April 27, 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 60% of Americans have been infected with COVID-19 at some point in the last two years.

That means that since December 2021, just five months ago, almost one in three Americans were infected. The data also says that three out of four children have been infected.

The stunning figures demonstrate how quickly the omicron variant spread through the country, as it did in other parts of the world.

The testing that underlies the CDC’s data looks for the antibodies that people produce when they are infected with the coronavirus. While 60% of the population may have been infected, far fewer people may have even known it. “We do believe there is a lot of protection in the community both from vaccination as well as from boosting and from prior infection,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.

Vice President Kamala Harris is now one of the millions of Americans who have been infected with the virus. She tweeted, “Today I tested positive for COVID-19. I have no symptoms, and I will continue to isolate and follow CDC guidelines. I’m grateful to be both vaccinated and boosted.” The VP’s press secretary said Harris had not been in close contact with President Joe Biden for several days.

What’s the delay for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines?

This week, the Food and Drug Administration says it will have a schedule for when it will review the newest test data from Pfizer and Moderna to see how close those companies are to having safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 5. The 18 million youngest children are the only ones who have no vaccine protection and, as you saw in the story above, it is a group that is highly infected with the virus.

The FDA still may not be ready to authorize a vaccine until June or later.

Members of Congress are leaning on the FDA to explain why it is taking so long to get a vaccine it can approve.

Moderna and Pfizer have pediatric doses in drug trials now but previous attempts to produce a vaccine for young children have not proven effective enough to bring to the FDA.

One question that the FDA still has not answered is, “How effective must a childhood COVID-19 vaccine be to get FDA approval?”

FDA approves remdesivir for children

The FDA has expanded its approval for the COVID-19 treatment called remdesivir, also known as Veklury. This is a pretty big deal, especially considering there is no current vaccine for the youngest children. The drug is now approved for children 28 days old and up. To be eligible for the drug, a child must weigh at least 7 pounds and have tested positive for COVID-19 or be considered to be at a “high risk” from the virus.

The days are numbered for incandescent light bulbs

In this Jan. 21, 2011 file photo, manager Nick Reynoza holds a 100-watt incandescent light bulb at Royal Lighting in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The Biden administration is about to flip the switch on incandescent light bulbs. The Associated Press reports:

Rules finalized by the Energy Department will require manufacturers to sell energy-efficient light bulbs, accelerating a longtime industry practice to use compact fluorescent and LED bulbs that last 25 to 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The Trump administration had slowed an earlier phaseout of incandescents, saying it was targeting rules that burden businesses.

Once the new rules are fully in place next year, consumers should save nearly $3 billion per year on their utility bills, the Energy Department said. The rules are projected to cut planet-warming carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the next 30 years, an amount equivalent to emissions generated by 28 million homes in one year, officials said.

In 2020, about 30% of light bulbs sold in the United States were incandescent or halogen incandescent bulbs, according to industry groups. The new rule bars manufacture or importation of incandescent bulbs as of Jan. 1.

Retailers will be allowed to sell the older, less efficient bulbs until July 2023.

Two groups favoring the new rules are the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The Appliance Standard Awareness Project claims:

While Sweden-based Ikea switched to selling only LEDs in 2015, including in U.S. stores, nearly all major retailers are still selling incandescent or halogen incandescent bulbs. These include Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Target.

While sales of LEDs have increased rapidly, about 30% of light bulbs sold in the United States in 2020 were still incandescent or halogen incandescent bulbs, which turn most of the electrical energy they use into heat, not light. Most retailers have greatly expanded their LED options but continue to stock inefficient bulbs, which are often particularly prominent at dollar stores and convenience stores.

The new efficiency standard covers not only pear-shaped A-type bulbs but several other common types, such as reflector bulbs used in recessed and track lighting, candle-shaped bulbs used in wall fixtures and other decorative light fixtures, and globe-shaped bulbs often installed in bathrooms. LEDs are now widely available for each of these bulb types, which collectively make up about 40% of the light bulbs in use. The Obama administration had determined that these types should be covered, but the Trump administration also undid that action.

Will Congress link help for Ukraine with COVID-19 funding?

This week, President Biden will ask Congress for more money to help Ukraine. And, House Democrats are working on ways to link their dead-in-the-water COVID-19 funding plan to the more popular Ukraine aid. Politico says:

Republicans scuttled attempts to pass $10 billion in Covid aid earlier this month by demanding a vote on a pandemic-era border policy. In a bid to trample GOP stonewalling, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he wants to embroil Biden’s plea for additional Ukraine cash in that legislative battle.

Schumer has said he wants to combine new Ukraine aid with “funding to address Covid-19 and food insecurity globally.” Talks over a Covid funding bill fell apart when Republicans demanded amendment votes on Biden’s decision to end certain restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border related to the pandemic, known as Title 42. And with more Democrats opposing Biden’s decision to reverse Title 42, all three hot-button issues could soon collide.

Paxlovid should be available at almost all pharmacies soon

Paxlovid was considered to be a game-changer drug that would help keep people infected with COVID-19 out of the hospital. It is a pill rather than an intensive injectable treatment. It has been hard for some people to find but has now been distributed to about 20,000 locations. Soon, the White House plans to make it more or less ubiquitous. The pre-announcement came from the White House COVID-19 response coordinator:

The world will not meet WHO’s goal of 70% global vaccination rate

A couple of years ago the World Health Organization set the goal of having 70% of the world’s population vaccinated against the coronavirus. The target date was June 2022. There appears to be no way we will come close to that goal. The New York Times points out:

Only a few of the world’s 82 poorest countries — including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal — have reached the 70 percent vaccination threshold. Many are under 20 percent, according to data compiled from government sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

By comparison, about two-thirds of the world’s richest countries have reached 70 percent. (The United States is at 66 percent.)

The consequences of giving up on achieving high vaccination coverage worldwide could prove severe. Public health experts say that abandoning the global effort could lead to the emergence of dangerous new variants that would threaten the world’s precarious efforts to live with the virus.

“This pandemic is not over yet — far from it — and it’s imperative that countries use the doses available to them to protect as much of their population as possible,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the nonprofit that runs the global vaccine clearinghouse Covax.

Jails begin using medication to treat incarcerated people who have addictions and overdoses plummet

When one state aggressively gave medication to incarcerated people who had drug addictions, overdose deaths didn’t just decline, they plummeted. In this case, the state is California and, before the program began, overdoses were the third leading cause of death in that state’s jails and prisons. (I have to say that we have been teaching about this subject for years in my Covering Jails and Justice Reform seminars and we now have the data.)

The AP reports:

The state’s approach includes the once-controversial step of using drugs including buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone to dampen addicts’ cravings and euphoria and relieve withdrawal symptoms while weening them off opioids. It took years of urging by lawmakers and treatment professionals for prison officials to try the program, although the approach is now widely used and has general support from California prosecutors and probation officers.

Early critics objected that the treatment substituted one drug for another, and that there could be a black market for some of the substitute drugs. In California, inmates are given the drugs in a sheet that dissolves under the tongue or by injection and are tested to make sure they are taking their medications.

More than 22,600 inmates have received the drugs and officials expect to eventually include 25,000 inmates annually, more than a quarter of the prison population. The program far exceeds the volume of treatments in any other U.S. correctional setting, California prison officials said.

In 2019, California’s prison system had a record-high 51 overdose deaths per 100,000 inmates, more than double the overall death rate for other state prison systems. The death rate in California had been steadily climbing since 2012.

It fell to a rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2020 and to a preliminary estimate of 20 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2021, with a final report on last year’s deaths not expected until late this year.

Overdoses were the third-leading cause of death for California inmates before the program, but dropped to eighth in 2020, the lowest ranking in nine years.

Our June Covering Jails and Justice Reform seminar is full. We have two more planned. One is in Memphis in July and one is in Minneapolis this fall. Enroll now. We pay your tuition and cover hotel costs for out-of-town journalists.

The stunning increase in home prices: 20% in one year

The respected S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index shows that in just one year, home prices in some U.S. markets increased a mind-boggling 20%.

Some markets were even hotter. Home prices increased 32.9% in the last year in Phoenix, 32.% in Tampa and 29.7% in Miami.

(S&P Dow Jones Indices)

The S&P data in the next table shows the change from January to February and the column on the right is the year-over-year figure. All 20 cities in the composite sample saw double-digit increases year-over-year.

(S&P Dow Jones Indices)

World Bank warns of biggest price shock in 50 years because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The World Bank released some disturbing forecasts about the cost of everything from wheat to energy. While the worst news pertains to Europe and poorer countries that used to get energy from Russia and food from Ukraine, we all live in a global economy and higher prices somewhere have an afterlife everywhere.

In the UK, just for example, some grocery stores are limiting how much cooking oil people can buy since Europe’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine. Nestle warned that even candy bar prices are rising.

On Tuesday, Russia said it will cut off Poland’s natural gas supply. Within minutes, U.S. gas futures rose 3%. The price will almost assuredly rise more today.

It’s impossible to evenly twist apart the Oreo cream filling

(Nandang Hidayat/Shutterstock)

I keep thinking about what the researchers at MIT told their parents they do for a living while they conducted an experiment to see if it is possible to twist an Oreo apart and end up with equal amounts of cream filling on each cookie. It seems the answer is no.

You can be thankful somebody cares about the science of food fluidity so you do not have to.

The scientists also created a new area of scientific study:

“We introduce Oreology (/ɔriːˈɒlədʒi/), from the Nabisco Oreo for “cookie” and the Greek rheo logia for “flow study,” as the study of the flow and fracture of sandwich cookies.

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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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