October 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.

Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci seemed to tell Americans that we may be in for another year of virtual family gatherings this holiday season. But Monday, Fauci clarified that is not what he meant at all. He says that if we get vaccinated against COVID-19, we can safely gather with friends and loved ones — which is exactly what he says he plans to do.

On Sunday he said “it was too soon to tell” if we would be getting together with family over the holidays. He told CNN Monday, “The best way to assure that we’ll be in good shape as we get into the winter would be to get more and more people vaccinated.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2021 holiday cautious celebration suggestions include, for starters, get fully vaccinated. Then:

  • Plan a special meal with people who live with you inspired by the holiday or event.
  • Have an outdoor celebration with everyone at least 6 feet apart.
  • Watch virtual events and celebrations.
  • Drive or walk around your community to wave to neighbors from a safe distance.
  • Take a food or gift to family, friends, and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others, such as leaving them at the door.
  • Throw a virtual dance party and collaborate with friends and family on a playlist.
  • Celebrate outside with neighbors and friends.
  • Volunteer to help others in need.
  • Attend a virtual ceremony or celebration.

If you do hold a celebration indoors with people other than those in your household, the CDC says to “bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors, if possible. You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window. This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows.”

The CDC’s latest guidelines tell families not to cruise or take long bus trips with unvaccinated children.

Two ways to write a headline about vaccines and myocarditis

There are a couple of ways you can report the latest data on vaccines and myocarditis depending on whether you are trying to scare the bejeebers out of people or provide context to data.

If you want to make the point that a tiny fraction of the young people who get the COVID-19 vaccine also suffer heart inflammation, you could point to this study just published in the Journal of the Medical Association. And if you want to say the second dose of the vaccine raises the risk of heart inflammation, you could point to the same study.

The study looks for possible connections between both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and found myocarditis cases jumped from 0.8 cases per 1 million first doses to 5.8 cases per 1 million after the second doses. The study involved more than 2 million people. So, while still rare, 5.8 cases per million is more than .8 per million, to be sure.

One note: The study did not follow people long-term. The study reports results after 10 days, so there is the possibility that the figures are an underestimate of the total cases, according to the researchers.

This question of whether vaccines increase the risk of heart inflammation has been a critical one for the committees that oversee vaccination approvals because, rare as they are, the cases have mostly shown up among younger patients. As the newest study in JAMA says, “The signal of increased myocarditis in young men warrants further investigation.

Immigrants are not causing COVID-19 to spread

Look at the fifth and sixth reasons that people cite for high COVID-19 case levels, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor:

(KFF)

Half of Republicans surveyed blame immigrants and tourists for bringing COVID-19 cases to the United States. The number has remained at about this level for some time. If you believe that, you probably do not care what Dr. Anthony Fauci says, but he says, “If you just look at the data and look at the people who have gotten infected, look at the people who are in the hospital, look at the people who’ve died, this is not driven by immigrants. … The problem is within our own country. Certainly, immigrants can get infected, but they’re not the driving force of this. Let’s face reality here.”

Various fact-checking sites have looked at the origins of this rumor about immigrants and COVID-19. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been the source of some of the unfounded rumors.

And on the effectiveness of the vaccines, they continue to be more effective than even the most optimistic health officials hoped for a year ago.

Go local and inside the global supply chain clog

In this Wednesday, March 3, 2021 photo, a high number of container ships dot the coast of Long Beach at sunset waiting to dock at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach off the California Coast. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Washington Post news video team takes us inside the supply chain, which is so clogged that ships are anchored off the California coast, docks are overloaded and trucking companies and railroads are running flat-out but not making headway clearing the backlog.

The team wanted to know:

  • Why are a record number of vessels at anchor off the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach waiting for a berth?
  • What’s exactly inside those containers?
  • And what are some vital-but-little-seen links in the chain?

These are critically important questions because sometimes a single part can hold up an entire factory’s production. Food, computer chips, furniture, appliances, building materials and every imaginable retail item are all sitting offshore in those containers, which are twice as expensive as they were a year ago. You will pay those costs.

Lee Powell from the video team tells me, “We took a multimedia deep dive that included reporting from L.A. and Chicago. Gathering visuals included chartering a helicopter, a boat, riding on a forklift, and stepping inside a locomotive cab. We went places cameras and reporters normally don’t go — places we were initially told might never let us in because they ‘don’t do media.’”

The story weaves a complex picture of outdated technology, labor shortages and inadequate railways. The story gets close up to seemingly small problems, like a single truck’s clutch that needs to be replaced. But the shortage means no spare parts, so the truck stays out of commission, which adds to the shortage of trucks on the road that would clear the supply clog.

This story connects the infrastructure bill that Congress is considering with the everyday lives of local businesses in your community.

You might be surprised to learn how much your community and state imports and exports. You might also be surprised to find what products your community exports. The International Trade Association lookup tool for each importing state, exporting partner and product.

(International Trade Administration)

Look up individual companies here.

The Census Bureau gives us important and export data for each state including the top items being shipped in and out. Also:

(U.S. Census Bureau)

Overstating the risks of hospitalization

Gallup pollsters are trying to understand the level of misunderstanding and confusion that exists when it comes to the likelihood that an unvaccinated person might be hospitalized with COVID-19. Generally, the pollsters found, unvaccinated people underestimate their risk, and they overestimate the probabilities that the vaccine might harm them.

In August, Gallup surveyed over 3,000 U.S. adults on their understanding of the likelihood of hospitalization after contracting COVID-19 among those who have versus have not been vaccinated. The results show that most Americans overstate the risk of hospitalization for both groups:

  • 92% overstate the risk that unvaccinated people will be hospitalized, and 62% overstate the risk for vaccinated people.
  • At the same time, U.S. adults are fairly accurate at estimating the effectiveness of vaccines at preventing hospitalization, with the median respondent putting it at 80%.

Gallup asked, “As far as you know, what percentage of unvaccinated people have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus?” The correct answer is less than 1%. But look at the answers Gallup heard:

(Gallup)

When Gallup also asked, “As far as you know, what percentage of fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus?” The correct answer once again is less than 1%. But, clearly, the general public is wildly uneducated about this issue.

(Gallup)

To sum things up:

Only 8% of U.S. adults gave correct answers for the unvaccinated population and 38% for the vaccinated population.

Partisanship was a strong predictor of accuracy, but party accuracy varied by whether the respondent was assessing the risk of the vaccinated or unvaccinated populations.

In sickness and in health: Couples mimic each other’s health

Dutch and Japanese studies just found that couples tend to not only share lifestyles but also have similar lifestyle habits, body shapes, blood pressure and even incidence of some diseases.

Science Daily summarizes:

Researchers examined 5,391 pairs from Japan and 28,265 from the Netherlands, drawing on data from the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project, and the Lifelines study in the Netherlands.

Couples from both countries shared similar lifestyle habits and physical traits such as smoking, drinking, weight, abdominal circumference, and body mass index. When the researchers dived further into the data, they determined that couples had corresponding blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides levels. Moreover, related incidents of hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome were also found.

Not long ago, HuffPost talked with five couples whose relationships were threatened by disagreements over COVID-19 vaccinations.

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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