The Morning Meeting with Al Tompkins is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas worth considering and other timely context for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
To the surprise of nobody, COVID-19 cases are rising again in the United States.
I took the latest New York Times COVID-19 tracker and laid a red line on it to make the point that COVID-19 hospitalization figures today are almost exactly where they were one year ago. They are also right where they were during the summer wave.
There does not seem to be any pattern of where people are hospitalized with COVID-19. There are hotspots scattered across the country. Arizona and New Mexico have sizable pockets of positive COVID-19 test results.
Coast to coast influenza outbreak
You may recall that a month or so ago the CDC added a new color to the influenza map because three states had very high outbreaks way earlier than usual. Now that same purple color is lighting up states coast to coast.
Friends, it appears we are heading for an influenza train wreck. Look at influenza hospitalization on the extreme left of the next chart. That is where we are today, way ahead of previous flu years and you know what is ahead in the next few weeks. Typically, late December is when the real surge begins. This one could be a whopper; then again, could it be that everybody who is going to get infected is getting it now and will have some immunity later? Will we have a higher spike or just an earlier high spike?
U.S. state and local influenza surveillance
Select a jurisdiction below to access the latest local influenza information.
Exercise may make COVID-19 vaccines more effective
A new study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says exercise may make COVID-19 vaccines work better.
Researchers found that vaccinated people with the most protection from severe outcomes, like hospitalization, after Covid-19 infection, followed these exercise guidelines:
- Frequency: They completed at least 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, of physical activity each week.
- Intensity: Their physical activity was moderate intensity, which means their heart rate was between 70% or 79% of their maximum heart rate while exercising.
Participants within this group were 2.8 times less likely to develop severe outcomes from Covid-19 than people who rarely exercise. Or, in simpler terms, their vaccines were 25% more effective at protecting them from these outcomes than sedentary people.
Even before vaccines were available, researchers concluded that people who walked or worked out before they were infected with COVID-19 were half as likely to be hospitalized after they were infected.
Some significant signs that inflation may be easing
Gasoline prices are dropping fast and one of the most important underlying costs to everything you buy is falling, too. Shipping containers — those big steel boxes that you see on ships, trains and trucks — are getting much less expensive to move around the globe. The Washington Post reported, “The cost of sending a standard 40-foot container from China to the U.S. West Coast is $1,935 — down more than 90 percent from its September 2021 peak of $20,586, according to the online freight marketplace Freightos.”
Chicken prices that hit a record high level during the pandemic are dropping. Chicken wings, for example, are down 43% from their high.
Used car prices are falling, too. The used car auction company Manheim says that used car prices have fallen 15% this year. New car prices are still uncommonly high but not as high as at their peak. Dealerships report a healthy number of new cars in stock.
To put that $46,212 figure into context, Cox Auto says, “The listing price is running 7% ahead of a year ago and remains elevated from years past. In September 2020, the average listing price was $38,662. In pre-pandemic September 2019, it was $37,110.”
That is a “wow” — the average price jumped $9,000 since before the pandemic, and I can’t find anybody saying it will go down. Because inventories are high, there may be some incentives on the way soon. Luxury cars are still selling well, and the most fuel-efficient cars are selling well.
TSA may want to scan your face soon — this may not go well
The Transportation Security Administration is already test-driving a facial scanning technology at a dozen and a half airports and next year, the program may go nationwide, according to The Washington Post.
You probably already have used facial ID technology if you have traveled internationally in the last few years, or if you use the Clear program to zip through TSA lines as I do. TSA’s experts tell the Post that the facial recognition software matches your face with the face on your official ID, and that the matching is much more accurate using the software than when humans try to verify the match. But, the Post says, TSA is not saying how often the facial recognition gets it wrong.
That might be especially troublesome when it comes to people of color.
The Post’s story says:
Research has shown facial recognition algorithms can be less accurate at identifying people of color. A study published by the federal National Institute of Science and Technology in 2019 found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men, depending on the particular algorithm and type of search.
San Francisco outright banned facial recognition technology, but it is doubtful that a city can ban the federal government from doing much of anything.
Airports currently using the technology include:
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Denver International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, Los Angeles International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Miami International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, San Jose International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport.
The day may come, TSA says, when you do not need to carry your ID because your facial scan will be your ID. But it is difficult to see how that would be possible unless the government keeps a file of your ID, like it already does with your passport photo. TSA says it is not holding onto facial scanning to building a database. The Post reported that the scanning match is overwritten as soon as the next match is entered. However, TSA says, it has kept data for up to two years so it could “evaluate” the system’s effectiveness.
TSA says that passengers can request that a facial camera be turned off and that a TSA officer do the matching. We will see if complaints rise from people who exercise that right and then get put through the wringer because of it.
We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of The Morning Meeting with Al Tompkins. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.