February 25, 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 will issue new COVID-19 mask guidelines today that will advise that most Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors, multiple sources involved in drafting the guidelines said.

The Associated Press reports:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday will announce a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, shifting from looking at COVID-19 case counts to a more holistic view of risk from the coronavirus to a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.

The new metrics will still consider caseloads, but also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have been markedly improved during the emergence of the omicron variant. That strain is highly transmissible, but indications are that it is less severe than earlier strains, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data.

The new guidelines will be based less on new cases and more on tangible “meaningful consequences” of infection, including hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths.

It remains to be seen how the new guidelines will affect specific settings, such as health care and mass transit. The federal requirement for mask-wearing on airplanes and other mass transportation is set to expire March 18 but the Association of Flight Attendants says it expects the mask requirement will be extended again.

CNN reports:

“It’s time to shift from panic mode to cautiously moving forward,” a CDC scientist who is involved with the process told CNN on Thursday. “We still need to be worried about [Covid] but maybe not all the time.”

“There will be consideration that when you get to this level, you’ll want to consider doing this; when you get to this level, you want to consider doing this,” the CDC scientist said. “Hopefully they’ll be stressing the importance of local health departments making decisions according to local circumstances.”

How to support Ukrainians during the Russian invasion

People use the subway as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from multiple directions in a move that could rewrite the world’s geopolitical landscape. (AP Photo/Zoya Shu)

Charities both generous and greedy will lean on you to send money to Ukraine in the days ahead. Be wary.

Some well-known organizations are at work in Ukraine now. The Ukraine Humanitarian Fund is one of the United Nations’ country-based pooled funds. The UN says, “Your donation will help humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies in the Ukraine to assist the most vulnerable communities and people, and to provide them with urgently needed food, water, shelter and other basic support. Through this rapid and flexible response mechanism your gift today can be truly lifesaving.”

Charity Navigator lists these as the highest-ranking charities doing work in and for Ukraine:

(Charity Navigator)

Doctors Without Borders has been at work in Ukraine helping to manage the COVID-19 crisis. They have teams in some of the hottest zones this week.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is trying to do exactly what the name implies. In Ukraine, CPJ is pushing all sides to give journalists access and protection.

The Kyiv Independent is a nonprofit news organization that was formed by a bunch of journalists who were fired from the Kyiv Post. As CPJ explained, “Much of Ukraine’s media is owned or controlled by deep-pocketed oligarchs or politicians, who are not shy about dictating editorial content. Investigative sites and independent online newsrooms offer strong, fact-based alternatives but often struggle for financial equilibrium.”

30 of the 50 people fired from the Post started their own newsroom and you will see Kyiv Independent journalists fearlessly reporting on the ground today. They are documenting city-by-city injuries and deaths. Support them here with a donation of as small as five bucks a month. I particularly appreciate the Independent’s entire section dedicated to reporting on government corruption and bribes.

Catholic Relief Services says it is “on the ground” in Ukraine and bordering countries “ready to provide safe shelter, hot meals, hygiene supplies, fuel to keep warm, transport to safe areas, counseling support and more.”

Defense company stocks rise in wartime

Defense contractors across America saw their stocks rise Thursday even as the rest of the market tanked. Business Insider collected some examples:

Northrop Grumman was up about 3%. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, and General Dynamics were up about 2%.

The US and European allies have supplied Ukraine with military equipment leading up to Russia’s invasion. And the start of war there could increase pressure on NATO countries to boost defense spending.

Here is a list of the biggest defense contractors in the United States and background on each one. You probably have defense industries near you. Go profile them, find out what they produce and how a rise in military tensions affect their production.

Managing war, pandemic, inflation; can we do it all at once?

It seems that our nature is to focus on one crisis at a time. But we do not have that luxury.

COVID-19 vaccination drives have all but ended. The AP notes that in places where there was little interest in getting vaccinated, almost nobody is showing up now to get the shots.

The average number of Americans getting their first shot is down to about 90,000 a day, the lowest point since the first few days of the U.S. vaccination campaign, in December 2020. And hopes of any substantial improvement in the immediate future have largely evaporated.

About 76% of the U.S. population has received at least one shot. Less than 65% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.

Vaccination incentive programs that gave away cash, sports tickets, beer and other prizes have largely gone away. Government and employer vaccine mandates have faced court challenges and may have gone as far as they ever will.

The AP story quotes a January survey of 1,000 unvaccinated adults that asked what, if anything, would change their minds and persuade them to get a shot. Half said “nothing.”

Judge rejects NHL’s attempt to get $1 billion in pandemic damages

The National Hockey League wanted a court to force insurers to pay $1 billion to cover what the league lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The judge said no. But Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Sunil Kulkarni is open to hearing details of the NHL’s claim that the insurance policy had a communicable disease clause that might still lead to compensation. Factory Mutual insurance says the payout limit should be $1 million. These kinds of lawsuits are unfolding across the country as policyholders try to force insurance companies to help pay for COVID-19 losses.

Gas prices are rising. The California average is $4.75 a gallon.

Average gasoline prices on Feb. 23, 2022. (AAA)

One Los Angles gas station posted $6.21 per gallon gasoline this week. Oil briefly topped $100 per barrel Thursday. President Joe Biden said, “I know this is hard and Americans are already hurting.”

He continued, “I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.” He said it is possible that he would open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase oil supplies temporarily and warned oil and gas companies not to try to cash in on the disruptions caused by war. “And American oil and gas companies should not exploit this moment to hike their prices to raise profits,” Biden said.

Will gasoline prices fuel the work-at-home movement?

One friend told me today they had not noticed gasoline prices rising because she works from home and does not pay for the ride into the office.

You can go here and plug in information to figure out how much you spend on driving to work every month. Plug in various gasoline prices and see how much it would change with gasoline prices 50 cents per gallon more, for example.

Survey: 58% of working Americans say their jobs are their ‘main source’ of mental health challenges

A new Qualtrics study finds:

Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 7 in 10 working Americans feel burned out with little distinction between work and life, and a majority (58%) believe their job is their main source of mental health challenges.

The study says the top three things that employees say would improve their mental health are:

  • Higher pay (58%)
  • Four-day work week (46%)
  • Flexibility to work whenever, wherever they want (36%)


The study found:

  • 58% of employees say their job is the main source of their mental health challenges
  • 61% of desk-based workers agree with this statement, compared to 51% of non-desk based workers
  • 55% say more flexibility over hours and schedule would influence them to stay at a company longer
  • 60% of desk-based workers say flexibility over hours and schedule would influence them to stay at a company longer vs. 48% of non-desk-based workers

Remote work has changed people’s daily schedules:

  • 20% of remote workers start work earlier in the day
  • 18% take fewer sick days
  • 17% spend more time working in total
  • 14% work more outside the typical hours of 9-to-5
  • 8% admit to slacking off

A third of employees said they would be willing to take a 5% pay cut to work remotely indefinitely.

We’ll be back Monday 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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