January 28, 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.

BA.2, the newest COVID-19 variant, has now been found in 17 states and 49 countries. The case count in the U.S. stands at fewer than 100 — but everyone knows that is an undercount.

These are the states where BA.2 has been found so far:


The map is constantly changing and most of the states have only found one case. Arizona detected 17, while 11 cases turned up in California. The sliding scale shows the number of cases compared to the number of tests.

At the moment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not supply BA.2 data as a separate omicron sublineage even though the World Health Organization does. But don’t be surprised if the CDC starts tracking BA.2 more closely in the days ahead, especially if cases keep growing fast in Europe.

In Western Europe, BA.2 accounts for 10,800 COVID-19 cases, so it is about one-half of 1% of all of the COVID-19 cases worldwide.


Nordic countries have the highest case counts so far. As of Thursday, Denmark had 8,357 cases, Sweden had 224 cases and the United Kingdom had 607 cases. Canada’s Public Health Agency says it has found 51 cases, mostly from international travelers.

BA.2 now accounts for nearly half of new COVID-19 cases in Denmark. The Danes say the new variant seems to be more infectious but is not causing more severe illnesses — not yet, at least.

Despite the new cases and the new variant, Denmark is reopening Feb. 1 as if there is no concern about the virus. Bars, restaurants and theaters will be wide open to patrons and no masking rules will apply. In recent weeks, Denmark has seen more than 46,000 daily cases on average, but Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said 40 people are currently in hospital intensive care units, which is half as many ICU cases as the country recorded in early January.

Journalists, people are starting to search for information about BA.2. You can see the trend picking up on Google Search.

Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina explains that the BA.2 variant has about 85 mutations from previous versions of the virus. That is interesting because you will remember that the omicron variant — the dominant variant in the U.S. now — had 60 mutations and surprised scientists that it could evolve so quickly. It is raising the suspicion that this version of the virus moved from humans to an animal species and back to humans, which would explain the many changes. But that is just guesswork for now.

We do not know yet how effective vaccines will be against BA.2. If it spreads much further, it will likely get its own Greek letter name. It might be worth noting that other variants have come and gone without causing huge disruptions. We will see soon enough how this version of the virus acts. And yes, there is already a BA.3 variant, too.

A record 1 million pediatric COVID cases in 1 week

Keep in mind this data is a week old, but concerning all the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association says more than 1.1 million children tested positive for COVID-19 in the week ending Jan. 20. That’s a 17% increase from the week before and it doubled the cases recorded two weeks earlier.

Federal mandate for health care workers to get vaccines or testing begins

For a health care worker to be in compliance with the federal mandate to get vaccinated, they would have had to have gotten their first dose of the vaccine yesterday in 25 states. The mandate will be in effect soon for the rest of the country.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a staggered deadline schedule (see below) after Republican governors challenged the rules in court and the Supreme Court upheld the mandate. This is when health care workers must comply or their employers will face losing federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, which would gut most facilities:

(The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)

(The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)

The mandate covers about 10 million hospital and nursing home workers.

One change that could increase blood donations. Some say is long overdue.

We are still in what the Red Cross calls a blood shortage emergency. Some — including Oregon U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden — are calling for a rule change to make more people eligible to give blood.

Right now, potential donors have to answer a list of questions and comply with statements including one that says, “You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.”

Another warning asks if “you are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, in the last 3 months,” or “have had sexual contact in the past 3 months with anyone described above.” The screening questions are rooted in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s but today prevent men who are in committed monogamous relationships or marriages from being blood donors.

In a letter to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health and Human Services, the senators wrote:

In light of the nation’s urgent blood supply crisis and to ensure that Americans have access to life-saving blood transfusions during the pandemic, we urge you to swiftly update your current blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, based on individualized risk factors, and allow all potentially eligible donors to do so free of stigma. We also request a briefing in the next 30 days on the agency’s plan to update its “men who have sex with men” blood donation policies.

17 other U.S. senators also signed the letter. CNBC produced a story about this movement.

Navy dismisses 23 active-duty sailors for refusing COVID-19 vaccines

It is the first time the Navy removed sailors for refusing the vaccine. The overwhelming majority of active-duty Navy personnel are vaccinated, while a small number of special forces members are filing a lawsuit against the mandatory vaccine orders.

Governor works as fill-in substitute teacher

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, talks with local school officials at Sante Fe High School in Santa Fe, N.M., on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has no experience as a substitute teacher but is filling in as a kindergarten teacher this week. Her state’s schools have been so shorthanded that the governor asked National Guard members and state employees to take a turn in classrooms.

Opting out of Valentine’s Day

Axios has an interesting take on how retailers are letting customers opt out of being deluged with Valentine’s Day messages. Axios reports:

A growing number of retailers, florists, media companies and more are taking a thoughtful approach to marketing, trying not to inundate their customers with ads that’ll hurt them.

Etsy lets people opt out of Valentine’s Day emails and offers as well as marketing around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The feature was created in 2021, Etsy tells Axios.

Parachute, the bedding and home goods company, has the same opt-out feature for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Fortune reports.

In 2019, British florist Bloom & Wild gave their customers the ability to opt out of Mother’s Day emails and invited other businesses to follow suit.

Since then, more than 150 brands have joined Bloom & Wild’s “Thoughtful Marketing Movement” including The Telegraph, stationery company Paperchase and restaurant chain Wagamama.

The National Retail Federation says barely half of people surveyed celebrated Valentine’s Day last year. It is part of a long-term trend to ditch Valentine’s Day:

(National Retail Federation)

In 2021, COVID-19 caused people to cut back on how much they spent on Valentine’s Day since they were more likely to celebrate at home.

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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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