June 20, 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.

I have been expecting word any day that RV sales were tanking and that a lot of used RVs were being turned in for sale. But it turns out that the opposite is true, despite the fact that RVs get miserable gas mileage and that gas is selling for around $5 a gallon nationwide. CNN Business says:

RV popularity boomed during the pandemic as travelers looked for safe ways to travel while maintaining social distance. Americans continue to turn to RVs even as they’ve grown increasingly comfortable flying and staying in hotels.

RV production in North America hit an all-time high in 2021, with more than 600,000 vehicles produced, according to RV Industry Association spokeswoman Monika Geraci. The association expects 2022 will be its second-best year of production ever. RVs are especially popular in the South and West.

Thor Industries, which owns popular RV brands Airstream and Jayco, said this month that its sales were up 34.6% in the latest three months, compared with the same period last year. Thor Industries says it still has a backlog of RV orders worth $13.88 billion.

Industry observers say RVs are still popular despite gasoline prices because the alternatives — including airfare and hotel rooms — are more expensive, too.

New CDC data says maybe there was no increase in pediatric hepatitis cases

This new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report is a bit of a head-scratcher. But here it is.

In November 2021, doctors in Alabama and Scotland reported seeing more hepatitis cases in a period of weeks than they normally would see in a year.  Hundreds of cases were under investigation worldwide. There was some speculation that it would lead to a need for increased liver transplants.

For months, nobody could figure out what was behind these seeming outbreaks. Was it COVID-19 connected?

Now, it appears, there might not have been an increase at all. It may have been that there was not enough recordkeeping to know what the normal hepatitis case count was pre-pandemic and what we were thinking was a new outbreak was just a normal case count.

Stat summarizes some of the findings:

Their research suggests there has not been an increase in cases of pediatric hepatitis of unknown origin, at least in the United States. Nor has there been a rise in the number of pediatric liver transplants, which a portion of these children have needed. Likewise, the rate of detections of infections caused by adenovirus 41 — a stomach bug virus that has been implicated as a potential trigger of these hepatitis cases — has not changed over time, the CDC scientists reported.

The CDC findings don’t identify what is causing the cases of pediatric hepatitis of unknown origin, 290 of which are under investigation in this country. Elsewhere, about three dozen countries have detected cases since the United Kingdom raised the alarm in early April. As of June 6, the World Health Organization had been notified of over 800 probable and suspected cases.

But the CDC findings may help to rule some things out. With rates unchanged since before the Covid-19 pandemic, a theory espoused by scientists from Israel — that this is some sort of post-Covid condition — becomes harder to argue.

“It doesn’t mean that Covid still can’t have some collateral role with all of this. But I think these kind of data helps support that that’s probably not the cause,” explained veteran epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who was not involved in the CDC work.

How COVID-19 destroyed school music programs

School bands are still trying to recover from two years of distance learning setbacks. The New York Times reports:

The pandemic interrupted music instruction for many elementary schoolers at a critical moment — in the years when their brains are just starting to make “sound to meaning” connections. In New York City public schools, elementary music instruction, which had been stable for five years, decreased by 11 percent between the 2019-20 school year and 2020-21, according to the New York City Department of Education’s Arts in Schools Report.

For students whose only access to music education comes via their public schools, pandemic school closures were especially disruptive. But research also suggests music could help children rebuild what was lost.

Pediatric vaccines available in 49 states today

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attends a media event, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Miami. Florida is the only state that hasn’t preordered COVID-19 vaccines for young children in anticipation of their final approval by the federal government. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Unless you live in Florida, where the governor decided not to place an order for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, children under age 5 will begin getting vaccinated today. The CDC followed the Food and Drug Administration’s lead this weekend in approving the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for children as young as six months.

18 million kids will be eligible for the vaccinations, but parents have been slow to take advantage of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11. About a third of children in that age group have been vaccinated with the shot that the FDA and CDC approved in November.

Pediatric vaccines are less effective than adult doses, and that could be adding to parents’ reluctance. Drug trials showed the two-dose Moderna vaccine is about 40% effective at preventing milder infections while Pfizer said its vaccine is almost 80% effective after three shots. But there is a catch in Pfizer’s estimate. The FDA said that the agency needs more data from more drug trials to be confident that the 80% figure is reliable.

Pediatric infections rarely result in death, especially compared to adults. More than a million adults have died from COVID-19 in America compared to about 480 children under age 5. Unlike adult COVID-19 vaccinations, pediatric doses will mostly be administered by pediatricians, not drugstores, although some pharmacies will offer the vaccinations. The advantage of going to a pediatrician is that the child’s records will be centralized, and the doctor could also offer other childhood vaccines at the same time.

Every state (except Florida) placed orders for pediatric vaccines to be ready to begin vaccinating children as soon as the FDA and CDC approved them. But the Florida Department of Health went against the CDC, FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics and said Florida’s health department doesn’t recommend vaccines for healthy children. Gov. Ron DeSantis said doctors could order the vaccine if they wanted but the state would not be administering the vaccine program for young children.

The Tampa Bay Times called it “another dumb move by a governor and the unfit surgeon general he appointed that emboldens the COVID quackery that is prolonging this crisis.” The Washington Post offered a similar critique. 90% of Florida starts this week in the “high risk” category for COVID-19 infections.

DeSantis claimed that young children have “zero risk” from COVID-19. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent DeSantis a letter saying he was off base:

“Your public justifications have heightened my concern. You declared that you are ‘affirmatively against the Covid vaccine for young kids’ because, in your view, they ‘have zero risk of getting anything.’ Yet although the coronavirus poses less risk to young children than to older Americans, the risks are significantly above zero. To date, over 2,600 American children under five have been hospitalized with the coronavirus, and 442 have died from the disease. Even mild coronavirus infections can cause serious long-term effects for children, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome—a rare but potentially deadly inflammatory disorder—and long COVID, which can cause severe fatigue, cognitive difficulties, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms that persist for months. The two vaccines authorized by FDA have been shown to be extremely safe and highly effective against the coronavirus in clinical trials.”

Israel’s new COVID spike

We have seen this story unfold before, where COVID-19 cases dramatically rise in some parts of the world and then rise in our own American backyard weeks later. Israel has seen a 70% increase in new COVID-19 cases in the last week. The Times of Israel reports the infections appear to be of the BA.5 variant:

Some 7,313 Israelis tested positive for the virus on Friday, the Health Ministry said. The reproduction number (R) stood at 1.31 as of Friday. The figure measures how many people each coronavirus carrier infects on average, with any number above 1 meaning the spread of COVID-19 is increasing. It first began to rise above 1 in mid-May, having stayed below that threshold for nearly two months.

Germany considers mandatory masks from October-March

German health authorities are considering imposing mandatory mask orders in restaurants, bars and stores this winter to try to prevent a winter COVID-19 outbreak. The Daily Mail reports:

The country has recently reported between 50 and 130 coronavirus-related deaths a day, according to official figures in what has been described as a ‘summer wave’ even before the cold weather arrives.

It is unclear whether the rules would apply to schools and kindergartens. Currently in Germany mask wearing is only obligatory on public transport and medical centers.

Last year’s Oktoberfest was cancelled entirely by German authorities, which would normally attract 6 million attendees, so beer aficionados will be more than disappointed if this year’s festival is disrupted by compulsory mask wearing.

Another disastrous air travel weekend: thousands of flights delayed/canceled

Travelers are shown in line as they wait to go through security Monday, June 13, 2022, at Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Between Friday and today, more than 2,000 flights in the U.S. were canceled and another 14,000 were delayed. Friday’s passenger check-in figures hit a new high since Thanksgiving.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the government may penalize airlines if flights continue to be disrupted at this rate.

You could infect your dog or cat, especially if they sleep with you

We have known for some time that people can pass the virus that causes COVID-19 to other species, including cats and dogs, but a new Canadian study shows it may be happening more than we thought. Here is the topline finding after researchers tested cats and dogs for the spike protein associated with the virus:

Among household pets, 2% (1/49) of swab specimens from dogs and 7.7% (5/65) from cats were PCR positive, but 41% of dog serum samples and 52% of cat serum samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2 IgG or IgM. The likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity in pet samples was higher for cats but not dogs that slept on owners’ beds and for dogs and cats that contracted a new illness. Our findings indicate a high likelihood for pets in households of humans with COVID-19 to seroconvert and become ill.

These data indicate relatively common transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and that certain human–animal contacts (e.g., kissing the pet, pet sleeping on the bed) appear to increase the risk.

The study involved 69 cats and 49 dogs, so it is not exhaustive. And, importantly, it did not show severe infections in animals; instead, any symptoms were “very mild.” It is also interesting to note that while humans may infect pets, the animals do not appear to pose a risk of passing the virus to humans.

Three things that are cheaper now

Bravo to Axios for coming up with a list of stuff that is cheaper these days. On the list:

  • Ballgames: Ticket prices for sporting events are down 11% year over year, according to the Consumer Price Index.
  • Tech upgrades: Smartphones are 20% cheaper. TVs are 10% cheaper. For the student in your life: Calculators are 13% cheaper.
  • Beach reads: The price of books has stayed the same despite supply chain woes and inflation. As we’ve reported, one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been an increase in recreational reading. Join other Americans in reviving reading for pleasure this summer.

MLB pitchers told to remove wedding rings

It has been around for a while but umpires just started enforcing the Major League Baseball rule that tells pitchers they must not wear anything, including a wedding ring, on their hands. It is part of MLB’s attempt to ban pitchers from having foreign substances on their hands. But the rule even applies to the hand in the baseball glove, not just the pitching hand.

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.

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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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