June 6, 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 headlines this week included “8 injured, 1 dead” in Arizona and “14 People Shot, 3 Dead” in Philadelphia.

We fixate on gun deaths for good reason, but it seems that gun injuries get brushed aside, as if a gunshot victim who doesn’t die will be just fine. Sometimes that is the case, but a number of studies and reports reveal the real cost of a single gunshot wound. ABC News reminds us:

For every one person killed in a mass shooting event, a new study estimates that roughly six additional people are seriously injured.

The study, published in medical journal JAMA Open on Friday, is a dark reminder that mass public shootings have a cost beyond lives lost, including immense physical and financial burden for those who have sustained injuries and survived.

Amid the recent wave of gun violence seen in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, many are dealing with the immediate pain and grief. But other long-term consequences could lay ahead for those that were injured and even those treating the injured.

Far more people suffer from firearm related injuries than deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control data and the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun violence resulted in 165,335 non-fatal injuries from 2016 to 2021, according to another report from April in JAMA Open.

In 2019, WKMG-TV in Orlando said the best estimate for the cost of a single gunshot wound ranges from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars:

Multiple studies published between 1972-2016 outline where on the body a gunshot wound could do the most damage. For simplicity, News 6 has narrowed down these categories into four parts.

A firearm injury to the head, face or neck tend to be deadly. It isn’t a commonly survivable injury — and if the victim does survive, initial costs of care land around $10,000. That price includes X-rays of the skull or even surgery to remove a bullet.

The most survivable firearm injuries tend to be gunshot wounds to the shoulder, arm, hand, thigh, calf or foot. That means below the neck and below the waist tend to be the most survivable of firearm injuries.

Firearm injuries to the head are the most deadly, but following second are firearm injuries to the middle part of one’s body. That includes the chest, abdomen, back and lungs. A bullet puncturing a lung could involve a $7,247 procedure. A shot to the heart could lead to death.

Paralysis is more likely if a bullet comes in close contact — or lands — on one’s spine.

Surgery is more likely to be involved when suffering a gunshot wound to any of these areas. For perspective, an X-ray to the chest and ribs starts at about $500 at ORMC. Then there’s initial observation care, which is $110.

According to Orlando Medical Regional Pricing Transparency Guide, the cost of care when shot anywhere in the arm could range from $600 to $3,000. That includes multiple X-rays, shoulder strapping, or removing something from one’s arm, similar to an easy-to-remove bullet.

The Trace summarized a Johns Hopkins study that found:

Nearly half of gunshot patients were treated in the emergency department and sent home. The average charge for each of these patients was $5,254. More than a third of patients — 37 percent — were admitted to the hospital, which includes those who stayed just one night, as well as those kept longer to undergo multiple operations. Those admitted for inpatient care incurred charges 18 times higher than those who were treated in the emergency room and released: $95,887 per patient, on average.

Another 8 percent of patients were discharged to additional-care facilities, which could include rehabilitation centers that treat spinal-cord or traumatic brain injuries, or other types of acute physical-rehab facilities.

Survivors of gun assaults are also at high risk of being shot again.

AR-15s are flying off the shelves after Biden’s gun control speech

Nothing motivates buyers of AR-15 rifles like a presidential speech suggesting the nation ban assault weapons. Since President Joe Biden’s Thursday night speech, gun shops say sales have been brisk as people worry they will not be able to buy the guns — even though there is no legislation pending or even likely to accomplish what the president wants.

Newsweek reports that not only are people buying, but they are also searching for AR-15s online:

Google Trends, which details traffic data on the internet’s largest search engine, shows that in the seven days since the Robb Elementary School shooting there was, at times, a more than 10-fold increase for the term “buy AR-15” compared to the single-digit searches in the days and weeks before the May 24 massacre.

According to the data, Missouri, New Hampshire and Idaho were among the states with the highest amount of searches for the term “buy AR-15” after the Uvalde school shooting which left 19 children and two adults dead, with Texas also seeing an increase in searches.

The data reveals that there were also spikes in Google searches for “buy AR-15” following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, as well as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School attack that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Over several decades, Americans’ attitudes toward gun ownership have changed very little. There are moments of interest in tightening gun laws — usually in the days after a mass shooting — but those feelings, for the most part, fade a year or less later.

(Gallup data, May 26, 2022)

About four out of 10 U.S. households told Gallup there was a gun in the house.

Electric rates spike just in time for summer

Your first summer electric bill is on the way in a week or so and it will be a shocker. In Pennsylvania, electric rates are up 45%. In some parts of Texas, rates are up 70% from a year ago. Electric rates in Hawaii rose 20%. In St. Louis, NPR reports:

Starting this month, the utility company said the bill for the typical Metro East customer will rise $52 a month or $626 a year because the cost of generating power is much higher.

Ameren Illinois has stressed that it doesn’t generate the power it supplies to its customers, and said that it won’t profit from the increases to utility bills. The company cites global market issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, post-pandemic demand and higher natural gas prices as reasons for the increase.

A spokesman for Ameren said that for the past several months the company has been urging its income-qualified customers to apply for funding from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The company has a web page dedicated to resources available to customers.

Fortune says:

Eversource, which serves New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, said at the start of the year that customers could see between a 23% and 25% increase through at least June 30. And South Carolinians are facing jumps of 5% to 19%.

Inflation is playing a role in the energy price hikes, but the real culprits are natural gas prices and geopolitical events.

Masks are back as variants spread

Audience members wear masks during “An Evening with LeAnn Rimes,” Tuesday, May 31, 2022, at The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

By the end of the month, Los Angeles County, California, may be under mandatory mask rules again. 13 counties moved into high-risk categories last week and the virus is spreading fast to others.

At least three variants are spreading this week in Florida. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:

With a seven-day daily average of more than 10,200 cases on Friday, Florida is a state classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high level” of transmission. Broward and Miami-Dade counties are reporting a test positivity rate of more than 20%. Palm Beach County’s positivity rate is 18.9%. Health officials consider transmission levels under control when the rate is less than 5%.

Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, points out, “We might actually (finally) be seeing some improvement in the Northeast, but in Florida — 3 in 4 people live in a high-risk county, based on the hospitalization-based measure.”

More than half of New Jersey counties are considered to be high-risk now.

One reason that health experts believe that new cases are wildly underreported is that we all use home test kits these days. If you are like me, I do not report my results to anybody. But if you use the BinaxNOW, iHealth or Lucira kits, you should notice the test apps give you a way to report your results. Out of 1.4 million tests taken, only 10,000 users have reported their results.

Inflation is pushing retired seniors back into the job market

The cost of everything is pushing retired seniors back to work — but they are learning that working can cost them money. Politico points out that Social Security comes with a penalty if you make too much money:

Since 1984, Social Security recipients have become subject to tax on their benefits when they make more than $25,000 as individuals and $32,000 for couples.

Now, government forecasters say surging inflation is pushing more people over those limits.

It’s a big reason why the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sees the share of Social Security benefits subject to tax growing by 10 percent this year and another 10 percent next year. It predicts total income taxes paid on those checks will jump this year by 37 percent.

That could come as a surprise to some seniors and create a headache for Democrats, already under fire over rising prices.

Many Democrats have been concerned about the tax bite on seniors, which effectively rescinds a portion of their benefits, and a key lawmaker has proposed raising the “outdated” tax thresholds. Many have endorsed legislation by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) that would hike those limits.

But lawmakers are unlikely to act anytime soon.

We’ll be back tomorrow 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,…
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