February 11, 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.

Canadian truck drivers and people who support them have found the economic equivalent to kryptonite. Their road and bridge blockades to protest Canada’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine regulations are bringing big factories to their knees. There are hints that the protests may spread.

When the protest that was centered in Ottawa, Canada, started to cost Americans their jobs, the U.S. media began to pay attention. Canada and Mexico are by far the biggest trading partners with the U.S., but American media generally pay little attention to our two most important trading partners unless what is happening there affects what is happening in the U.S. Now it is.

Two-thirds of the $500 billion in goods traded between the U.S. and Canada arrive by trucks. One-fourth of all trade with Canada comes over the Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario. And that is where truckers have set up their blockade.

With supply-line interruptions already straining car factories, any interruption from trucking can quickly close factories that desperately need parts. The parts supply line is so tight, The Associated Press says, that even a five-hour delay in shipments can cause problems.

Four companies, General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Stellantis (formerly Fiat and Chrysler) have cut production. It could get worse. CNBC reports:

GM spokesman Dan Flores on Thursday confirmed the first shift at its Lansing Delta Township assembly plant in Michigan would be cut due to the problem. A second shift was cut Wednesday, he said.

Ford is running an engine plant in Windsor and an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule, spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Thursday morning. It follows similar actions by the company Wednesday due to the problem, including a shutdown of the engine facility.

“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, autoworkers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border,” Ford said in a statement. “We hope this situation is resolved quickly, because it could have widespread impact on all automakers in the U.S. and Canada.”

Ford had already made significant cuts to production this week at several North American plants due to the chips shortage.

Toyota on Thursday said it would not be able to manufacture anything at two Canadian plants for the rest of this week due supply chain issues, including the blockade. One of its plants in Kentucky also is partially down, according to Toyota spokeswoman Kelly Stefanich.

The protest is not backed by the Teamsters union. The AP reports:

François Laporte, the president of Teamsters Canada, which represents over 55,000 drivers, including 15,000 long-haul truckers, said the protests do not represent the industry in which 90% of drivers are vaccinated.

The Freedom Convoy “and the despicable display of hate led by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members,” Laporte said in a statement.

Canada’s restrictions have been more stringent than the U.S. The country also has a higher vaccination rate and a lower death rate. Saskatchewan, Quebec, Alberta and Prince Edward Island are all lifting some COVID-19 restrictions.

Government warning: trucking protests may come to the US this weekend

SoFi Stadium is seen Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. SoFi Stadium is the site of Super Bowl LVI scheduled to be played on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Those protests may soon cross the border. NPR reports:

The Department of Homeland Security says it has received reports that truck drivers who are protesting vaccine mandates will block roads in major cities in the coming weeks. The protests could potentially affect the Super Bowl in Los Angeles on Sunday and the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., on March 1, according to an internal memo from DHS obtained by NPR.

The group of truckers plans to start the protest in California and make its way across the U.S. to Washington, D.C., with more truckers joining along the way, the memo says.

“DHS is tracking reports of a potential convoy that may be planning to travel to several U.S. cities,” a department spokesperson told NPR. “We have not observed specific calls for violence within the United States associated with this convoy, and are working closely with our federal, state, and local partners to continuously assess the threat environment and keep our communities safe.”

USA Today expands on the story:

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has received reports of truck drivers planning to potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities in the United States in protest of, among other things, vaccine mandates for truck drivers,” the department warned in a Feb. 8 bulletin sent to state and local law enforcement partners and obtained by USA TODAY.

The “Internal Use Only” report was prepared by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis’s Current and Emerging Threats Center, or CETC. It said the convoy will potentially begin in California as early as mid-February, with designs on potentially disrupting the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for Sunday at SoFi Stadium in the Los Angeles area.

After that, the convoy will make its way across the country, aiming to reach Washington, D.C. in time for the annual presidential address at the Capitol on March 1, the DHS memo sent to police officials nationwide said.

NPR says DHS is monitoring the hashtags #ShutDownSuperBowl and #SuperBowlTrafficking on social media and is picking up chatter that truckers could start by interrupting traffic around the Super Bowl and attempt a cross-country convoy to Washington, D.C. So far, there is no known evidence that such a plan is taking shape, but it is something that journalists should ask local law enforcement about.

Meat, gasoline, used cars, electricity lead COVID-era inflation

The new Consumer Price Index figures show the things people use most cost the most. Food, electricity and gasoline all jumped again in January and, compared to a year ago, are sky-high. I added arrows to the CPI chart to help you navigate it.

(Consumer Price Index January 2022)

Notice meat prices are up 12% year over year. Overall energy is up 27% but gasoline prices are up 40%, electricity rose 10% and natural gas is up 23% from a year ago.

New car prices rose 12% in the last year, but used car prices spiked 40% from a year ago.

Tobacco, cereal and bakery items are all up more than 7%, which is about average for overall inflation. Citrus prices rose faster than most other foods except for meat.

Mortgage rates jump over 4%

If you bought an average home today and financed it for 30 years, your monthly payments would be $250 more than the same home and the same loan a year ago. That’s because, in the last day, average 30-year fixed mortgage rates jumped over the 4% mark. A year ago, the average rate was 2.8%. As the Washington Post put it:

“As inflation goes, so go mortgage rates,” said Elizabeth Rose, sales manager at Mortgage300. Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found more than three-quarters of the experts it surveyed expect rates to continue to rise in the coming week.

Forbes adds some context:

The average rate for the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage inched up to 4.01%. One week ago, the 30-year fixed was 3.84%. The 52-week low is 2.91%.

The APR on a 30-year fixed is 4.00%. This time last week, it was 3.85%. APR is the all-in cost of your loan.


According to the Forbes Advisor mortgage calculator, homebuyers with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $100,000 will pay 478 per month in principal and interest (taxes and fees not included) at today’s interest rate of 4.01%. The total interest paid over the life of the loan will be around $72,077.

The current rate hearkens back to 2017 and 2015, when 4.02% was considered to be a great rate, so all things are relative.

We will see soon how rising rates affect housing prices and demand for home sales.

Stressed pharmacists

The American Pharmacists Association and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations recently released the 2022 National Pharmacy Workplace Survey and it shows your local pharmacists are overworked, stressed out and their stores are probably short-staffed. Seven out of 10 pharmacists say they have been bullied by customers.

Only 25% of pharmacists say their employers give them enough time to do their jobs safely.

(The American Pharmacists Association 2022 survey)

(The American Pharmacists Association 2022 survey)

NBC News says pharmacies nationwide are short-staffed, and the result is patients may have to wait days for prescriptions to be filled.

“Over the last five to six months, we’ve seen a spike in these conditions,” said Al Carter, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a nonprofit organization that represents state pharmacy regulators. “In some states you have 60 or 70 pharmacies that are closing for days on end, because they don’t have the appropriate staff.”

While the shortage of technicians is being felt throughout the pharmacy industry, Carter said retail pharmacies, which have some of the lowest-paying positions in the industry, have been hit the hardest.

NBC News spoke to 22 retail pharmacy technicians in 16 states who recently quit or were considering quitting their jobs at major retail chains. Their experiences echoed Strehl’s. Workload rose dramatically during the pandemic, but staffing levels didn’t, with many stores instead losing workers and struggling to fill positions, compounding stress and burnout. All of the technicians said patient safety was their biggest concern.

Interestingly, recent polling from Columbia University shows the public trusts pharmacists and increasingly is looking to pharmacists to provide care way beyond filling prescriptions.

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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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