June 24, 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.

Today, the state of New York will end its COVID-19 emergency declaration. Other states have also let their emergency declarations lapse.

But The New York Times reports that the Biden administration “is expected to extend” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national order preventing evictions for one more month to allow federal emergency grants to make it into the hands of people who need it to pay their past-due rent.

The Washington Post’s reporting is less certain, saying no decision has been made and, when it is, the CDC will make the call. The Post says if there is an extension, the administration will make it clear that this will be the last one.

CNBC also reports the extension is “likely.” Reuters says the extension is “expected.”

The current eviction order expires June 30.

The New York Times reports:

White House officials, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said that the one-month extension, while influenced by concerns over a new wave of evictions, was prompted by the lag in vaccination rates in some parts of the country and by other factors that have extended the coronavirus crisis.

Forty-four House Democrats wrote to Mr. Biden and the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, on Tuesday, urging them to put off allowing evictions to resume. “By extending the moratorium and incorporating these critical improvements to protect vulnerable renters, we can work to curtail the eviction crisis disproportionately impacting our communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote.

Many local officials have also pressed to extend the freeze as long as possible, and are bracing for a rise in evictions when the federal moratorium and similar state and city orders expire over the summer.

Lawsuits representing landlords have resulted in multiple favorable rulings in a handful of federal courts but, until now, none of the rulings included an injunction stopping the CDC’s order.

The federal government-backed mortgage holders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have prohibited landlords of single-family properties with Freddie Mac- and Fannie Mae-backed mortgages from evicting tenants until at least Sept. 30.

Regardless of what the federal government does, states have their own eviction orders. CNBC notes:

New York, for example, has extended its eviction ban until September.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, lawmakers just struck a deal prohibiting the eviction of any renters who are in the process of applying for rental assistance. That protection will last for 12 months, until June 2022.

Tenants in Nevada also can’t be forced out if their rental assistance application is pending or if their landlord refuses to accept the aid.

But other states — including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington —  have state eviction moratoriums expiring this month. So extending the federal ban is crucial to renters who are at risk of losing their homes in those states.

Minnesota’s ban was extended through July 14. New York’s COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 was extended through Aug. 31. In Vermont, evictions are banned until the end of the state’s declared emergency plus 30 days. The state of emergency ended on June 15, so the eviction ban will be in place through July 15.

What we just learned about 484 cases of myocarditis after vaccination

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday it will quickly add a warning to the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines that says the vaccines may be linked to rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults.

The warning almost certainly will add to concerns that vaccine skeptics already hold as reasons not to get the shots. The FDA says the cases of  myocarditis and pericarditis are far less threatening than the virus itself, but will issue the warnings all the same.

The announcement came as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices held an important meeting that shed some new light on the condition.

The number of known cases is small, but some of them have resulted in serious illnesses. You can see the presentations the ACIP committee saw here.

  • There are now 484 cases of myocarditis following vaccination among people under age 30.
  • Among the 323 investigated cases, 96% resulted in hospitalization.
  • 295 of those people have been discharged from the hospital.
  • Two people are still in intensive care units.
  • Most of the problems arose among males.
  • Most of the problems appeared after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Most of the problems arose about four days after the second vaccination.

(CDC)

Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina says these are the lingering questions and best evidence that came out of the meeting:

During this meeting, it was clear that we don’t know why this is happening. But, it’s being actively explored. There were a few hypotheses that were acknowledged during the discussions with some preliminary answers:

  • Does it have to do with the spike protein? Probably not. The spike protein antibody was negative in some patients.
  • Is this due to active or prior COVID-19 infection? Doesn’t look like it. Only 10% of cases have had a prior infection.
  • Is it due to the immune response (also known as a cytokine response)? Especially since this reaction is more common after the second dose? We don’t know yet, but this is a valid possibility.
  • Why male dominance? There are sex differences between the number of receptors on the heart for males compared to females. Could this play a role? It’s plausible but needs further investigation. Because we don’t know much, we don’t really know the long-term outcomes of these patients. But, among patients that had severe COVID-19 disease (myocarditis with MIS-C), 3- and 6-month follow-ups are looking okay. Which is comforting because this likely reflects healing for vaccine-induced myocarditis.

In short, the committee heard, there is no question that even with the unresolved questions about why some young people are susceptible to complications, the COVID-19 vaccinations have prevented far worse outcomes.

Update on whether we need a COVID-19 booster shot

The same ACIP meeting produced a little bit of news about whether we will need a COVID-19 booster shot.

The committee heard from Dr. Sara Oliver, who said the current vaccines are working well and there is no need right now for a booster shot.

In the future, while it could be that everybody needs a booster. It might also be that just the people most likely to need higher immunity, such as health care workers, need a booster. In short, stay tuned. As time passes and researchers check with the people who got the vaccinations first, we will learn more about how long the antibodies last.

881 Secret Service employees were infected — a watchdog group blames Trump

Then-President Donald Trump speaks from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House to a crowd of supporters, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. On the lower left is a member of the Secret Service wearing a face mask. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, blames President Donald Trump for the fact that 881 Secret Service employees were infected by the coronavirus. The group says:

The records obtained by CREW show that in the first year of the pandemic, 881 active Secret Service employees were diagnosed with COVID. The list consists of:

  • 477 Special Agents
  • 249 members of the Uniformed Division
  • 131 working in Administrative, Professional, Technical Positions
  • 12 Investigative Protection Officers
  • 12 Technical Security Investigators

“It’s impossible to overstate the risk the Trump administration put on Secret Service agents,” the group said. It added, “Due to the Inspector General’s unwillingness to investigate the matter, we do not know how many Secret Service agents got the coronavirus due to the callous behavior of the Trump administration, but we do know that way more got it than the government had previously let be known.”

This new data dramatically increases the number of agents who were known to have tested positive for COVID-19, although we still do not know precisely where or how they were infected. The Washington Post has been probing this story for some time:

The Post previously reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers — roughly 10 percent of the agency’s core security team — who helped protect the White House and Trump when he traveled had been ordered to isolate or quarantine because they tested positive for the coronavirus or had close contact with infected co-workers. Trump’s insistence on holding public events — such as his Tulsa rally — while the pandemic was in full force last year left the Secret Service dealing with coronavirus cases in the aftermath of his travel blitz.

A reminder of COVID-19’s deadly potential

In Southern Florida, we are watching the unfolding story of a government office building in Manatee County where COVID-19 has taken two lives and left others seriously ill. CNN says, “Of the six people infected, five were hospitalized. One employee who was in the hospital died and another employee who was not hospitalized also died.”

The suspicion is that the strain of the virus that swept through the building is especially infectious.

WTSP-TV reported that the outbreak shows the need for vaccinations:

“This particular outbreak demonstrates the effectiveness, I believe, with the vaccine. All of the cases were non-vaccinated, they were unvaccinated,” (County Administrator Dr. Scott) Hopes said. “We know of individuals in these departments that were vaccinated — fully vaccinated — and they did not contract the infection from their coworkers.”

Some places that are closed to you if you are not vaccinated

Some summer hotspots are saying “no shots, no entrance.” Take the island of Anguilla, for example. At first, the island said that you could come in if you test negative for COVID-19. But after case counts went up, it tightened restrictions. Beginning July 1, you must have been vaccinated three weeks before you arrive.

St. Kitts and Nevis have similar rules, which once again followed outbreaks when rules were looser. St. Barts also requires Americans to be vaccinated.

Afar.com has a constantly updated list of countries that allow U.S. travelers who have been vaccinated including:

  • Anguilla
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bermuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Ecuador
  • Estonia
  • France
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti)
  • Republic of Georgia
  • Greece
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • Lebanon
  • Montenegro
  • Nepal
  • Seychelles

Why is cargo piling up at ports?

In this Wednesday, March 3, 2021 photo, container cargo ships are seen docked in the Port of Los Angeles. A trade bottleneck born of the COVID-19 outbreak has U.S. businesses waiting for shipments from Asia — while off the coast of California, dozens of container ships have been anchored, unable to unload their cargo. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Port of Los Angeles reported that it just completed its busiest month ever. That is saying something, considering it has been handling traffic for 114 years. But all of that importing and exporting is causing the delays that you are too familiar with. If you order furniture, appliances, you name it, you wait for it. NPR found:

The record volume of cargo has overwhelmed longshoremen, truck drivers, warehouses and railroads. Vessels are waiting up to five days just to get into port, and it can take 10 more days for a container to be loaded on a train.

Things aren’t quite so busy on the East Coast. But the cost of bringing a refrigerated container from Italy to New Jersey has soared to $10,000, more than twice the going rate before the pandemic.

“They say there’s not enough containers in Europe, lack of space on the boats,” says Philip Marfuggi, CEO of the Ambriola Co. and a board member of the Cheese Importers Association of America.

It not only takes up to twice as long for shipments to arrive, he says, but deliveries have become less predictable.

“Like the other day, I had eight containers show up,” Marfuggi says. “They should have been like two a week. And then all of a sudden, they all showed up at once.”

Freightos.com, which covers the shipping industry, says the usual peak season for shipping is a couple of weeks away and the system is severely backlogged:

There likely won’t be any significant easing from Asia to the US before peak season starts in July. Retailers are hustling to restock inventory and keep up with demand, but with delays and closures, it’s hard to keep up.

Other importers are placing peak season orders early to avoid being caught without back-to-school and other seasonal inventories.  Ongoing demand translates to freight rates climbing on most lanes, with some carriers introducing early peak surcharges to already elevated prices.

  • Asia-North Europe freight rates climbed to a new high of $11,037/FEU, 5% higher than last week and nearly 600% higher than last year.
  • Europe-North America rates rose to $5,193/FEU, nearly a 20% increase since last week.
  • Asia-US East Coast rates increased 25% to $9,317/FEU. These rates are 250% higher than rates for this week last year.
  • Transpacific Asia-US West Coast rates rose 15% to $6,341/FEU. This rate is 245% higher than the same time last year. Though port congestion and delays have improved compared to the start of the year, this continues to be a problem.

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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