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.
What is more shocking: that we just completed a weekend with three mass shootings that left more than two dozen people injured and two dead or that, despite all that, our national murder rate is running about the same as last year?
NOLA.com’s headline read, “’Like a war zone’: 6 killed, 12 wounded in New Orleans’ bloodiest weekend in 10 years.”
So far this year, there have been at least 139 mass shootings in America, most of which never made national news. This list is just from the last week.
This chart compiled by Datalytics shows that while some cities are counting a significantly higher murder rate compared to 2021, others are at or barely below last year’s rate.
Notice that murder rates in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Philadelphia are all down or flat compared to a year ago. And while today’s murder rate is not much to celebrate, the national murder rate is still down a third from the peaks of 1970s and 1990s.
Rising road rage
Road rage cases are piling up, too. The New York Times notes:
These eruptions of sudden violence — a man in Tulsa, Okla., firing repeatedly after an argument at a red light; a Georgia driver shot while on a family road trip — are not unique to any part of America, among a population that is increasingly on edge and carrying guns. But they have been perhaps most pronounced on the roads of Texas.
- As more motorists seemed to be firing guns last year, the Dallas Police Department began tracking road rage shootings for the first time. The results were alarming: 45 people wounded, 11 killed.
- In Austin last year, the police recorded 160 episodes of drivers pointing or firing a gun; this year, there have been 15 road rage shootings, with three people struck.
- Last month, a woman driving with her dog shot and wounded another motorist in Oklahoma City.
- In Miami, a man fired 11 shots from his car on Interstate 95 in what he has said was self-defense.
- A Los Angeles couple is set to stand trial for firing into a car during morning rush hour last year, killing a 6-year-old boy on his way to kindergarten.
Criminologists cautioned that any theory of motivation behind road rage shootings is hampered by a lack of data. Most police departments do not keep statistics on road rage episodes, in part because it is not itself a crime category. There is no federal database.
The Gun Violence Archive records show 500 people were injured or killed in reported road rage shootings last year, up from fewer than 300 in 2019.
The latest COVID wave is probably here. Will Americans care?
The rallying cry for the last couple of years has been “follow the science.” OK, let’s do that. Here is a passage from Fortune:
On Thursday the U.S. had a seven-day average of nearly 42,000 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center dashboard, based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data — up 6,000 cases from a week ago and 14,000 cases from two weeks ago.
But because states have largely quit regular testing and routine reporting of COVID-19 cases, it is hard to know how big this wave is. Fortune continues:
“We probably already are in a wave — the wave is the same size as the first wave in March 2020, which these days looks like a small wave to us,” (Fractal Therapeutics CEO and COVID researcher Dr. Arijit Chakravarty told Fortune.)
There’s no doubt U.S. COVID cases are rising, said Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine — but by how much, it’s hard to say. Previous eras of the pandemic “aspired to a monolithic data collection strategy” in which tests were centrally reported to authorities. But results of at-home tests in the U.S., now widely available, aren’t tracked. Some with COVID don’t test because they don’t want to, or don’t have access to testing. And others with COVID don’t test because they don’t know they have it.
“It’s a complex, distorted landscape right now,” Ray said.
There are remarkable stories of outbreaks, including one involving an orchestra and chorus. WBUR reports that more than 30 members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra tested positive for COVID-19 following a performance in Boston last weekend. And once again, the outbreak seems to be linked to a relaxation of COVID-19 protocols.
In a statement, the BSO says they “stopped contact tracing earlier this year in accordance with the CDC guidelines.” HIPAA privacy requirements also played a role. The statement adds that the organization has taken its response to the pandemic seriously, including rigorous safety measures such as mandated vaccines and boosters for all performers and staff, testing for all choir members, BSO brass and wind players, and vocalists daily prior to arrival, and enhanced ventilation and filtration that exceed all published guidance.
The BSO’s vice president for artistic planning Anthony Fogg says caution is key as they evaluate their next steps. “Unmasked singing is not yet as safe as we think it is, regardless of the protocols,” Fogg said. “So, I think we maybe all need to take a pause just for the moment, especially with this sharp uprise in cases across the country and in our region in particular.”
Just as it is likely true that we are counting only a fraction of positive cases, it is also likely, experts say, that people taking COVID-19 tests are mostly those who have symptoms, so the positivity rate may be overstated compared to earlier COVID-19 trends.
Vaccinated workers resent companies relaxing COVID-19 requirements
A new poll by Willis Towers Watson shows that workers who felt forced to get vaccinated and follow COVID-19 rules resent employers relaxing vaccine requirements now in order to hire workers and fill vacancies. Only about 38% of employers currently require COVID-19 shots. The survey shows of those, 5% said they expect to rescind the policy this year.
As virus rates appear to ebb and companies loosen rules, often in an effort to attract new hires in a tight labor market, they could be alienating employees who dutifully got their shots. COVID-cautious workers and customers, as well, may take umbrage at the idea of sharing space with the unvaccinated, complicating the return-to-office push.
Companies and municipalities already are facing an angry backlash from workers who were fired or placed on leave for refusing to get vaccinated. New exemptions for athletes and performers from New York City’s job-or-jab mandate have come under fire from workers and private-sector employees who still must comply with the requirements announced late last year.
Delta Air Lines has dropped a $200 per month surcharge that it had been levying against unvaccinated employees who were on the company’s health plan.
“We have dropped as of this month the additional insurance surcharge given the fact that we really do believe that the pandemic has moved to a seasonal virus,” CEO Ed Bastian said on a call Wednesday with analysts and reporters. “Any employees that haven’t been vaccinated will not be paying extra insurance costs going forward.”
Tesla cables cost extra now
So, you are thinking of spending an arm and kidney to buy a Tesla? You will also need 200 bucks to buy a charging cable. They planned to charge $275.
Amazon adds a fuel surcharge. You will pay eventually.
Starting April 28, Amazon’s new 5% surcharge kicks in for third-party sellers who use Amazon fulfillment services. Uber, FedEx, UPS and most airlines also now have fuel surcharges. Funny how those do not seem to go away when gas prices drop.
‘Service fees’ are automatic tipping bills at restaurants
In the early days of the pandemic, some restaurants added a “surcharge” so, they said, they could pay for protective equipment and takeout packaging. But increasingly, restaurants are keeping “service fees” as a kind of automatic tip charge. Denverite reports:
Now, many restaurants use the fee to offset pay disparities between front-of-house staff like bartenders and servers, who typically make tips in addition to their tip-adjusted hourly salary, and back-of-house staff like cooks, dishwashers and managers who don’t make tips, as a way to retain staff during the labor shortage. Some restaurants, like Annette, DiFranco’s, Somebody People and WONDER Press also initiated a small surcharge in partnership with the Zero Foodprint initiative, which raises funds to support carbon farming projects dedicated to offsetting climate change.
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.