April 9, 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.

Just when even doubtful Americans are warming up to the idea of getting vaccinated, more than two dozen people in two states in two days reported adverse reactions to the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, WRAL reports:

Wake County spokeswoman Stacy Beard said 18 people had an adverse reaction to the vaccine at the PNC Arena clinic. More than 2,300 Johnson & Johnson vaccines were administered at the clinic on Thursday, meaning 0.78% of vaccine recipients had a reaction. Fourteen people who had a reaction were evaluated by Wake County EMS at PNC Arena and were treated on site. Four people were taken to a local hospital to be evaluated and are expected to be released.

The state health director said the vaccine sites in North Carolina will “pause” using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but will keep using the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines it has on hand.

In Colorado, 13 of the 1,700 people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a sporting goods store in Commerce City had “adverse reactions.” Officials closed that vaccination site while investigators try to figure out what went wrong.

KCNC in Denver reports:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the patients experienced symptoms like nausea and dizziness. They add there is no reason to believe other people who were vaccinated at this site should be concerned.

“From what we know, today’s side effects were consistent with what can be expected,” said Scott Bookman, COVID-19 Incident Commander.

Two of the people who had adverse reactions to the shots were taken to a hospital. The rest went home.

Side effects are not unheard of, but this number of people having immediate reactions is unusual. As you no doubt know, vaccine clinics require people to hang around for a while to be sure they do not have severe allergic reactions, which also are rare. Symptoms that you might associate with the flu, like fever, headaches and muscle pain, usually begin two days after vaccination. Fatigue, headache and muscle ache last two days on average. Nausea and fever last one day on average.

Overall, about 2% of Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients report “severe” side effects, most commonly fatigue, muscle pain and fever. Given that figure, the reactions in Colorado and North Carolina may not be unusual except that they appeared so much faster after the injection than is normal.

Shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine already slowed because of some problems at a Baltimore production plant. The Associated Press reports:

Johnson & Johnson had to discard 15 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine last month because the batch did not meet quality standards. The loss in expected vaccines was a greater problem for the military, because it had targeted the Johnson & Johnson shot for distribution overseas since it only requires one dose and doesn’t need the strict temperature controls that others do.

What if everybody takes their pent-up post-pandemic PTO this year?

Art and Victoria Loften, who came to Kauai from California and participated in the island’s “resort bubble” program, stand on a balcony at Timbers Kauai resort in Lihue, Hawaii on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

By some estimates, Americans left 750 million unused vacation days on the table in 2018. Yes, it is true, Americans are terrible when it comes to using our vacation days. Some theorize that we didn’t take time off in 2020 because we didn’t have anywhere to go, didn’t have any money or maybe felt a little guilty about having a job when others didn’t. Or perhaps we felt guilty because we were working at home and maybe that is not like really working.

Well, by all indications, we got over all of that. We are about to blow out our PTO days in the summer of 2021.

The Atlantic’s Saahil Desai reports:

When the pandemic hit, a third of companies made a fateful decision: letting their workers carry more days over than usual. By sitting on so much time off, workers have functionally jerry-rigged their own version of all those late-summer weeks that many Europeans automatically get off. “We’re in for a summer surge of PTO,” Howard Metzger, the president of MBL Benefits Consulting, told me. “People want out.”

What are bosses saying about what is expected to be a big push to allow people off work this summer? How about government offices?

Perhaps so many people will be asking for time off this summer that Americans will do what Europeans do and just close shop for a week or two.

And people are planning to use every minute of time off they have stored up:

“The pent-up demand is a fire hose that is trying to burst through,” Glenn Fogel, the CEO of Booking.com, told me when I asked about his expectations for post-pandemic travel. On the flight-finding site Kayak, which Booking.com owns, searches for summer travel have been rising as much as 27 percent every week since early March.

Americans are hoping to send kids to camp this summer, too. The camps that closed in 2020 cannot survive another season without campers. CNN reports that even in the height of the pandemic, camps stepped up their safety game. This year many are starting with a fully vaccinated adult staff:

There were 102 Covid-19 cases reported in close to 500 camps serving 90,000 campers in 2020, according to a Tufts University study, funded in part by ACA. That number represented less than 1% of campers and staff, and an outcome related to camps adopting strategies that halt the spread of the virus, including quarantining, contact tracing, cohorting and sanitization practices.

Now there are ‘double mutant’ strains of the coronavirus

Stanford researchers say they have discovered five new cases of what they are calling a “double mutant,” meaning two variant versions of the virus — E484Q and L452R — have been spotted in a single strain. Medical officials have been warning about this possibility. We are not fighting one version of the virus, we are fighting many versions, and those strains have the capacity to join forces and create still more variants.

This double mutant was first spotted in India, where there was a 55% increase in cases in one part of the country.

What we do not know is whether these mutations will make our vaccines less effective or make the virus more contagious. It is one more reason to get vaccinated as quickly as you can.

Eviction floodgates may be about to open

Texas courts appear to be on the verge of ending the enforcement of a federal ban on evictions and foreclosures. The state’s supreme court allowed an emergency order that required enforcement to expire. NPR takes the story from there:

After the Texas Supreme Court didn’t extend its directive, an advisory body to the Texas courts went further. The Texas Justice Court Training Center issued guidance essentially telling judges it’s not their job to enforce the CDC’s order.

“Courts are no longer authorized by the Texas Supreme Court to abate (put on hold) cases based on the CDC eviction moratorium,” it reads.

Groups that are trying to prevent unnecessary evictions are worried.

“Renters who are behind on rent are on their own,” says Christina Rosales, deputy director of Texas Housers, a prominent affordable housing group. “That’s the message the Texas Supreme Court is sending, and we’re gravely concerned.”

The Texas courts point out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not order an end of evictions, but rather set up a process through which people could qualify for protection by claiming they had nowhere to go and could not afford to pay.

175 Texas lawyers have teamed up to offer free help for people facing evictions while everyone from landlords to renters ask the courts for more clarity on what is ahead.

It is no surprise that we have come to this moment. Federal courts in Ohio and Texas have recently ruled that the CDC’s eviction ban is unenforceable.

Landlords, especially mom and pop landlords, are getting desperate. CNBC said recently that some are selling their rental properties:

With so many still waiting for relief, however, about a third of landlords said they will be forced to tighten standards when evaluating future rental applications, and 11% said they have already been forced to sell at least one of their properties.

In the current housing market, which is seeing very high demand and a record low number of homes for sale, homes listed by landlords will likely sell to owner occupants and evaporate from the rental housing stock. The pandemic-induced run on housing in the past year has caused the amount of rental stock to decrease by over a quarter of a million units. Rental housing is generally more affordable than ownership.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is we had a housing affordability crisis going into Covid-19,” said Robert Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association. “If we lose that critical naturally occurring, affordable housing that is out there across this country, we’re going to have a catastrophe on the other side of this.”

NBC5 in Dallas reports that while billions of dollars for assistance are working its way through the federal relief pipeline, relief has not arrived yet:

When the CDC moratorium first took effect last September, landlords were concerned the federal order did not include any funding for landlords if their renters can’t pay.

Months into the moratorium, landlords are still, in many cases, waiting for rent relief and eviction deferment money to come through — said Ian Mattingly, president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas.

“We’re struggling as rental housing owners and facing some very difficult situations and we’re focused on trying to get those dollars where they’re needed most as quickly as possible,” said Mattingly.

Mattingly said the portfolio of properties he helps manage has helped hundreds of tenants apply for rental assistance, but no money has been paid out yet.

NBC News says despite the CDC’s evictions ban, courts around the country have been allowing evictions anyway:

Across the country, landlords are continuing to find ways to get tenants out, in some cases by declining to renew their lease or claiming that tenants broke the lease’s terms. While the federal policy bans evictions based solely on nonpayment of rent, it allows evictions for other issues, such as damaging property or engaging in criminal activity. And renters may be unaware of the steps they need to take to ensure the eviction moratorium applies to them.

Since the pandemic began, 284,490 evictions have been filed across the five states and 28 cities tracked by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. More than 163,700 of them were filed since the federal government’s ban went into effect Sept. 4.

“Many landlords have flouted the order and its protections,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It’s especially disappointing because the Biden administration knows very well what the flaws and the shortcomings are and still failed to correct any of them.”

And evictions filings are stacking up week after week. Once courts begin processing these cases, it could take months or even longer to clear the dockets. This data is from Eviction Lab:

(Eviction Lab)

Cruise bookings set sail

The Symphony of the Seas cruise ship is shown docked at PortMiami, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Cruise ship bookings are not just up. They are setting records, as in they are higher than they were before the pandemic.

CNBC reports:

Carnival Cruise Line said Wednesday that it has seen a record level of bookings during the first quarter, up about 90% from fourth-quarter levels.

In addition, current bookings for 2022 are higher than those made in 2019, before the pandemic, suggesting that people are excited to travel again.

“Everybody wants to go away. And I will tell you, the next best thing to actually going away is planning a vacation. And that’s what a lot of people seem to be doing right now,” said David Bernstein, Carnival’s chief financial officer.

Still, Carnival faces numerous challenges. It ended the first quarter with $11.5 billion of cash and short-term investments, and must make its funds last until its business resumes. To do that it must receive clearance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which currently has a ban on sailing.

Carnival said it expects all of its fleets to be sailing by 2022. This summer, it is on track to resume cruise operations with 30% to 50% occupancy on nine ships across six of its brands: AIDA, Costa, P&O Cruises, Cunard, Princess Cruises and Seabour.

COVID-19 vaccines have not led to a 6,000% increase in patient deaths — debunking the persistent false claim

My colleagues at PolitiFact dove into one of the persistent false claims that just keeps making the rounds.

Social media posts point out that between Jan. 1 and March 19, 2020, 36 people were reported to have died after being vaccinated (but remember, there was no COVID-19 vaccine in that time period). Then, the posts say, in January through mid-March this year, 2,213 people were reported to have died after having gotten a vaccination.

And there is a big fact missing in this analysis. There is no proof, zero, that the COVID-19 vaccine has killed anybody. In that time period, most of the people who got the vaccines were seniors and people with health problems. And, as the fact check points out, people of a certain age die.

Remember, correlation does not equal causation.

Uber’s post-pandemic driver shortage

Uber driver Jose Luis Guevara shows personal protective equipment supplies he provides freely to ride sharing customers for their safety, outside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Uber says people are traveling more but so many drivers quit during the pandemic that there are not enough cars to serve the need. The ride-sharing company says it is coming up with $250 million to pay new driver bonuses.

Fox Business reports:

“The $250 million driver stimulus will go directly to drivers who start driving again as well as new drivers who join Uber,” company spokesperson Kayla Whaling said. “The money will take the form of special bonuses and new guarantees. It will be in place for the next several months.”

Whaling gave several examples of how the individual bonuses and new guarantees would work. In Austin, Texas, drivers would receive $1,100 after making 115 trips; in Phoenix, drivers will earn $1,775 when they make 200 trips; and in Miami, drivers will get $1,750 when drivers complete 185 trips.

We’ll be back Monday 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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