June 10, 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.

Gas station clerks say they are seeing customers who used to come by once a week now come several times a week because they can’t afford a fill-up.

Pollsters have found that people are venturing out with less fuel in their car’s tanks these days and the predictable result is that more people are running out of gas. Calls to AAA roadside service from people whose cars are out of gas are rising to pre-pandemic levels:

(The Washington Post)

I bet you would hear some stories if you rode along with a Road Ranger for a day.

The Washington Post says:

A Washington Post-Schar School poll bears that out: 44 percent of drivers randomly contacted between April 21 and May 12 said they have only partially filled their car’s gas tank, a figure that rises to 61 percent for drivers with incomes below $50,000.

And more than 6 in 10 drivers have made the decision to drive less — making fewer trips to the grocery store, for example — while more than 3 in 10 said they are driving at reduced speeds, which can improve gas mileage.

By the way, here is a quick guide on what happens when your car runs out of gas. You may be forcing your car’s engine to suck debris into the fuel filter. You may have trouble restarting the engine. Here is what to do.

People expect inflation to get worse, adjust spending

Today’s Consumer Price Index figures will only reaffirm what people already suspect: that gasoline, airfare and hotel prices will be a big factor in whether they take a vacation this summer and for how long. A Washington Post-Schar School poll says 61% of Americans count gas prices as a “major factor” in their summer plans. And 77% of Americans say they will get to their vacation spot (the beach is the most popular choice) by driving.

But then look at this. Compared to 2011, significantly more people say they are “getting ahead” and fewer people say they are falling behind financially. And two-thirds of Americans say they are optimistic they are going to be better off financially in a year. It is worth pointing out that Americans usually are optimistic about their futures a year out.

(Washington Post/Schar School)

Heat wave will drive up June electric bills for 22 million people this weekend

Knowing that July and August electric bills will be stratospheric this year, I imagine lots of you were hoping June would provide a break. But look at the forecast for 22 million people this weekend:


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is going to be a hot summer, with the lower 48 states suffering through June, July and August with above-normal temperatures and a drought that is expected to continue in western states with below-normal rain. The Energy Department announced that drought will cut hydro energy production in California.

This hot weather is very much on the minds of Texans, where electric rates have risen 70% from a year ago. The main reason is that the price of the natural gas that power plants use to create electricity is more costly now.

I don’t know if it makes you feel any better but if you adjust electric rates today for inflation, the cost per kilowatt-hour is fairly flat over time.

Where are electric prices the highest/lowest?

Energybot has the answer to your question about how the prices you pay for electricity compare to the rest of the country.


Here are the current rates for residential electricity per kilowatt-hour:



How to save money on electricity this summer

It is going to be more important than ever to do all you can to save electricity this summer.

I just added attic insulation, replaced my 20-year-old air conditioning system and recently installed hurricane windows that are really efficient. I am hoping to see some payoff for all of this.

The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership has some advice:

Ways To Beat The Heat & Save Money On Your Energy Bill This Summer

  1. Give your air conditioner a checkup – or a replacement. (Clearing a clogged A/C unit filter alone can save 5 to 15 percent in energy use)
  2. Adjust your thermostat (One study found that each degree a thermostat is set above 75⁰F could save 10-15 percent in energy used.)
  3. Unplug devices.
  4. Use fans instead of or in addition to A/C.
  5. Lower your water heating costs. Water heating accounts for about 18 percent of the energy consumed in your home. Lowering the temperature of your water heater can help save energy.
  6. Use electricity during off-peak hours. …
  7. Close doors & vents.

Tonight, I am going to go through my house and see how many things we have plugged in for no good reason. Phantom load, also known as standby power or vampire power, is the electricity you pay for even though the electrical device is not in use. It is your coffee maker, cellphone charger, cable boxes, computer and printers, anything with a clock and microwave oven. They are all small users, but together, they can add up to 10% of your monthly power bill.

There are some options, including so-called “smart computer strips,” that cut power when devices plugged into them are not in use. And you can set your computer to “sleep mode” when you are not using it.

It would be really interesting to get an energy auditor to go through some homes and see how much they can cut the power bill by unplugging.

In case you wonder how top-of-mind this is, once again I am going to dig back into that Washington Post/Schar School polling. Almost six in 10 Americans say they are cutting back on their use of electricity. 77% say they are eating out less often and 87% say they are bargain hunting. One in four Americans took on more work to pay the bills.

(Washington Post/Schar School)

The cost of charging your EV car is rising

When electric rates rise, it means the cost of charging your new electric car is more expensive. But the cost per mile might still make sense when you compare it to gasoline costs. Here is a rule of thumb to think about the cost of driving electric cars (without taking into account the cost of the car, insurance, charger wiring, etc.) according to the U.S. Department of Energy:

If electricity costs ¢10.7 per kilowatt-hour, charging an EV with a 200-mile range (assuming a fully depleted 54 kWh battery) will cost about $6 to reach a full charge.

Let’s take the same 200 miles and assume we have a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon. If you paid $4.80 per gallon, you would spend $38.40 in fuel for that same 200 miles, or $32.40 more than the electric car. I tell you, friends: My wife’s Prius gets more than 50 miles per gallon and runs on self-generated electricity. On the other hand, I pumped $60 worth of fuel into my pickup this week and got the needle to half-full.

Before you jump on the story about White COVID death rates exceeding Black and Asian rates …

Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina has a word of caution about data that seems to show that white Americans now are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than Black or Asian Americans. Indeed, the raw death data would show that very fact, but she writes:

In this case, we need to take into account age. White Americans are far more likely to outlive Black or Hispanic Americans. They live longer for a whole myriad of reasons, like differences in access to care, trauma, stress, etc. This is important because age is the strongest risk factor, by far, for dying of COVID.

If we account for age, we see a very different story. Below is data from a database called CDC WONDER. The 2022 death data is provisional (which means it’s not the official count because death certificates take a long time to process), but it’s the best we have. I pulled all COVID deaths for 2022 and organized by race. Before adjusting for age, White Americans account for 43 per 100,000 deaths in 2022 compared to, for example, Black Americans, who account for 37 per 100,000 deaths. After we adjust for age, the story changes: Whites account for 31 per 100,000 deaths while Blacks account for 40 per 100,000. A complete switch.

Read her analysis of this data here.

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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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