December 13, 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.

Theories are just that. They are often wrong. The theory that the pandemic rise in traffic deaths was mostly due to people driving faster on lightly traveled roads led us to believe that once people started driving again, the fatalities would drop. They didn’t.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The latest evidence suggests that after decades of safety gains, the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless — more likely to speed, drink or use drugs and leave their seatbelts unbuckled.

Experts say that behavior on the road is likely a reflection of widespread feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

“We might decide: What does a seatbelt or another beer matter, anyway, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic?” said Shannon Frattaroli, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The rise in motor vehicle deaths lines up with other pandemic-era trends: Alcohol sales have soared, drug overdoses have set new records, and homicides have seen their biggest increase on record.

Traffic deaths rose in 41 states, in rural areas and big cities and across all age groups. Look up your state’s data here. States with the biggest increases in traffic fatalities from 2019 to 2020 include:

  • South Dakota: +33%
  • Washington, D.C.: +33%
  • Vermont: +32%
  • Arkansas: +30%
  • Rhode Island: +24%
  • Connecticut: +22%
  • Mississippi: +19%
  • Florida: +18%

One interesting way to look at the data is to compare fatalities per miles driven. And when you look at the data that way, some of the summer months of 2020 are significantly higher than previous years.

Why are we not wearing seatbelts in the pandemic?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently issued a report that said, “After the declaration of the public health emergency in March 2020, driving patterns and behaviors in the United States changed significantly.”

The study says that fewer people who were involved in crashes in 2020 wore seat belts.

Drivers who crashed in rural areas were the least likely to be wearing seat belts. Men wore seat belts less than women. As you can see from the chart, we seem to wear belts less in the summer:



International student enrollment in US universities is in steep decline

International students are vitally important both financially and culturally to universities. But their enrollment is down double digits since the pandemic began. Here is the latest government data:

(Open Doors)

Of course, enrollment is down generally, but international students bring in big tuition bucks for schools.

US News and World Report summarized the international enrollment findings of the annual Open Doors Report:

  • The total number of international students at U.S. universities dropped by 15% from 1,075,496 in 2019-2020 to 914,095 in 2020-2021.
  • The number of new international students enrolling in U.S. universities dropped by 45.6% in that time frame.
  • China and India, who remain the largest sources of origin for international students coming to the U.S., sent 14.8% and 13.2% fewer students, respectively, in that time period.

The pandemic magnified the international enrollment decline but the problems didn’t start there. US News reported:

“The Trump administration basically put out an unwelcome mat for international students,” says Hafeez Lakhani, founder and president of Lakhani Coaching. He also flags issues for students in obtaining visas and sponsorship for employment, and says the international students and families he works with often have safety concerns about living in the U.S.

Prior to the pandemic, Forbes told us about how much international students contribute to schools and local economies:

International students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contribute $39 billion to our national economy and support more than 400,000 jobs, according to NAFSA, the association of international educators. In New York State, more than 120,000 international students contribute $5 billion to our economy and support 58,000 jobs, the group says.

19K Army soldiers are unvaccinated with Dec. 15 deadline looming

Rhode Island Army National Guard Sgt. Juan Gomez looks over the post-inoculation waiting area at a coronavirus mass-vaccination site at the former Citizens Bank headquarters in Cranston, R.I., June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The deadline for members of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corp to get vaccinated has passed and the Army’s deadline is Wednesday. But thousands of soldiers have not even started the process of vaccination.

For those of you near military installations, this is a story of significance. NBC News reports:

The Marine Corps has provided only 15 permanent medical exemptions so far for Covid vaccinations. More than 2,400 Marines applied for religious exemptions, but none of the 2,009 processed as of Monday had been approved.

With 95 percent of the Marine Corps partially or fully vaccinated, however, that leaves around 9,000 Marines who could be headed for “administrative separation.”

While the vaccination rates for the Air Force, Space Force and the Navy are higher — all are near 97 percent — thousands of airmen, guardians and seamen who remain unvaccinated could also see their military careers come to an end.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also ordered all members of the National Guard and Reserve to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Guardsmen who do not comply could be banned from training and drills and that could mean demotions or even dismissal. The governor of Oklahoma sued to overturn the order.

Look at the stats from Michigan as an indication of what you might find in your state. The Michigan Advance reports:

Out of the 7,202 members of Michigan’s Army National Guard, 60% have been vaccinated against COVID-19. On the Air National Guard side, 88% of the 2,546 service members have been inoculated.

Combining the two branches comes out to a 68% vaccination rate for the Michigan National Guard overall.

Out of 354 total exemption applications in the Army, 333 have been for religious reasons and none have been granted yet. Out of 149 total in Air, 102 are religious. The rest of the applications are for medical reasons.

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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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