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.
Take your pick of the soundbites of the day. There are so many messages coming from experts that it is hard to know whether you should breathe easier or hold your breath. These were all headlines and quotes from the past few days:
- “We are certainly right now out of the pandemic phase.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci said on PBS “Newshour” Tuesday
- “The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic.” – Fauci told The Washington Post on Wednesday. He added, “We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity.”
- “Fauci backs out of White House correspondents’ dinner over Covid risk” – a Wednesday headline on NBC News
- “Biden to skip eating portion of correspondents’ dinner to limit COVID risk” – a Wednesday headline from The Hill
- “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again in Florida” – a Tuesday headline from WUSF
- “N.J. reports 14 COVID deaths, 2,452 cases as Fauci declares ‘pandemic phase’ over” – a Wednesday headline from NJ.com
- “Arizona reports 2,350 COVID-19 cases, 99 deaths in weekly update” – a Wednesday headline from AZ Central
- “The pandemic is far from over.” – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on April 8
- “China’s capital in race to detect COVID cases, avoid Shanghai’s distress” – a Wednesday headline from Reuters
- “Denmark suspends Covid vaccination campaign as health chiefs say virus is under control” – a Wednesday headline from The Independent
- “NC wastewater data shows increase in COVID, yet hospitalizations remain low” – a Wednesday headline from WRAL in Raleigh
- “As international travel picks up, several popular destinations remain off limits to tourists” – a Wednesday headline from CNN
New guidance: Daily aspirin is not a good idea for seniors
While we are on the topic of confusing and contradictory medical messaging, there is this: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says people over the age of 60 should not start taking daily, low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attacks or strokes.
The task force, which does not set official government policy, found:
- The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concludes with moderate certainty that aspirin use for the primary prevention of CVD events in adults aged 40 to 59 years who have a 10% or greater 10-year CVD risk has a small net benefit.
- The USPSTF concludes with moderate certainty that initiating aspirin use for the primary prevention of CVD events in adults 60 years or older has no net benefit.
NPR talked with doctors who said taking low-dose aspirin is an individual choice that adults should discuss with their doctors:
There are some important nuances of the guidelines. They don’t apply to people who’ve already had a heart attack or stroke. And they don’t tell adults who are currently taking daily aspirin to stop taking it. However, the task force does caution that because of increased bleeding risk with age, patients may need to consider stopping daily aspirin use around age 75.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S., accounting for more than 1 in 4 deaths. Each year about 600,000 people in the U.S. have a first heart attack and about 600 thousand people experience a first stroke.
The science has changed since the influential medical panel put out its last guidance on taking aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease in 2016. Dr. Salim Virani, a cardiologist at Baylor College of Medicine, says newer studies are not finding as much of a benefit, in part because people are taking drugs like statins.
“Aspirin’s benefit has become marginal because we have these other therapies that reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes, but the bleeding risk associated with aspirin therapy has persisted,” he told NPR in November
Deutsche Bank says a recession is coming
Deutsche is the first big bank to say a recession is coming. The prediction is based on the notion the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in an attempt to control inflation and the economy will contract. The Deutsche Bank outlook forecasts a “mild recession,” with unemployment peaking above 5% in 2024. By comparison, unemployment stood at 14.7% in 2020 and 10% in 2009.
Most economists surveyed by Bloomberg do not agree with Deutsche’s recession forecast.
Is there a global hepatitis outbreak in children? Is it COVID-19 related?
The World Health Organization just published a report that epidemiologists have been waiting for about whether there is a pediatric hepatitis outbreak unfolding globally. The first outbreak reports came from England and Northern Ireland earlier this month. Then other such reports surfaced. It is difficult to know if there is a real outbreak or whether more intensive surveillance and more vigorous reporting are behind the figures. Whatever it is, European countries are not alone.
The WHO says, “Cases are aged 1 month to 16 years old. Seventeen children (approximately 10%) have required liver transplantation; at least one death has been reported.”
The U.K. reported the most cases (113 children), followed by Spain (13), Israel (12), and the U.S. (9). All of the U.S. cases were detected in one state: Alabama. There could be and probably are other cases that will emerge in other states.
Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the cases were found in various parts of the state, and investigations to date have not found links among the children. Investigators in the U.K. have also not found links among the cases there.
“It is not common to see children with severe hepatitis,” Landers, who has been a pediatrician for 45 years, told STAT in an interview. “Seeing children with severe [hepatitis] in the absence of severe underlying health problems is very rare. That’s what really stood out to us in the state of Alabama.”
There are a range of adenoviruses that can infect people. Genetic sequencing is underway to try to identify if one or multiple types of adenoviruses are implicated. To date, five of the children have tested positive for Type 41, Landers said.
Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina dove into the data to see if there is real evidence of a hepatitis outbreak:
Scotland health officials quickly compared the number of children with abnormal liver function tests in March 2022 to the rates in 2019, 2020, and 2021, which have an annual “background” rate of 0.52/100,000. They confirmed higher-than-expected cases in children under 5 years old, but not in older children. In fact, the number of cases among younger children in one hospital in one month exceeded the total number expected for all of Scotland for an entire year. So, this outbreak is a true signal.
The WHO says researchers are exploring whether there is a COVID-19 link, with the notion that the coronavirus may have made young people more susceptible to hepatitis. The researchers are convinced, so far, that the virus is not directly causing hepatitis. Five of the 31 children infected in Scotland were COVID-19 positive. 16% of the British cases were positive. But correlation does not equal causation, and it could be COVID-19 has nothing to do with this.
Post-pandemic: More difficult to get into Ivy League
College applications are rising. That is especially true for elite schools around the U.S., which is making it more difficult than ever to get accepted into places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Forbes reports the results of the latest acceptance figures:
Five of the eight institutions touted their record application numbers and historically low acceptance rates. But the others were more circumspect, electing to not publicize their acceptance/rejection statistics at a time when more criticisms are being raised about the fairness of elite college admissions.
The increased application volume reported by most of the Ivies is consistent with data from the Common App that college applications are up nationwide this year, especially at highly selective schools, like those in the Ivy League. While several factors may account for the bump in the numbers, most experts agree that the decision of many colleges to suspend or end the use of standardized tests like the ACT and SAT in their admissions process has been a major reason for the increase.
It also appears that students are applying to more schools than before, perhaps inflating what might be an otherwise smaller increase.
International applications to U.S. colleges and universities are rising. That is a big deal for schools that see international students as a big financial driver. Many schools lost international admissions during the pandemic and wondered if international students would return when it passed.
14% of new homes sales last month were less than $300,000
Barely one out of 10 new homes sold in the U.S. last month sold for less than $300,000. A year ago, more than a third of new homes were under $300k. It makes me wonder how in the world young people will be able to own a home, or if they will want to. What are the long-term effects on cities and communities if people do not own homes?
Music and audio so important they should be ‘preserved for all time’
The National Recording Registry just added new songs and other audio recordings to its list of recording that it says are “worthy of preservation for all time” because of their cultural importance. Where else would you find Franklin Roosevelt, Duke Ellington, Alicia Keys, Ernest Tubb and Buena Vista Social Club on the same list?
The pandemic rush on chicken wings may have flown
Bloomberg notes that during the pandemic, chicken wing sales flew high, but sales are feathering off:
U.S. same-store sales at Wingstop Inc., a chain with a strong takeout and delivery game even before Covid-19, rose 31.9% in the second quarter of 2020 over the same period a year earlier, and 21.4% for the full year. As other fast-food purveyors and new-style “ghost kitchens” got in on the wings action, wholesale chicken wing prices more than doubled in 12 months.
Now demand for wings appears to be softening, perhaps because people are actually going to restaurants and eating there rather than getting everything delivered, and restaurants no longer need wings-delivery revenue to get by.
It may be that wing prices got so high that they were not attractive to customers or restaurants that added them to take-out menus during the pandemic. Wholesale wing prices have dropped 40% from their 2020 peak, but you may not have seen anything like that at grocery stores or restaurants.
Why does this matter beyond just being passively interesting? Because, the Bloomberg columnist points out, it may signal something much larger:
The same behavioral changes that have sent wing prices falling surely contributed to the more than 60% decline in the share price of U.S. restaurant-delivery service DoorDash Inc. since November and the 70% drop over the past year for Amsterdam-based rival Just Eat Takeaway.com NV, which just announced that it wants to undo its 2021 takeover of GrubHub.
They may have even played a role in the first-in-a-decade subscriber decline that cratered Netflix Inc.’s stock this week. The pandemic boom in durable goods purchases is also fading, with the Consumer Price Index for durables down 0.9% from February to March, which works out to a 10.6% annualized decline.
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