January 13, 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 can’t imagine a much more defeating quote from the head of America’s fight against COVID-19. Here is Dr. Anthony Fauci’s direct quote:

Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody. Those who have been vaccinated … and boosted would get exposed. Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death.

His comments echo those of acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, who said that while most people could catch the virus, the focus now should be on making sure hospitals and essential services function. In other words, it seems, the big push is to treat infections — because everyone is probably going to get infected.

KN95 masks are all the rage

Given the above item, it would be easy enough to understand why some people would say, “What the heck? Why even wear a mask or socially distance if we are all going to get infected?” But the cost of giving up on prevention would be astronomical.

The Washington Post says:

The CDC has been weighing whether to recommend that Americans wear N95s or KN95s over cloth masks if they can do so consistently. N95s and KN95s, which are worn by health-care workers, offer a higher degree of protection — an important consideration, experts say, as omicron’s contagiousness spurs record levels of infections and hospitalizations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to recommend switching to a higher grade KN95 mask but are you watching, for example, the president?

And CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has been spotted wearing both an N95 mask and a cloth mask, which the CDC also does not recommend.

(C-SPAN)

The day after she appeared wearing two masks, Walensky said yesterday:

CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask, and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of Covid-19, and that recommendation is not going to change. We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people.

The San Francisco Chronicle produced a useful graphic that shows how to know if a mask is a real KN95 mask, since there are a lot of knockoffs now.

(San Francisco Chronicle)

My PolitiFact colleagues explore the data behind N95 masks in this piece.

GMA edits the CDC director and starts a rumor

ABC News’ “Good Morning America” edited an interview with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a way that made it sound like she was saying 75% of all of the people who have died from COVID-19 had some other health complication. The edit totally changed what she actually said and set off a storm among knuckleheads who used the edited soundbite to say that the CDC has been lying about how many people have died of COVID-19.

ABC News never issued a retraction (and it should) but did add a graphic (that practically nobody will see) at the end of its online version of the story to acknowledge the online version has been changed from what aired. The cut-down version of what aired was circulated in social media circles.

ABC News’ edited version had Dr. Walensky falsely appearing to say:

The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.

They cut out 23 seconds of critical context that she said before that:

You know, really important study, if I may just summarize it, a study of 1.2 million people who were vaccinated between December [2020] and October [2021] and demonstrated that severe disease occurred in about zero point zero one five percent of the people who are — received their primary series and death in point zero zero three percent of those people.

So, let’s be clear, the study that the CDC director is referring to says that out of the 1.2 million vaccinated people in the study, there were 39 deaths related to COVID-19. Of those 39 deaths, 29 people had serious illnesses, including immunosuppression, diabetes, and chronic kidney, cardiac, pulmonary, neurologic, and liver diseases.

Journalist friends, I know that brevity matters to you, but brevity is often the enemy of clarity and truth. Let important issues breathe. Give them the space and resources that a pandemic deserves. And when you blow it as badly as ABC News did, eat it and correct it — partly because the others who quoted your mistake for their self-serving disinformation-spreading purposes will never correct it.

Frequently repeated boosters may not work

The European Union’s experts say the evidence is growing that repeated COVID-19 booster shots — say every four months — may in fact weaken the immune response. The implications are that if we do have COVID-19 boosters, and we probably will, then they will need to be spaced further apart. Israel has already started boosters for people over age 60.

The great pet food ‘shortage’ of 2022

The shortage of pet food on store shelves is causing problems for pet shelters. Some are resorting to cooking up their own pet food recipes.

Fox 13 said supply chain issues and increased demand due to lots of people adopting pets during the pandemic — coupled with some panic buying — are making pet food difficult to find, especially canned pet food. And online prices have skyrocketed.

Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton describes the depths of despair that this pet food shortage has caused:

Here is what a cat-owning colleague experienced recently when this latest supply-chain shortage stripped some local shelves bare:

His house cats, presented with not their regular wet food but the unfamiliar dry, staged a hunger strike. They knocked their bowl over twice; in case the message wasn’t clear. And when it became apparent things would not change anytime soon, they threw up in a bedroom in what is believed to have been a deliberate act.

The other leading shortages

Eat This, Not That!, a website about making healthy food choices, says other shortages include cold remedies, refrigerated cinnamon rolls, dry pasta and cream cheese. The Washington Post explains the key reasons behind the shortages. One thing I had not thought of is a lot more people are eating at home during the pandemic. Grocery sales climbed 8% in December.

Airline CEO says mandates prevented deaths

Passengers wait to board on a United Airlines flight, seen in the background, for Newark, NJ, at Fiumicino’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport, near Rome, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says he is convinced that his airline’s vaccine mandate is behind the fact that despite having 3,000 employees infected with COVID-19 right now, “zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized.” United has 85,000 employees. Kirby said in a company memo:

Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average (per week) was dying from COVID.

But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees — based on United’s prior experience and the nationwide data related to COVID fatalities among the unvaccinated, that means there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement.

Canadians are about to tax the unvaxxed

Quebec’s provincial government is requiring proof of vaccination to shop in government cannabis and liquor stores. There is a nightly curfew there and Quebec will now add a tax on unvaccinated citizens to help offset the cost of taking care of them if they get infected. Montreal hospitals are nearly 100% full.

The anti-vax tax is not unique to Quebec. Greece charges unvaccinated senior citizens more than $100 a month and Singapore says if you are unvaccinated and get sick, you will pay for your own hospitalization.

TSA’s top catches for 2021

Yes, the Transportation Security Administration takes away your too-large shampoo bottles and pocket knives. It also will seize your burrito filled with meth. In fact, the meth-rito made TSA’s top list of stuff inspectors found people trying to take on airplanes. TSA also seized bear spray, bullets hidden in a stick of deodorant and a chainsaw.

Only 1 in 10 American adults eats enough fruit and veggies

The current federal guidelines say adults should consume 1.5- to 2-cup-equivalents of fruits and 2- to 3-cup-equivalents of vegetables daily. And of course, those foods help build your immunity.

The newest data from the CDC says:

  • In 2019, 12.3% and 10.0% of surveyed adults met fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, respectively.
  • Meeting fruit intake recommendations was highest among Hispanic adults (16.4%) and lowest among males (10.1%).
  • Meeting vegetable intake recommendations was highest among adults aged ≥51 years (12.5%) and lowest among adults with low income (6.8%).
  • 8.4% in West Virginians ate enough fruit compared to 16.1% of adults in Connecticut.
  • 5.6% of Kentuckians eat enough vegetables compared to 16.0% in Vermont.

Observations from the real world

This post comes from a Canadian physician who was administering vaccines at a long-term care center.

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,…
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