February 18, 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.

The winter storm that has covered much of the United States in snow and ice will delay the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for days or even weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Due to the severe winter weather currently impacting a large swath of the country, the U.S. government is projecting widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days.”

But Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday that the delivery delays could last for a couple of weeks.

CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement, “Shipping partners are working to deliver vaccine where possible, contingent on local conditions, but the adverse weather is expected to continue to impact shipments out of the FedEx facility in Memphis, as well as the UPS facility in Louisville, which serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states.”

Just as an example of the storm’s effects, grocery store chain Publix experienced shipping delays and stopped accepting vaccination appointments in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Florida expected 200,000 doses to be delivered this week, but weather delays have held up delivery according to Jason Mahon, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health.

New York City had about 30,000 doses on hand Wednesday and expects to run out soon because of the delivery delays. Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, says that state closed 80 vaccination clinics and canceled 43,000 appointments because of winter weather.

White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients is encouraging vaccination sites to extend their hours once the weather allows them to reopen and if they have vaccines to distribute.

Is there a canned pet food supply problem?

San Antonio Food Bank volunteers distribute donations of pet food during a PetSmart Charities and Feeding America food delivery on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in San Antonio. (Darren Abate/AP Images for PetSmart Charities)

The Morning Call reports that the cat food aisle is a little vacant these days. The shortage is a “supply chain” issue and mostly seems to be affecting canned food. Pet shelters tell the Morning Call that they are getting a little concerned about it, but grocers say they hope the supplies will flow soon.

Giant spokesperson Ashley Flower said pet food suppliers are facing challenges, which have affected what grocery stores could buy over the past month.

“We continue to remain in close contact with our suppliers and are working to bring in alternate products, but it is possible customers may find a particular brand or variety is unavailable due to these challenges,” Flower said.

Part of the shortage is rooted in a big increase in canned food sales. Both canned cat food and canned dog food sales rose in the pandemic.

At Nestle Purina, spokesperson Wendy Vlieks acknowledged some pet food products may be more difficult to find amid high consumer demand, though that scenario is not unique to Purina brands.

“Please know that we’re sorry that some consumers are having to wait longer to find their pet’s favorite product, but we are working hard to ensure product availability,” she said.

With so many people out of work, why can’t businesses find employees?

NPR ran a piece this week that I bet resonates with a lot of businesspeople. Though 22 million people lost their jobs during the pandemic, some employers say they can’t find people to hire. There is some data to back it up. NPR says:

Data from the Labor Department this month, for example, showed job openings at a five-month high. Meanwhile, job search site Indeed said recently that job postings are back to pre-pandemic levels.

The problem is that a lot of those openings are in industries that require in-person work, like construction, delivery services or warehousing — exactly the types of jobs now being shunned by many Americans in the midst of a fearful pandemic.

ZipRecruiter’s Julia Pollak, a labor economist, says a lot of people who are out of work want jobs that will allow them to work remotely.

“There’s this huge gap between the kinds of conditions under which people are prepared to work and the kinds of conditions that they actually find in the jobs that are available,” Pollak says.

That is leading to a mismatch in filling jobs, and it’s contributing to the painful, slow recovery in jobs.

Newsday told similar a story:

Blue Sky Hospitality Solutions, owners of (Long Island’s) largest hotel, the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, said they’ve experienced similar high interest in their few open corporate and management jobs. But lower-paying hourly jobs, like housekeeping and bartending, are “impossible” to fill, said executive vice president Ernie Catanzaro.

“If we put an ad in for a manager, we are getting hundreds and hundreds of resumes from overqualified candidates,” said Catanzaro, whose firm owns and manages 53 hotels in 22 states. In many cases, he said, candidates held higher-ranking positions at previous jobs and were willing to take a 40% to 50% cut in pay.

On the other hand, I see a lot of stories about floods of applications for open jobs. Newsday told the story of a line cook job that 480 people applied for. Another company had an administrative assistant job opening and 500 people applied. A few years ago, the same job attracted 73 applications.

Why March 4 is causing a stir among tin foil hat wearing QAnoners

You may have wondered why March 4 is trending on Twitter and getting some social media chatter. It is another nutty QAnon thing. This time it is rooted in a conspiracy theory that says there has not been a legit president since Ulysses Grant and that it used to be that presidents were sworn in during the month of March. And so, the rant continues, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president again on that day.

The Trump International Hotel near the White House is eyeing a big payday on March 4, Business Insider reports. According to Forbes, the Trump hotel raised rates on Jan. 5 and 6, the night of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. The cheapest room then was about $8,000.

Generals support Supreme Court case requiring women to register for the draft

Military.com reports:

Ten retired general and flag officers, including the former director of the National Security Agency, have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting expansion of draft registration to include women.

Retired Air Force Gen. Mike Hayden, former director of the National Security Administration; Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal; Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and others filed a “friend of the court,” or amicus, brief supporting a case brought against the government by the National Coalition For Men, a group challenging the constitutionality of the Selective Service System’s male-only registration restriction.

Around 17% of the armed forces are women today. The case started moving through the federal court system a couple of years ago and the government’s response to the petition is due in a month.

Limbaugh and the fairness doctrine

Over the last year, I have heard many people ask why there is not a law that requires journalists — and they were referring to broadcasters — to be even-handed and not take sides on political matters. They thought there was such a law. And they were right.

When I started in radio in the 1970s, the fairness doctrine required broadcasters to give voices on either side of important issues a fair airing. But, as I explain in this column we posted after Rush Limbaugh’s death Wednesday, the fairness doctrine died in 1987.

Limbaugh launched his national radio program the next year and financially struggling AM radio grabbed his large and dedicated audience and never let go.

It would not be correct to say the end of the doctrine led to Fox News or any other one-sided cable slant because the Federal Communications Commission does not regulate cable content. But Limbaugh’s radio show created an audience that washed over other outlets.

The way we work now

I asked reporter and photographer friends to send me workarounds that they are using during the winter storms. NBC News correspondent/ producer Chris Pollone sent these pictures of a little tent that the crews use to protect cameras and photographers during live shots.

(Courtesy: Chris Pollone)

(Courtesy: Chris Pollone)

This is a Shappell Ice House. These insulated tents are commonly used by ice fishermen.

Chris tells me that freelance photojournalist Scott Alexander out of Jamesville, New York, sets up the tent with a little ceramic heater in there with him. If the weather gets really rough, the photojournalist can zip the tent up so the only thing poking out is the lens.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. 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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