June 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.

There is a certain Newtonian quality about the job market for teenagers this summer. Last summer, teens scrounged for work as retailers and restaurants closed during the pandemic. But this summer, employers are offering hiring bonuses and higher wages. It is like an opposite and equal reaction to 2020.

The New York Times reports:

For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.

As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.

But the jobs that some students want the most, internships, are still hampered by the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Millions of young adults have been vaccinated against Covid-19, making them more comfortable than they were last year with high-contact, in-person jobs. And many teenagers, who suffered some of the biggest job losses in 2020, really need the money.

But for those interested in more white-collar work like paid internships and research gigs, it can still be competitive. Short-term positions are often not critical to running a business, so there are fewer of them available in many fields than there were before the pandemic, says AnnElizabeth Konkel, a Washington, D.C.-based economist with the Indeed Hiring Lab, a research arm of the jobs website Indeed.

At just the time when they could make more money, teens may be less available to work. CNBC found out:

In general, though, teenagers are less likely to be looking to work, according to a study by the Hamilton Project and Brookings Institution.

That’s partly because there are more summer academic programs available and more teens completing community service as part of their graduation requirements or to bolster their college applications, in addition to more students taking unpaid internships, which the BLS doesn’t count, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The share of teens participating in the labor force peaked 40 years ago and has declined ever since.

In 1979, nearly 60% of American teenagers were employed, an all-time high. Today, just over one-third, or 35%, of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are part of the workforce.

Why are so many people getting hospital bills for COVID-19 care?

Melissa Wilhelm Szymanski opens up some of her medical bills at home in Glastonbury, Conn., on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Wilhelm Szymanski got sick earlier this year and wound up with a $3,200 bill because she wasn’t diagnosed initially with COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

You probably and understandably thought that if you got sick with COVID-19, your medical bills would be covered. Health insurance companies largely said that if doctors and hospitals coded their billing as being related to COVID-19, then the insurers would waive the expenses.

But when The New York Times asked readers to share their stories of getting big medical bills for COVID-19 care, they got a bountiful response. The Times says:

For 10 months, The New York Times has tracked the high costs of coronavirus testing and treatment through a crowdsourced database that includes more than 800 medical bills submitted by readers. If you have a bill to submit, you can do so here.

Those bills show that some hospitals are not complying with the ban on balance billing. Some are incorrectly coding visits, meaning the special coronavirus protections that insurers put in place are not applied. Others are going after debts of patients who died from the virus, pursuing estates that would otherwise go to family members.

I have seen similar stories from Wisconsin, Idaho, New Mexico and Illinois, including some people saying they have been billed for vaccinations. WLS-TV advised:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says if you receive a bill for your COVID vaccine, do not pay it. And if your medical facility does not relieve you of the bill, they want you to report it.

If you’ve been charged for your COVID vaccine, click here to report it to the federal government.

How safe are vaccines for immunocompromised people?

Somewhere around 3% to 5% of the U.S. population can be considered to be immunocompromised. That would add up to about 8 to 10 million people, about the size of New York City or the state of New Jersey.

The initial COVID-19 vaccine drug trials didn’t include enough of these folks to properly test for vaccine efficacy and safety. But now, the data is rolling in and the news is good for some and not great for others. CBS News produced an insightful story.

Immunologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina summarizes:

For example, in a relatively large study of solid organ transplant patients, there were no serious adverse events reported, except in 1 patient with a liver transplant who developed a prickling sensation in one of their legs.

The bad news is that some immunocompromised groups just don’t respond well to the vaccine. This is true after the first dose (efficacy ranging between 17-19%) and, unfortunately, after the second dose too (efficacy ranging between 15-80%).

Effectiveness seems to be dependent on the type of disease. For example, a group of scientists reported that most patients with HIV seem to produce enough antibodies for protection from severe COVID-19. Especially among HIV patients in the United States that are relatively healthy and being treated with retroviral drugs. Vaccines seem to also work among those with autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis (here, here). Although the commonly used medication for RA seems to reduce efficacy (here).

But vaccines among other conditions don’t seem to work very well (or at all). Like…

A big question is why vaccines do not work well on these populations. The answer may turn out to be the drugs that they take to manage their conditions. New tests are trying different doses, changing the timing of doses and possibly even trying a third dose. Dr. Jetelina says, for now, the best advice is for immunocompromised people to act as if they have not been vaccinated until we get more data to be sure they and the people near them are safe.

Texas to join wave of states allowing concealed weapons without a permit

Texas is about to become the largest state — but by no means the only state — that will allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit. The movement is called constitutional carry and, after the governor signs the bill the legislature just passed, it will take hold in September.

Most states require a person to have a permit to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public. Some states have open carry laws, which allow a person to carry a weapon that others can see.

CNN reports:

Texas already allows citizens to carry rifles openly without a license. Under current Texas law, residents must have a license to carry an open or concealed handgun. As part of the licensing process, residents must submit a fingerprint, undergo a background check, participate in a training course and pass a shooting proficiency test.

The bill passed Monday would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to post a free online course on firearm safety and handling on its website.

Republican supporters of the permitless carry bill, who often refer to it as “constitutional carry,” argue that by removing the licensing requirement, they are removing an artificial barrier to residents’ right to bear arms and ensuring more Texans have access to personal protection in public.

Democrats and some law enforcement officials, however, say the bill eliminates mandatory firearms training that helps protect the public and also makes it more difficult to determine who is unlawfully carrying a weapon.

The Texas law is part of a wave of open-carry bills around the country, even as President Joe Biden and others are calling on Congress to tighten gun laws, especially involving semi-automatic rifles. This year, Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah and Wyoming passed legislation allowing some form of permitless carry.

Constitutional carry bills are winding their way through other state legislatures, including Pennsylvania and Louisiana.


Statista summarizes:

Texas will be the fourth state to enact so-called constitutional carry laws this year. Utah’s new law just came into effect in early May. Montana will be following on June 1 and Iowa and Tennessee on July 1. Oklahoma, South Dakota and Kentucky had already done away with all carry permit requirements in 2019.

For many decades, Vermont was the only state with these types of laws, which is why the practice is sometimes also referred to as “Vermont carry.” In 2011, Wyoming was the first state to enact or re-introduce similar laws.

Throughout the U.S., there are 10 states — including Texas at the moment — requiring permits for the open and concealed carry of guns. Another five (plus Washington, D.C.) require permits for concealed carry and prohibit open carry. 16 states allow the open carry of guns without a permit while requiring one for concealed carry (no states do it the other way around).

Gun sales rose in the pandemic

An assortment of rifles hang in a gun shop on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Louis Greubel, a writer with TacticalGear.com, says he used the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and his group estimates U.S. gun sales in 2020 far eclipsed any previous year. And a substantial number of gun buyers were first-time gun owners.

The spike in background checks, which precede retail gun sales, show interesting patterns in March and November 2020 and January of this year. March 17 was the date that President Donald Trump warned Americans not to gather in large groups, saying, about COVID-19, “It’s bad.”

You can look at state-by-state data here.


The New York Times adds some insight from a yet-to-be-released study:

Not only were people who already had guns buying more, but people who had never owned one were buying them too. New preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners. And the data, which has not been previously released, showed that new owners were less likely than usual to be male and white. Half were women, a fifth were Black and a fifth were Hispanic.

In all, the data found that 39 percent of American households own guns. That is up from 32 percent in 2016, according to the General Social Survey, a public opinion poll conducted by a research center at the University of Chicago. Researchers said it was too early to tell whether the uptick represents a reversal from the past 20 years, in which ownership was basically flat.

“Americans are in an arms race with themselves,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents South Los Angeles, where the surge in gun violence has been particularly sharp, on the City Council. “There was just as much a run on guns as on toilet paper in the beginning of the pandemic.”

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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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