May 9, 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.

The April inflation figures called the Consumer Price Index will carry a lot of weight in this week’s news cycle. The key question is whether America’s inflation rate is topping out or plowing forward. The evidence may be found in the fact that used car prices are falling but housing prices are still rising.

Fuel prices alone signal that we have not hit an inflation peak. This is the data that CPI will reflect in that area.

(U.S. Department of Energy)

 

Maybe like you, I did some driving this weekend and $70-$80 fill-ups took my breath away.  Natural gas prices have hit a 14-year-high.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

 

Warning: This may be the summer of rolling electric outages

The Wall Street Journal summarizes things this way:

From California to Texas to Indiana, electric-grid operators are warning that power-generating capacity is struggling to keep up with demand, a gap that could lead to rolling blackouts during heat waves or other peak periods as soon as this year.

California’s grid operator said Friday that it anticipates a shortfall in supplies this summer, especially if extreme heat, wildfires or delays in bringing new power sources online exacerbate the constraints. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, which oversees a large regional grid spanning much of the Midwest, said late last month that capacity shortages may force it to take emergency measures to meet summer demand and flagged the risk of outages. In Texas, where a number of power plants lately went offline for maintenance, the grid operator warned of tight conditions during a heat wave expected to last into the next week.

Here’s a new phrase that you will hear more often in the years ahead: “supply gaps” are now part of the forecast, especially in California, Reuters reported this weekend:

Supply gaps along those lines could leave between 1 million and 4 million people without power. Outages will only happen under extreme conditions, officials cautioned, and will depend in part on the success of conservation measures.

In 2025, the state will still have a capacity shortfall of about 1,800 MW, according to officials from the California Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, California Independent System Operator and Newsom’s office. They also projected annual electricity rate increases of between 4% and 9% between now and 2025.

You are surprisingly productive while working remotely

A new study from researchers at Texas A&M University School of Public Health found that remote workers are more productive.

This study was not related to COVID-19, so it may be different working away from the office for extended stretches. This study — done with workers who could not go into the office because of the effects of Hurricane Harvey — found that workers are quite good at shifting from in-office to at-home work.

COVID cancellations no longer honored by Airbnb

Starting May 31, if you book a stay at an Airbnb property then try to cancel the reservation because you have COVID-19, you may have to eat the cost.  The company said:

As we’ve seen the heroic effort of health authorities and medical advancements around the globe, almost two thirds of the world’s population have received at least one dose of a vaccination against COVID-19. And many countries have now implemented living with COVID-19 plans, as it becomes part of our world.

As a result of this new way of living, beginning 31 May, we are updating our Extenuating Circumstances policy to no longer cover COVID-19 related circumstances as a reason for a refund for bookings made on or after this date. That includes cases where a guest or host is sick with COVID-19. Instead, the host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual to these bookings.

Reservations made before 31 May are still be eligible for a refund if they qualify under our policy. Some in the travel industry stopped this type of policy months ago, while others didn’t provide one at all. After consultation with our medical advisors, as well as our community, we feel the time is now right to take the same step.

Almost two thirds of active listings on our platform offer a moderate or flexible cancellation policy, which allow guests to cancel at least five days before check-in – and in some cases up to 24-hours before check-in – and still receive a full refund.

Soon, Airbnb plans to offer travel insurance that might help if you get caught in a quarantine or border delay because of COVID.  Travel insurer Squaremouth says, “42% of travelers searching for a policy are specifically looking for coverage for contracting COVID-19.”

Squaremouth claims:

A majority of travel insurance providers still cover contracting COVID-19 and quarantining. These plans can reimburse travelers 100% of their prepaid expenses should their trip be canceled, as well as cover medical expenses during the trip, and even the additional expenses incurred if a traveler contracts COVID and is stuck at their destination.

If the FDA recommends fall COVID-19 boosters, supplies may be limited

StatNews spent some time diving into piles of White House documents and found that if the FDA moves ahead with a recommendation that all adults get a COVID-19 vaccine booster this fall, there may not be enough vaccine to go around. Right now, the recommendation is that people over 50 get a second booster. StatNews reports:

The budget documents make it clear that if the administration does want to push second boosters, it will need more money to make it happen: it needs at least 87 million more vaccines for adult boosters, and another 5 million more for first boosters for kids.

The documents, which STAT is making public in full for the first time, offer a window into the Biden administration’s planning for the next phase of the Covid-19 response, including contingency planning for the purchase of vaccines and therapeutics. It also reflects how the Omicron surge ravaged the Covid-19 response budget.

The insights into the current state of Covid-19 funding come as the White House’s ongoing efforts to get more money are stalling. A bipartisan deal to give the administration $10 billion for the Covid-19 response has been held up over disputes about public health policy related to migrants on the southern border, and it’s unclear if the funding has a path forward.

Shunning the boosters

New data from Kaiser Family Foundation finds that many vaccinated people in America who have not gotten a booster shot are not warm to the idea of ever getting boosted. The researchers found:

Prospects for further booster uptake are mixed, with half of those who are vaccinated but not boosted saying they will “definitely not” get a booster or get one only if required, and most of the eligible but unboosted population saying they feel they have sufficient protection from their initial vaccination or a prior infection.

These two Kaiser charts tell the story. Notice that if you add the vaccinated but unboosted people who are waiting, the people who would reluctantly get a booster, and the people who definitely will not get a booster, you could say that almost two-thirds of the vaxxed but unboosted people have their foot on the brake right now.

One more thing: Kaiser asked why vaccinated people might resist a booster. Mostly, people said they felt they were protected enough from an initial vaccination. Keep in mind people could offer multiple reasons for taking a pass on the booster.

How did Americans get the idea that students were doing too much homework?

Jay Matthews offers a perspective in The Washington Post that is worth your consideration. Matthews says the long-running notion that students in America are spending a couple of hours or longer on homework every night is based on a faulty reading of a study that looked at students at the highest performing high schools. Most high school kids, he says, spend an hour or so a day on homework. The column offers this supporting evidence:

The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research reported in 2003 an average of 50 minutes of homework each weekday for 15- to 17-year olds, based on a nationally representative sample of 2,907 children and adolescents. A 2019 report by the Pew Research Center, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, said 15- to 17- year olds spent on average an hour a day on homework during the school year. The 2019 UCLA Higher Education Research Institute survey of 95,505 college freshmen reported 57 percent of those students, all good enough to get into college, recalled spending five hours or less a week on homework their senior year of high school. Research shows homework has little value in elementary school but does correlate with higher achievement in high school.

The false notion of teenagers averaging 2.7 hours a night was incorrectly derived from a study by Challenge Success, a nonprofit organization that works on identifying problems and implementing best practices in schools. Pope, the author of the piece in my newspaper, is a co-founder of College Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

Why states are fighting teachers who cancel recess

NBC News reports, “Lawmakers in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Minnesota introduced bills over the past year to prohibit schools from withholding recess as a punishment.” The story lists a number of examples of teachers who use recess or withholding it as punishment for classroom rule violations. Part of the issue is that these punishments, whether targeting an entire class or individuals, is rarely recorded or reported.  That is why some states want more accountability:

If successful, these states would go further than nearly anywhere else in the U.S. in banning the practice. Eleven other states and Washington, D.C. — as well as districts including the Austin Independent School District in Texas and the New York City Department of Education — have laws or policies that limit how teachers can use the punishment, but few have outright bans.

Most states still allow the practice, and in places that restrict it, enforcement can be rare. Even in states that mandate physical activity or recess time, some parents report their children still sometimes lose entire recess periods. Overwhelmed educators have pushed back against losing disciplinary options or have continued withholding recess, with few consequences.

The Hechinger Report spoke to 18 parents and students and collected 60 additional examples from parents and teachers nationwide via social media and public testimony, all detailing the stories of young students who lost recess time — including in states without laws addressing the practice but where official guidelines advise against the punishment and in districts where it is prohibited.

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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