August 16, 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.

I want to dive into the data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee leaned on to make its recommendation that immunocompromised people get additional protection from COVID-19 by taking a third vaccination dose.

One of the charts the advisers saw shows that cancer patients and people who have transplanted organs especially did not get as much immune response from the two doses as they would get with a third dose and it is important that they get all the protection that is possible. About 44% of the so-called breakthrough infections that put people in the hospital involved immunocompromised people in these categories.


To be clear, anybody who is not immunocompromised would be up on the dotted line.

The data is a collection of 63 studies on the effects of vaccines on various groups.

There is still an unanswered question about what immunocompromised patients should do if they got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC has not settled on a recommendation yet and says it needs more evidence before it can recommend Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients take an additional dose from Pfizer or Moderna. Remember, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two mRNA vaccines are based on different technologies.

The 55 long-term symptoms you can expect from COVID: new research

One of our readers, Carol Perelman, sent me this new project that tracks the most common symptoms that COVID-infected people have reported long-term so far. It really puts things in perspective.

The graphic is based on a review of more than 18,000 medical and scientific research projects that covered almost 48,000 patients ranging from teens to seniors. The researchers found 15 studies from eight countries that fit all of their criteria and produced this result.

(Scientific Reports)

There are some things that surprised me. The five most common symptoms were fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention disorder (27%), hair loss (25%) and dyspnea, or labored breathing (24%).

Why is hair loss a leading symptom?

Researchers have known for a long time that after a fever, people may lose hair. The American Academy of Dermatology Association website explains:

While many people think of this as hair loss, it’s actually hair shedding. The medical name for this type of hair shedding is telogen effluvium. It happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth lifecycle at the same time. A fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase.

Most people see noticeable hair shedding two to three months after having a fever or illness. Handfuls of hair can come out when you shower or brush your hair. This hair shedding can last for six to nine months before it stops. Most people then see their hair start to look normal again and stop shedding.

Even if you never developed a fever or COVID-19, you may still see hair shedding. Emotional stress can also force more hairs than normal into the shedding phase. And who isn’t feeling more stressed and anxious during the pandemic?

Again, the hair shedding begins about two to three months after the stress starts.

While seeing your hair fall out in clumps can add to your stress, it’s important to try to de-stress. Only when the stress ends will the excessive hair shedding stop.

Dermatologists say that hair typically regrows back to its normal fullness in six to nine months when the shedding stops.

All of this is very good news to those of us who have been “shedding” for decades. I am not sure when my six months of regrowth begins, but I hope it is soon.

9/11 anniversary plus pandemic produces ‘heightened threat environment’

The Department of Homeland Security says hate and extremist groups are doing their best to rile up unrest that combines race, ethnic and religious hate and complaints connected to the pandemic.

DHS says, “These extremists may seek to exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks. Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year.”

It seems important to share more of what DHS posted to law enforcement:

The Homeland continues to face a diverse and challenging threat environment leading up to and following the 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well religious holidays we assess could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence. These threats include those posed by domestic terrorists, individuals and groups engaged in grievance-based violence, and those inspired or motivated by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences. These actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity. Such threats are also exacerbated by impacts of the ongoing global pandemic, including grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions.

If you report about this, one thing that is a must is to include how people can help fight this kind of threat. Here’s what DHS suggests:

How You Can Help

Why are so many police unvaccinated?

Jackson State University police officer Tony Taylor watches as Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center nurse Maggie Bass, left, gives him a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Taylor said he procrastinated a long time about getting the vaccine but thought it was time to step up and receive it. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A real standoff is coming between cities and police unions over vaccines.  Denver is an example of how this is playing out. The city says it will discipline and maybe even fire officers who do not get vaccinated, but CBS Denver reports that a police union survey of members showed most officers who responded are not vaccinated:

The survey included about 780 officers. It found 446 or 57% have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey didn’t ask why they weren’t vaccinated but it did ask if they would get vaccinated as a condition of employment. A total of 558 or 72% of those surveyed said they would not.

The union says it “respects and trusts our members to make their own choices on how to maintain their health… in a profession that exposes them on a daily basis to… multiple contagious and infectious diseases.”

The police union said it doubts its own survey and thinks the real number of vaccinated officers is higher.

In Los Angeles, a 10th police officer has died of COVID-19. The department there has a vaccination rate far below the city as a whole.

In smaller towns, like the Van Buren Township near Detroit, officers are threatening to quit if the city forces them to be vaccinated. And still, The Detroit News says, nearly half of the 11 command officers and three of the 28 patrol unit members in that township have had COVID-19.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, KHON reports that 1,200 first responders have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s vaccine mandate, which takes effect today.

A nurse in rural Missouri writes what she sees

Reporter Joe Gamm at the News Tribune in Jefferson City, Missouri, shared the words of Shannon Hoffmeyer, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Capital Region Medical Center, who logged some of her experiences on Facebook. It is best, I think, just to hear the rest from her.

Media have been covering the stress on hospitals in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas, but those states aren’t alone, she said. It’s happening here, too.

Patients lay in the parking lot, waiting for rooms to come open in the hospital. And ambulances pull up — one after another — Hoffmeyer wrote.

Staff wring their hands, worried they’ll have to move patients out of ICU — into units that aren’t equipped, or staffed, to handle them — to make room for sicker patients.

Nurses had all gone through emotional breakdowns. Many are in counseling.

Nurses walk around dazed and numb. Sometimes, they just start crying, Hoffmeyer wrote.

“Even I struggle with a lot of anger — sadness,” she said. “With this wave, so many people have come in and said they just thought they were healthy. They’ll ask for things like high-dose vitamin C infusions. It breaks my heart, because if that stuff would have worked I cannot imagine that if there was a treatment that they thought would work, would help, that (doctors) wouldn’t give that.”

Hoffmeyer said she doesn’t know how many physicians she’s bumped into, crying in the hallways.

There is so much wrong about what is happening across the nation now, that doesn’t have to happen, she said.

The great American dog shortage

Moose, a Great Dane, enters a Long Meadow during off-leash hours for dogs and their owners, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

This will make the toilet paper shortage pale in comparison. It seems that so many people have adopted dogs in the last year and a half that it is difficult to find what you are looking for these days. A forewarning: I will show you some examples of dog shelters that say they are overflowing with dogs. But first, Axios reports this quote:

“There just are not enough dogs entering shelters” to meet demand, says Patti Strand, president and founder of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

There are several things at play here. One thing, which surprised me, is that Axios says the U.S. “issued a temporary suspension of the importation of dogs from more than 100 countries deemed at high risk for rabies, including Egypt, India, China, Russia and Ukraine.”

You would not think that would matter much except, Axios found out, that Americans import a million dogs a year from other countries. The actual number may be as high as 1.2 million dogs. A quarter of a million of them usually come from Mexico. More than 100,000 normally come from Canada. You can see the figures here in this government document.

There is another, maybe bigger pressure on the number of adoptable dogs. Americans adopted a stunningly high number of them in the last year. In fact, the newest American Pet Products Association survey says, “pet ownership has increased from an estimated 67% of U.S. households that own a pet to an estimated 70%.”

And, to be honest, the biggest gainer is not in dog ownership. It is people adopting fish. Here are some of the stats:

  • Pet spending increased during the past year, with 35% of pet owners stating they spent more on their pet/pet supplies — including food, wellness-related products and other pet care items — in the last 12 months than in the preceding year.
  • Fourteen percent of total respondents (pet owners and non-pet owners) obtained a new pet during the pandemic. Additionally, at least one in four new pet owners shared their recent pet acquisition — including saltwater fish (60%), dogs (47%), birds (46%), small animals (46%), cats (40%), freshwater fish (34%), reptiles (27%) and horses (27%) — was influenced by the pandemic.
  • Pet owners shopping online increased by almost 20%, from 72% in the prior year to 86% of responses in this year’s study. Before the pandemic, 60% of pet owners usually purchased pet products in person at brick-and-mortar stores. During the pandemic, in-person shopping dropped to 41%, aligning more closely with the 46% of pet owners who prefer to purchase online with purchases shipped to their home.
  • Fifty-one percent of pet owners are willing to pay more for ethically sourced pet products and eco-friendly pet products.
  • Pet insurance purchases amongst both dog and cat owners have also increased, nearly doubling amongst cat owners in particular.

And then there is always some reporting that forces us to doubt everything we just read. The Houston Chronicle says the local animal shelter there is overflowing with pets surrendered by people who adopted during the pandemic but now have to go back to the workplace. I have seen similar stories in New Jersey, Washington state, New York and North Carolina.

How can there be a shortage and an oversupply? Is there just a shortage of dogs for sale? Dogs who are purebred?

I adopted two fish during the pandemic. They are angels.

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,…
Al Tompkins

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