesday after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he “regrets” signing a statewide ban on mask mandates and even called the legislature into a special session to reverse the law. The governor wants to leave decisions about whether to require masks up to local school boards.

Homeland Security will offer vaccines to migrants in custody

A man holds a child as he looks at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent at an intake area after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, early Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Roma, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Washington Post quotes multiple sources saying that the Biden administration is planning to offer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to migrants in custody along the U.S. border.

The decision comes while two things are happening. First, the number of people illegally crossing the border is at a 20-year high. Second, COVID-19 infections are increasing among people in custody. The Post explains:

Until now, only a limited number of migrants have received the vaccine while held in longer-term U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities. Under the broad outlines of the new plan, DHS will vaccinate them soon after they cross into the United States and await processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The vaccines will be provided to those facing deportation as well as migrants likely to be released into the United States pending a court hearing, said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan since it has not been finalized. Migrants who are quickly sent back to Mexico under the Title 42 public health law would not be offered a dose, at least during the initial phase, the person said.

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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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