October 12, 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.

Remember a matter of weeks ago when we were one day away from a debilitating national railroad union strike? The White House helped broker a “tentative agreement” between unions and railroads and saved the day. Well, the strike could be back on the calendar again.

One of the unions involved in the bargaining, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, voted 57% to 43% against the proposed five-year contract. The union said in a statement:

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell said. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

The Maintenance of Way union is just one of a handful of unions to vote on the contract, but it is among the biggest, representing 12,000 of the 23,000 total voting union workers. The two bigger unions representing conductors and engineers have not voted yet. We may not know the result of those votes until mid-November.

Why hospitals are worried about this winter

With COVID-19 cases dropping, why are hospitals so concerned about the months ahead? NBC News reports:

Hospitals nationwide are preparing for a third winter with Covid — the first one that’s also expected to include high levels of influenza and other respiratory illnesses that have simmered quietly in the background for the past two years.

Flu cases are already rising in parts of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pediatricians, too, are seeing a growing number of children sick with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and enteroviruses.

In addition, health care workers are quitting at rates 23% higher than when the pandemic began and a little higher than the rest of the workforce.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

NBC’s report said:

“Nurses were on the front line, and some of them burned out and quit,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Others that were in their 50s and 60s who maybe thought they’d be working for another five years took an early retirement.”

Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, has noted a similar “mass exodus” of health care workers who retired early or moved to a different line of work altogether.

Now, he said, “there’s a constant struggle to recruit new people.”

Staffing deficits mean there is little wiggle room to accommodate any additional surges of patients, whether they’re sick with Covid, flu or other illness.

“There’s no excess capacity in hospitals,” del Rio said. “Anything that increases the number of patients is going to tip the scales.”

COVID-19 will be a top cause of death in 2022

As we begin the fourth quarter of 2022, it is fairly clear that once again, COVID-19 will be a leading cause of death in the United States. Around 250 people die each day from COVID-19 in the U.S. That number is expected to rise before the end of the year. At our current rate of deaths, COVID-19 will rank in the same range as Alzheimer’s, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke as a leading cause of death. Heart disease and cancer are still America’s leading causes of death.

The (possible) post-hurricane exodus from Florida

Was Hurricane Ian enough to make Floridians consider moving? I can tell you this is a conversation I have witnessed and participated in so many times in the last week. But then, I suppose, it is a conversation that happens after any natural disaster. How many actually pull up stakes, I suspect, is way different from those who are considering it.

The New York Times published an insightful piece on how seniors are thinking about all of this since they represented an outsized proportion of hurricane fatalities in Ian. Some passages that caught my eye:

Garland Roach, 79, said he had no intention of leaving his badly damaged home in a modest neighborhood of North Fort Myers, where the lone palm tree in his front yard was now surrounded by drain pipes, siding and other debris.

“My daughter wants me to come back to Ohio, and I told her I would in my ashes,” he said, adding that he was hoping the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the National Guard would provide a tarp for his mangled roof. “I couldn’t last another winter up there with my arthritis.”

“I think it’s a breaking point for a lot of people,” said Carol Freeman, 75, pausing as she cleaned the muddied floor of her home on Pine Island, which was ravaged by the storm.

Since the hurricane, Ms. Freeman, a retired postal worker who lives with her parrot, Jose, had been without power, forced to use baby wipes to keep clean and, at least once, eat a donated military-style meal for dinner. She had spent days debating whether it was worth staying.

It may be time, she said, to return to her native Chicago after about four decades on the island. “Too old to be doing this,” she said.

Some retirees who wintered on the Gulf Coast are already planning their exits from the state.

I wonder how many of you have heard similar things after blizzards, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes. I wonder what you would learn if you looked up the people who you talked with after those disasters.

The small and midsized towns that made the list of “Most Dynamic Micropolitans: 2022”

Heartland Forward publishes an annual list of towns with populations of 10,000 to 50,000 that are thriving despite a pandemic and economic instability.

(Heartland Forward)

Maybe it is not a surprise that an organization called Heartland Forward finds the heartland states are thriving best, but there are coastal examples on the list, too.

Here are the details behind the top 70 on the list. You can find the rest of the list here:

(Heartland Forward)

(Heartland Forward)

Los Alamos might not jump to mind as the number one micropolitan, but it may be because you do not know enough about it. Researchers said, “Los Alamos rose to that spot thanks to some unusual circumstances.” The city had the highest per capita wages ($87,078) thanks to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The city includes research on “nuclear energy, nuclear nonproliferation, national security, nanotechnology, renewable energy, magnetic field research, genomics, supercomputing and other projects for the Department of Energy.”

We all will look at the map with our own biases.

When I see cities in my beloved Kentucky missing from the top 20 list, I start to question the survey. Paris, Kentucky (AKA horse heaven, with a population of 9,776) must have been left off because it needed 224 more people to qualify. The highest-ranked Kentucky town is Bardstown (121st overall) but you would move it a lot higher if you are a bourbon drinker. Sevierville, Tennessee, comes in at 126 but if you want to know how much people think of that town, try to book a hotel room near Dollywood while leaves are changing in the Smoky Mountains.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News