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.
Let’s not bury the lead: Many of the important indicators about the pandemic are positive. The number of new cases, hospitalizations and even deaths are declining in most places.
But this post is about what we are learning about this virus. As everyone suspected, the delta variant acted in the United States similar to how it acted in other countries — with two and a half months of increase then a steep decline.
That is not to say it had to happen this way. The decline may have occurred because people started rethinking personal protection and more people got vaccinated. But, let’s face it, our decline has not been as fast or steep as some other places that have more strictly enforced mandates. And the two-month decline is not true everywhere yet.
Why do we have virus waves? Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina explains some factors:
Human behavior: Once numbers start increasing, people start changing behavior (whether they know it or not). Even modest restrictions can bring numbers back down, like masking or cancelling plans. People did take the Delta wave seriously. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported an uptick in vaccinations due to Delta, hospitals filling up, and knowing someone who got seriously ill or died due to Delta. Human behavior plays a big role in wave patterns.
Seasonality. During non-pandemic times, most coronaviruses are seasonal. Other viruses, like the flu, are seasonal because of climate patterns (and human behavior). It’s not a coincidence that our largest COVID19 wave was during the Winter months. But, again, this doesn’t fully explain all waves, as we had some during the summer months too.
Social networks: As people see their regular contacts and these networks reassert themselves, Delta runs out of places to go. This is highly dependent on how and where people mix. As we all know, schools just started, which would open social networks (not limit them). So, this may only play a limited role with Delta.
A note about the last point: By social networks, Jetelina is referring to the people we interact with most. When we are social distancing, we tend to interact with people who are most like ourselves, so vaccinated people tend to hang out with others who are vaccinated. The virus has fewer opportunities in that scenario. When we are less careful about social mixing, viruses have new opportunities.
We do not know if the coronavirus is a two-wave or a multi-wave virus. If you look at what happened 100 years ago, the flu arrived in three waves over two years. Wave two was the big one. The dates were March 1918, September 1918 and February 1919.
Some experts theorize that the first wave spread the virus, which led to the big second wave, and the third wave was less destructive because so many people acquired a natural immune response from having been infected, which left fewer people to be sickened. But that is just a guess since we have so little biological evidence from those days. The third wave may also have been the result of a virus mutation, like the delta variant.
Africa marked a third wave this summer, partly because so few people were vaccinated. India is bracing for a third wave but, so far, cases are still dropping fast. October to December are the most likely months for a new outbreak, Indian health authorities say. Half the country is now at least partially vaccinated.
Caution: Most health care workers get vaccinated, but this group is the exception
You have heard about the 1% or so of health care workers at some hospital groups who lost their jobs because they were not vaccinated. It is tempting to think of all health care workers as a monolith but when it comes to vaccinations, they are not.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, nurses assistants and aides got flu vaccines at about a quarter the rate of physicians and nurses. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s polling showed the more education the worker has, the more likely they are to be vaccinated. Gothamist reports:
A nationwide survey of health care workers, released in August by The COVID States Project, found vaccination rates were higher among higher-paid and more highly-educated health care workers. It also gleaned a chasm between medical employees who identified as Democrats—this group had a vaccination rate of over 80 percent. Republican health care workers reported a rate of less than 70 percent.
The lesson in this seems to be not to lump health care workers into a single group but to understand the category includes everybody from surgeons to nurses aides. Whatever generality might apply to one sector may have nothing to do with the concerns of another. Gothamist continues:
Early data suggests New York’s requirement for most health care workers is having its intended effect of boosting immunization rates. Last week after the mandate took effect, about 90 percent of hospital and nursing home workers were fully vaccinated, up from around 75 percent a month and a half ago when the rule was announced.
E-bike and scooter injuries up as usage increases
I am guessing that a hundred years ago, there was a similar headline about the rise in motorcar injuries. When there are new and more modes of transportation in use, more people will get injured using them. But let’s look at the data to see if there is something to be concerned about.
The following data comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As is common with these kinds of reports, the data usually lags by a year or more, so we won’t see pandemic-era figures. Those could be higher because people were outside a lot and not going to the workplace in person.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there were about 217,646 scooter, e-bike and other micromobility injuries in 2020. That number has been steadily growing since 2017 and, like bicycle injuries, grew a lot during the pandemic when people were outdoors more.
About a half dozen people a year have died using scooters and other micromobility products, including hoverboards. But compare that to 2015, when in just one year more than 1,000 bicyclists died. Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says, there were about 426,000 bicycling injuries. 377,000 people were hurt using gym equipment, 230,000 using ATVs.
So while e-bike and scooter opponents will point to this new data and say the devices are unsafe, it is worth keeping things in context.
This graphic may speak to the wisdom of allowing little kids to try out hoverboards. 5- to 14-year-olds account for 13% of the U.S. population but 63% of the hoverboard injuries. 15- to 24-year-olds are 13% of the population but 20% of scooter injuries.
And the No. 1 injury-causing problem on these micromobility products is not reckless riding; it is fires. Brake problems were the second biggest hazard.
A national audit of the statues and monuments still standing in your towns
Smithsonian Magazine talked with Monument Lab, an art history and social justice nonprofit based in Philadelphia, about an effort to understand what monuments and statues are standing in the United States.
99.4% of American monuments were not toppled or taken down in 2020 and 2021. The lab has created a searchable audit of 50,000 conventional monuments.
Can you guess before you look below who the top three people are who have been memorialized in monuments in this country? I guessed the first one and missed the next four.
Here is what else the audit found:
The audit found some interesting facts nationwide that might spark a similar audit in your own city:
Only five of the Top 50 figures were Black/Indigenous: Martin Luther King Jr. (ranked 4th), Harriet Tubman (ranked 24th), Tecumseh (ranked 25th), Sacagawea (ranked 28th), and Frederick Douglass (ranked 29th).
There are no US-born Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, or self-identified LGBTQ+ people in the Top 50 list.
Our study finds that monuments to historical men grossly outnumber those to historical women.
Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, and Sacagawea are the only women represented in the Top 50 list.
Beyond the top individuals, we investigated the top 15 individual women in the nation’s commemorative landscape.
Three are European (Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Queen Isabella) and three are saints (Joan of Arc, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Kateri Tekakwitha).
Feminized bodies often appear in the sanctioned monument landscape as fictional, mythological, and allegorical figures. For example, within our study set, there are more recorded monuments depicting mermaids (22) than there are monuments to US congresswomen (just two: Barbara Jordan of Texas and Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey).
Overwhelmingly, our monuments have a link to war. And even then, they are not very forthcoming. The audit found that of 5,917 Civil War monuments, 1% mention slavery and 3% mention defeat.
Should there be a monument referring to the COVID-19 pandemic? For the health care workers and scientists?
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