June 8, 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.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo dashed any hope that the federal government can do much to lower gasoline prices this summer.

Raimondo told CNN, “You know, this is, in large part, caused by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression. You know, since Putin move troops to the border of Ukraine, gas prices have gone up over $1.40 a gallon, and the president is asking for Congress and others for potential ideas. But as you say, the reality is that there isn’t very much more to be done.”

When will prices drop? Raimondo said nothing will likely change until the war in Ukraine ends.

Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for the OPIS, which tracks gas prices for AAA, said the average price of a gallon of gasoline — which is now $4.87 — will rise. “I think we reach $5 somewhere between this weekend and Juneteenth/Father’s Day weekend,” he said.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington already are above the $5 per gallon average and several other states are pennies away from that level. JP Morgan Chase analysts say $6 per gallon may be the national average by the end of the summer. Goldman Sachs told clients that oil, now trading for $120 a barrel, might go to $140 by fall.

Monkeypox alert: ‘This is not COVID’

29 countries have now detected a combined 1,019 cases of the monkeypox virus, including 31 cases detected across 12 U.S. states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus can be contained and is not nearly the problem that COVID-19 presents.

The CDC’s latest update says, “It’s not clear how the people were exposed to monkeypox, but early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases. However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.”

Boy Scouts selling off camps to pay for lawsuit settlements

The Deer Lake Boy Scout Reservation in Killingworth, Conn., sits empty, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The camp is among many nationwide being sold by local councils as membership dwindles and the organization raises money to pay sexual abuse victims as part of a bankruptcy settlement. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)

Conservation groups are scrambling to get their hands on once-in-a-lifetime properties that the Boy Scouts of America is selling around the country to pay thousands of sex abuse victims as a result of a class-action lawsuit. By some estimates, the Boy Scouts are sitting on 2,000 camp properties worth somewhere between $8 billion to $10 billion. Even the National Park Service could get involved in buying up these properties. The Associated Press reports:

“I am emphasizing to my colleagues that there is a clear urgency here,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who thinks there may be federal funds available to buy Scout properties. “We have no time to waste.”

For over a century the Scouts and their local councils have acquired properties across the country where generations have learned to appreciate the outdoors through camping, swimming and canoeing.

The AP says, in some cases, local governments have tried to find ways to keep the camp ownerships local and undeveloped. But the pressure is on to preserve the campgrounds as some camps have already sold, including this one that went for more than $2.5 million:

Councils in states including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all recently sold or announced plans to sell camps.

Sen. Blumenthal said selling camps to developers goes against the tenants of an organization that is supposed to teach environmental stewardship.

“Unfortunately, local Boy Scout councils are selling to the highest bidder,” he said. “So, I think it is a national challenge, but it goes to the core of what scouting means and the ethos and ethic of scouting, which they may be betraying.”

Some Scout councils have been considering selling camps for some time. The enrollment in scouting declined and the cost of maintaining and insuring campgrounds became unbearable.

I was surprised by how many returns I got when I Googled “Boy Scout camps for sale.” It is almost certain to turn up something near you.


Police not responding to some calls because of staff shortages

Police in Alexandria, Virginia, announced they will not respond to some calls because of staff shortages. AXLNow.com reports:

Police will no longer respond to calls for service that fall under another agency’s responsibility or respond to old crime scenes that show no danger to the public.

“The Alexandria Police Department like most law enforcement agencies across the nation has experienced a significant reduction in their workforce due to resignations and retirements,” APD said in a release. “While APD remains dedicated to providing excellent public safety services, this reduction in officers has affected the way APD will deliver services to the community.”

In Everett, Washington, the sheriff wrote:

Staffing shortages, combined with criminals seemingly becoming more emboldened and more violent, has created a safety issue for our deputies. In the last three weeks, we have had four deputies sent to the hospital (all ok) and a total of three Code 3 (help the officer) calls where deputies were being seriously assaulted (kicked in the head, punched in the face, etc.) and their back up units took far too long to get on scene. For context, in over 20 years that I worked patrol in Snohomish County, I have only ever heard three Code 3 (help the officer) calls.

During the most recent incident, a deputy was being so severely assaulted in south county that he was unable to get on his radio to call for help, and it became very clear to us that we needed to make drastic changes to our patrol staffing in order to do everything we can to safely respond to 911 calls, protect our community, and make sure our deputies make it home to their families at night. We have tried incremental and less impactful staffing changes along the way, but it is simply not working. Our response times to get adequate resources on scene for what could be a life-or-death incident is taking far too long due to our patrol crews being understaffed in a county of our size.

Starting in mid-June, the Sheriff’s Office will be permanently reassigning several specialty units back to patrol crews.

I have seen similar stories about how staffing problems are slowing response times. For example, in Seattle, where Fox 13 reports, “SPD is lowering its projection hiring of 125 officers in 2022 down to 98, while it estimates 125 officers will leave by year’s end.”

KUOW and The Seattle Times report:

Seattle police’s sexual assault and child abuse unit staff has been so depleted that it stopped assigning to detectives this year new cases with adult victims, according to an internal memo sent to interim police Chief Adrian Diaz in April.

The unit’s sergeant put her staffing crisis in stark terms.

“The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence,” Sgt. Pamela St. John wrote, “and at current staffing levels that objective is unattainable.”

Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette in an interview with KUOW and The Seattle Times this week dismissed St. John’s portrayal of what was happening in her unit as “not accurate” and a “gross oversimplification.”

“Sexual assault cases are still being assigned, but the workload is being triaged based on a number of factors that we would traditionally use to triage those cases,” Nollette said.

New Orleans’ police response time was averaging two hours in April because, they say, they are so understaffed. It was the same story earlier this year in Philly. In Atlanta, staffing shortages also are causing slower fire response times.

A fourth COVID-19 vaccine is on the way

A panel of experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration about vaccine safety and policy recommends that the FDA approve a fourth COVID-19 vaccine that does not use mRNA technology. The Novavax shot is protein-based and is similar to flu and shingles shots. When it is finally approved by the FDA and CDC, it would join the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as alternatives.

Homeland Security: ‘Threat actors have recently mobilized’

A National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin Tuesday warned that the summer of 2022 may be volatile as the Supreme Court nears handing down rulings on abortion and gun rights and midterm elections draw near. The warning said:

In the coming months, we expect the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets. These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents.

“Threat actors have recently mobilized to violence due to factors such as personal grievances, reactions to current events, and adherence to violent extremist ideologies, including racially or ethnically motivated or anti-government/antiauthority violent extremism.”

“As the United States enters mid-term election season this year, we assess that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase.”

Foreign adversaries—including terrorist organizations and nation state adversaries—also remain intent on exploiting the threat environment to promote or inspire violence, sow discord, or undermine U.S. democratic institutions.  We continue to assess that the primary threat of mass casualty violence in the United States stems from lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances.

About those work from home figures yesterday

I made a knuckleheaded typo in yesterday’s email that said 55% of the working public was working from home before the pandemic. Thank you to the several of you who caught it and send me a note. I want you to be able to rely on the data I use to be accurate and I missed that mark. That’s the thing about a newsletter — you can’t fix it until 24 hours later, even though we can edit the online version.

The real number of work-from-home employees pre-pandemic is a little squishy, but between 5%-6% of Americans worked from home all the time and about a third worked from home sometimes, according to the National Council on Compensation. Here is more on those estimates:

(National Council on Compensation)

An international travel snarl will last all summer

CNN Travel paints a dark picture of this summer’s international travel.  The main issue is staffing but there are other pressures:

Where UK travelers used to enjoy freedom of movement in the EU, meaning they could travel wherever and whenever they wanted in the bloc, post-Brexit they’re treated like other third-party arrivals. That means a more time-consuming arrival of getting their passport stamped (and, possibly, being questioned about their travel plans), both on arrival and departure. Destinations popular with UK travelers are feeling the difference.

“Queues for passport control are extending across Europe, not only for people arriving in European airports but also for people trying to fly to the UK,” says travel podcaster Lisa Francesca Nand.

“The process of having to stamp every British passport on the way in and out slows things down considerably.”

In some parts of the U.S. and Europe, car rentals are hard to find and expensive when you do find one.

CNN checked for the cheapest price available for a two-day rental this weekend at various major airports. The cheapest we could find was $150 at LAX, $161 at Miami, $167 at Heathrow, $225 at Nice in southern France, and $183 at Venice, Italy.

The situation is so dire that Christopher Elliott advises vacationing close to home, where you can drive your own car, or even take a staycation.

“If you don’t have your own car, go somewhere using mass transit, and go somewhere that allows you to walk or has access to mass transit,” he says. “Save the bucket list vacation for September, October or November.” He has similar pivoting advice for those finding hotels and Airbnbs are booked up, advising looking for long-term business rentals. “I just paid $1,200 for a month in a two-bedroom apartment in Athens — I could have just stayed a week and it would have paid for itself,” he says.

Airline allows employees to show tattoos

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 passenger airplane arrives following a flight from London to Seattle, Monday, March 27, 2017, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Virgin Atlantic just became the first major airline company to tell employees they no longer have to cover up inoffensive tattoos. The company says it is part of their theme in hiring and retaining workers by “championing individuality.” The Guardian reports:

Facial and neck tattoos will remain banned for flight attendants – for now, although the airline is considering relaxing the rules at a later date. Tattoos with swearing, or deemed culturally inappropriate, or those that refer to nudity, violence, drugs or alcohol are off limits. Prison-style love/hate knuckle tattoos will also remain proscribed.

Virgin Atlantic said crew who would benefit included those with full-arm tattoos who previously had to wear long-sleeved shirts instead of the standard short-sleeved version while on duty. Others have concealed smaller tattoos with makeup. Aeroplane tattoos are popular among crew, the airline added.

This relaxation of tattoo and piercing prohibitions is an interesting trend.  Police departments that are pleading for applications may have to rethink publicly visible ink laws.

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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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