September 1, 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.

Texas’ new law that places regulations on abortions takes effect today — unless the U.S. Supreme Court or the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals steps in. You may see it referred to as Senate Bill 8 (SB8) or by its case name, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson.

This is a significant abortion rights case that may get lost in the crush of pandemic, hurricane, wildfire and Afghanistan coverage.

In short, the lawsuit revolves around a state law that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed last May that effectively bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Opponents of the law make two main arguments:

  • Many people do not know they are pregnant until after six weeks.
  • They claim SB8 violates the Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which protects “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the state.”

The Texas law has been vexing to opponents because it does not just give the state enforcement power, it also gives private citizens the power to sue providers to stop providing abortion services. And those who sue and win are entitled to compensation.

The Guardian explains:

“If this law is not blocked by September 1, abortion access in Texas will come to an abrupt stop,” said Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement.

SB8 effectively puts a $10,000 “bounty” on the head of abortion providers and anyone else who helps a woman obtain an abortion past roughly six weeks’ gestation, by allowing private citizens to sue those who “aid and abet” women in exercising this constitutional right.

“The law is really unprecedented in the sense that it bans abortion, but then has no government criminal penalties to enforce the law,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, and an attorney representing a group of plaintiffs who have sued to stop the law from going into effect.

“It authorizes anyone in the country to file a lawsuit against any abortion provider, or anyone who helps someone get an abortion, and seek a penalty of that person of at least $10,000 per abortion,” said Amiri.

Check for worker complaints about COVID safety. 2,740 have been filed in one state.

When the Gothamist and WNYC checked New Jersey’s Department of Labor files, they found thousands of complaints from workers who say their employers are not complying with COVID-19 safety laws.

Dental assistants said they were told to wear raincoats as protective gear and other workers said people who tested positive with COVID-19 were still allowed to come to work. Restaurants and government offices were the top sources of worker complaints.

(WNYC)

In most cases, the state contacted the employers and told them to shape up, and the employers sent back photos proving that they did.

The pandemic supply problems will cause severe shortages in hurricane areas trying to recover

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Craig Rodrigue looks over the damage to his house Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Houma, La. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Whether you live in the path of Hurricane Ida or not, you are about to feel her effect. The global supply chain problems that have people waiting months for a new washing machine or chair or TV will be a nightmare for people who will need windows and doors and roofs. The cost of construction materials rose sharply in the pandemic and the demand for repair materials will create new pressures on already strained supplies.

The Claims Journal, a news site for insurance company claim adjusters, quotes Greg Pyne, vice president of pricing solutions for Verisk Xactware. Just a few weeks ago, Pyne warned adjusters what they would witness this hurricane season.

According to Pyne’s presentation, which uses data from 50,000 contractors and 18,000 insurance adjusters:

  • The price of sheathing materials such as plywood and oriented strand board increased by more than 250 percent from July 2020 to July 2021 and other lumber materials increased by more than 100 percent.
  • Drywall material prices increased by 10.4 percent,
  • interior trim materials 7.8 percent,
  • paint materials by 7.2 percent,
  • carpet by 4 percent and
  • roofing materials by 3.6 percent.

A labor shortage is driving up costs, as well. Pyne said:

  • Floor cleaning technicians were paid 8 percent more this July than last,
  • Remediation supervisors earned 6.1 percent more,
  • Cleaning technicians cost 7.1 percent more and
  • remediation technicians earn 5.1 percent more than a year ago

The cost and shortage of construction materials will magnify the global supply shortages that started with the pandemic. The Motley Fool summarizes:

The Producer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 0.2% increase in the cost of residential construction materials in July — but that follows an increase of 3% in June. And building material prices are up a whopping 19.4% over a year ago.

Let’s start with a little bit of good news for the people who will have to rebuild and repair. Lumber prices, which were hitting record-highs only a matter of months ago, are back down now.

(Fortune)

But it may take a few more weeks before the lower prices show up at retail stores. Fortune reports:

But some lumber yards are resisting dropping their prices. After all, they bought some of this wood for much higher prices this summer. So lowering prices can mean taking losses.

“Many buyers [are] still working through high-priced inventories. They won’t return to the open market in any meaningful way until they get that gorilla off of their backs,” Shawn Church, editor at Fastmarkets Random Lengths says.

Other construction materials remain expensive. Habitat for Humanity estimated that the cost of framing a house rose from $6,000 to $12,000 this year. Copper and concrete, both basic construction materials, are also more expensive now than before the pandemic. Copper prices are up 39% over pre-pandemic costs.

The National Home Builders Association provides a chart of the costs of some of the key materials used to build a home:

(National Association of Homebuilders)

Bigger buildings and infrastructure that require steel will also cost more to repair. The pandemic sent steel prices and supplies on a roller coaster ride:

(National Association of Homebuilders)

It will also be more difficult to find workers to rebuild. Employers were already having a hard time finding employees, and the pandemic has slowed volunteers from flowing into storm areas.

Supply chain experts say we may see “the pandemic toilet paper effect” that we witnessed in 2020 in the weeks ahead. Contractors may buy more materials than they need to finish a job because they fear they will run out of supplies and would not be able to get what they need to finish a job.

The pandemic supply chain problem that will last into 2022

Read this opening sentence from a Bloomberg report:

A supply chain crunch that was meant to be temporary now looks like it will last well into next year as the surging delta variant upends factory production in Asia and disrupts shipping, posing more shocks to the world economy.

The third busiest port in the world, the container terminal in Ningbo, China, was closed for quarantine for two weeks but is now reopening. It should be fully operational tomorrow. But the bottlenecks are severe and will take time to clear up. Retailers have a lot to worry about as holiday shopping seasons approach.

Along the West Coast of the United States, big ships loaded with cargo sit at sea for more than a week waiting to offload. CNN reports:

Unresolved snags, and the emergence of new problems including the Delta variant, mean shoppers are likely to face higher prices and fewer choices this holiday season. Companies such as Adidas, Crocs and Hasbro are already warning of disruptions as they prepare for the crucial year-end period.

“The pressures on global supply chains have not eased, and we do not expect them to any time soon,” said Bob Biesterfeld, the CEO of C.H. Robinson, one of the world’s largest logistics firms.

The congestion in California is starting to spread to “pretty much every port in the [United States],” according to Biesterfeld of C.H. Robinson. “The chances of your vessel arriving on time are about 40%, when it was 80% this time last year,” he told CNN Business.

Let’s get small in order to understand the big picture.

(Drewry’s composite World Container index)

The cost of shipping just one of the 40-foot shipping containers you see on a ship more than tripled from a year ago. Last week was the 19th straight week that prices have risen. To ship one container on any of the eight routes sailing from the east to the west is $9,613. Some routes have risen even more, in some cases up to six times what they were a year ago.

The New York Times did a smart piece on how this affects companies near you. They found an Orlando company that makes adult tricycles. The factory is sitting on millions of dollars of trikes that need one small part to be finished and shipped. That $30 part comes from Taiwan and is stuck in the delivery backlog.

WBBM in Chicago looked at the backlog in their city’s railyards and found a small business that makes can coolers is waiting for shipments that are caught up in ports. The problem is compounded by truck driver shortages and other snags in warehouse logistics.

The New York Times reports that high-end jewelry is going to be significantly more scarce and expensive this holiday season.

The FDA’s ‘full approval’ of a vaccine has not sparked a rush to get vaccinated

Remember all those people who said they would get vaccinated when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval rather than emergency approval to a COVID-19 vaccine? So far, that has mostly proven to be talk, not action.

(Bloomberg)

Yes, there has been a small increase in vaccinations. But at this rate, we won’t reach a 75% vaccination rate until January.

Five states have 90% full ICUs

Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows us that Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arkansas have less than 10% left of their intensive care unit bed capacity.

(HHS)

Did Cam Newton’s vaccination status lead to NFL’s Patriots cutting him?

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

It is roster-cutting time in the NFL and the New England Patriots just cut star quarterback Cam Newton from the roster. One of the questions echoing through the sports world is whether Newton’s vaccination status was a reason for him being released. WBZ in Boston tells the backstory:

Newton was forced to be away from the team for five days due to what the team called a misunderstanding of league’s COVID protocols. The quarterback had traveled to a team-approved medical appointment and tested negative each day he was gone, but did not satisfy the NFL’s policy.

As a result, he missed three practices, including a critical joint session against the New York Giants. In that practice, Mac Jones thrived while taking all of the first team reps.

On Tuesday, Belichick shocked the football world when he released Newton and handed the job to the rookie Jones.

WBZ-TV Sports Director Steve Burton said his understanding of what led up to Newton’s COVID violation is that the veteran quarterback went to Atlanta to have a doctor check on an ankle injury, and also wanted to see his children. The team approved the visit, but according to Burton, Newton left Foxboro without being tested, which violated protocol.

While Newton said earlier this summer that he didn’t care to share his vaccination status, his absence indicated that he is not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated players are only tested once every 14 days, and they don’t face travel restrictions. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated must undergo testing through the NFL’s approved lab every day, and they face travel restrictions.

Head coach Bill Belichick said, for the record, many times, that “dependability is more important than ability.” Newton’s fate may be a signal to other NFL players that if they miss games because they chose not to be vaccinated, they may be done.

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.

Correction: Bill Belichick is the Patriots’ head coach, not team owner. 

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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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