May 18, 2022

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.

Tell me if you have heard this one (maybe two years ago?). New York City’s health department said the city is now on “high COVID alert” because case counts and hospitalizations are rising.

Mayor Eric Adams said the city is nearing the threshold that would again require mandatory masking. The city is recording about 3,500 new cases a day, but the real number is much higher because so many people are using home tests and not reporting the results. Hospitalizations are rising, too, at a rate of about 130 new admissions per day. That is the same rate of hospitalizations the state had in November 2021 and November 2020.

The New York Times summarizes the situation this way:

The average number of new confirmed cases reported daily in the United States has tripled since the start of April, reaching more than 95,000 as of Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also increasing, by 26 percent nationally over the last two weeks. New deaths from the virus are down to about 300 a day on average — partly a reflection, public health experts have said, of the protection against severe disease that many Americans have acquired from being vaccinated or from getting over a past coronavirus infection.

The Food and Drug Administration, which still has not approved vaccinations for children under age 5, did approve booster shots for children aged 5 through 12. It approved the Pfizer booster for children who completed their primary vaccine series at least five months ago.

“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer term effects, even following initially mild disease,” FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a news release.

Pfizer gave these details about the results of its booster tests that led to the emergency use authorization:

EUA is based on data that show children 5 through 11 years of age had a robust immune response with a favorable safety profile following a 10-µg booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine at a time when Omicron was the prevalent variant

To date, 4,500 children 5 through 11 years of age have participated in the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial

The federal government just announced that you can order more free at-home COVID-19 tests, the third round of free tests the government is providing. The government has sent out about 350 million free tests so far to about 70 million households.

Many states have spent little or none of the millions of federal dollars sent to them to help hard-hit communities

More than a year ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was sending $2.25 billion to states and big cities to help them serve underserved communities that were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states have spent most of the money, but a head-shaking number of states have spent somewhere between nothing to almost nothing.

Kaiser Health News finds:

  • Missouri’s health department has not spent any of its $35.6 million.
  • Wisconsin, Illinois, and Idaho — whose state health departments each received between $27 million and $31 million — have used less than 5% of their grant money.
  • Pennsylvania’s health department has used about 6% of its nearly $27.7 million grant.
  • California’s health department has spent just over 10% of its $32.5 million funding.

The public health agencies give a litany of reasons for that: They need time to hire people. They blame their state’s long budget process. They say it takes time to work with nonprofit organizations to set up programs or for them to put the money to use. They’re already tapping other federal dollars to fight covid disparities.

(Kaiser Health News)

Mounting unspent covid relief dollars is one of the key reasons Republicans in Congress oppose Democrats’ efforts to appropriate billions more federal dollars for managing the pandemic.

This is a list of the states, territories and cities that got a piece of the $2.25 billion.

2021: Highest traffic fatality rate in 16 years

Americans returned to driving in 2021 following a year of staying at home to avoid COVID-19. That year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 43,000 people died on U.S. highways, streets and interstates. That is a 10.5% jump over 2020.

But remember, that year was an anomaly for all the reasons you know well. The report lists some of the categories that saw the biggest increases in traffic deaths. Rural roads were especially dangerous.

Traffic fatalities (fatality counts) in the following categories showed relatively large increases in 2021 as compared to 2020:

  • on rural interstate roads (up 15%),
  • urban arterial (up 15%),
  • during daytime (up 11%).
  • during the weekend (up 11%).
  • during out-of-state travel (up 15%), reversing the trend seen in 2020.
  • in newer (vehicle age < 10 years)
  • passenger vehicles (up 10%).
  • multi-vehicle crashes (up 16%).
  • speeding-related crashes (up 5%) – still higher as compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
  • 25-to-34 age group (up 10%), the 35-to-44 age group (up 15%), the 45-to-54 age group (up 12%), and the 65-and-older age group (up 14%), reversing the declining trend in fatalities to those 65 and older seen in 2020.
  • females (up 12%).
  • unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 3%) – still higher as compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
  • alcohol involvement crashes (up 5%) – still higher as compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
  • motorcyclist fatalities (up 9%), continuing the trend seen in 2020.
  • pedestrian fatalities (up 13%); pedalcyclist fatalities (up 5%).
  • crashes involving at least one large truck (up 13%), reversing the trend seen in 2020.

Many journalists did stories in 2020 about drivers seeming to go faster because, with people working from home, there was less traffic. I dug out some data that might help you to follow up on that angle:

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, speeding related fatalities greatly increased from 2019 to 2020 (17%). This year the data show that speeding-related fatalities still increased (up 5%) from 2020 to 2021. Therefore, the estimated fatalities in speeding related crashes in 2021 were still higher as compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Motorcycle-related fatalities rose, and I wonder, with the price of gasoline going up, whether we will see an increase in ridership this summer. I bet we do. I am also seeing a lot of those electric bicycles these days, and some of them go pretty fast, just like motorcycles in city traffic.

Top 10 baby names of 2021

Every year, the Social Security Administration releases a list of the most popular baby names from the preceding year. This year, some old-fashioned names made the list:

(Social Security Administration)

You can also look up your birth year to see what the most popular names were then. The most popular names in my year were Michael and Mary. I suppose parents were not feeling particularly creative back then.

Congressional hearing confirms some UFO/UAP videos as unidentified

Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray points to a video display of a UAP during a hearing of the House Intelligence, Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee hearing on “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A congressional committee held the first hearing about UFO’s for the first time since the 1960s and, while the military did not reveal any huge surprises, the hearing did confirm that some of the most widely circulated videos of “unidentified ariel phenomenon” are real. One of the most interesting parts of the hearing is the news that the Pentagon says there have been 400 reports from military personnel of possible encounters.

A Navy official said that a floating pyramid-shaped object that was captured on military videos probably was a drone. Scott Bray, the deputy director of Naval Intelligence, told the House committee that UAP reports rose significantly between 2004 and 2021, probably because there is less of a stigma to reporting such incidents these days.

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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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