June 30, 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 pollsters at Gallup have data that shows the whole globe seems to be in a funk, and maybe worse.

(Gallup)

The report says that 2 billion people dislike where they live, and 2 billion more don’t make enough money to get by. Loneliness and hunger are rising worldwide, too. Gallup’s report says:

Gallup finds that 330 million adults go at least two weeks without talking to a single friend or family member. And just because some people have friends, it doesn’t mean they have good friends. One-fifth of all adults do not have a single person they can count on for help. Global misery is also increasing because of an everyday aspect of life — work. Many believe that a good, solid paycheck satisfies your work needs when in fact people who are miserable at work are statistically more likely to experience negative emotions than someone who has no work at all.

Hardened souls may not care about unhappy people, but they should. A world filled with negative emotions makes people behave differently. Our emotions influence our decisions, actions and even our cognition — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But when our bodies and minds are overwhelmed with the worst emotions, our chances of making regrettable decisions increase. And acting out on negative emotions spreads negative emotions faster than a virus, especially when amplified over social media.

When people are unhappy, it can turn to violence. Gallup’s summary says:

Our emotions might also take us to the streets. As negative emotions have increased globally, so has civil unrest. According to the Global Peace Index, riots, strikes and anti-government demonstrations increased 244% from 2011 to 2019. In 2020, unrest increased exponentially, with 15,000 protests estimated globally. All over the world, people are trying to understand the rise of violence, hatred and increased radicalization.

How does the Supreme Court abortion ruling affect in vitro fertilization?

In this Tuesday, June 11, 2019, file photo, Jake and Ashley Lyerla are interviewed at their home in Milroy, Ind. A federal program to help injured veterans and their spouses conceive children through in vitro fertilization has been hobbled by anti-abortion forces that oppose how the process can lead to embryos being destroyed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Now that states are free to limit abortion rights, another frontier that states may attempt to reign in is in vitro fertilization, where a sperm fertilizes an egg outside of the body.

The Supreme Court did not mention in vitro fertilization in its ruling on abortions last week, but legal experts say the U.S. is entering a new era when all sorts of practices that were considered to be settled are now unsettled. CNN notes:

“Overturning Roe v. Wade will have vast, far-reaching ramifications for the fertility industry. The opinion includes numerous references to ‘the unborn human being,’ ‘potential life,’ and ‘the life of the unborn.’ Much of that language — and the logic behind it — applies to embryos,” said Adam Wolf, a fertility attorney for Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, in a statement Friday.

“Fertility clinics will face a flood of wrongful-death claims when the clinics discard embryos without authorization,” Wolf added.

About 2 in every 100 children born in the US are conceived through IVF, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When an individual or couple undergoes the IVF process, the work begins in a lab, where a sperm fertilizes an egg after weeks of preparation. The goal is to ultimately transfer a healthy embryo into a person’s uterus. But first, the embryo must grow to the blastocyst stage, which typically occurs between five and seven days after fertilization.

IVF clinics typically use two people’s genetic material to create multiple embryos because they don’t know which ones will grow to the right stage or which ones will result in a successful pregnancy.

American Society for Reproductive Medicine President Dr. Marcelle Cedars warned in May, “There is a clear and present danger that measures designed to restrict abortion could end up also curtailing access to the family building treatments upon which our infertility patients rely to build their families.”

Reason takes the story further:

In an article in Contemporary OB/GYN, Jared Robins and Sean Tipton, respectively the executive director and the chief policy and advocacy officer of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, argue that the Dobbs decision puts fertility care at “significant risk.” Under current practice, patients of IVF clinics generally choose to create numerous embryos for possible implantation. As fertility treatments proceed, embryos are often discarded when pre-implantation genetic diagnosis indicates significant inheritable maladies or after patients have completed their families.

As an example of post-Dobbs risks, Robins and Tipton point to Nebraska’s Legislative Bill 933 which declares that an “unborn child means an individual living member of the species homo sapiens, throughout the embryonic and fetal stages of development from fertilization to full gestation and childbirth.” They assert that “this bill clearly classifies an IVF-created embryo as an unborn child.” Under the Nebraska bill, “causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn child” is a Class IIA felony, punishable by up 20 years in prison.

An op-ed in The New England Journal of Medicine also notes that users of IVF services who have completed their families generally choose to destroy their unused frozen embryos. “If these embryos are declared human lives by the stroke of a governor’s pen, their destruction may be outlawed,” observes the op-ed. “What will be the fate of abandoned embryos, of the people who ‘abandon’ them, and more broadly of IVF centers in these jurisdictions?”

New at-home COVID tests for people with visual impairments

At last, we have at-home COVID-19 test kits that people with blindness and other visual impairments can use. The tests require a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone and a companion iOS or Android app.

Popular Science has some details on the new test kits:

Ever since the mass rollout of at-home COVID tests began in early this year, disability communities have been vocal about the inaccessibility of at-home tests, whose instructions feature small typefaces and whose results require a sighted person to read. “An issue raised consistently was that individuals who are blind or low vision are often unable to utilize rapid self-tests on their own,” Jha said in yesterday’s COVID-19 news conference.

In the interim, workarounds have emerged. Apps like Be My Eyes match people with visual impairments with a sighted partner who guides them through the testing process. Though a January 2022 report in The New York Times pointed out that some blind or visually impaired people aren’t smartphone users, and a go-between can also erode an individual’s agency and compromise privacy. “You should be the first to know,” Martin Wingfield of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK told the Times.

The free test kits are available to order now through the covidtests.gov portal via a dedicated request form.

House flipping hits new highs

The housing market right now looks like those cable TV shows where people buy run-down houses, fix them quickly and flip them. Marketplace reports:

Meanwhile, people are flipping houses at the highest rate since at least 2000. Given how hot the housing market is, if you were in the market for a fixer-upper last year, chances are you were competing with some flippers.

“Flipping tends to go up during periods of time where there’s really high demand for households, and prices are going up as well,” said Rick Sharga with Attom Data Solutions.

Sharga said 10% of houses sold in the first quarter of this year were flipped. In Phoenix, which is among the cities where home prices have increased most, that number was almost 20%.

This committee that you never heard of will determine if we are in a recession

I suspect you have never heard of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee, but that is the group of experts that decides when the United States is experiencing a recession. It has been in operation since 1978.

The committee is tracking the nation’s gross domestic product and trying to figure out how serious the current economic contraction is and why it is happening. Learn more here about why some economists predict a recession before 2024, and why it would be so difficult for the U.S. to avoid a recession if other countries slide into one.

CDC opens an emergency operations center for Monkeypox

Here is an indication that the CDC is growing more concerned about Monkeypox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened its Emergency Response Center this week. The CDC says it will help it respond to the outbreak that has grown to 4,400 cases in 48 countries.

The CDC says:

Globally, early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of monkeypox cases.

Last week, CDC began shipping orthopoxvirus tests to five commercial laboratory companies, including the nation’s largest reference laboratories, to quickly increase monkeypox testing capacity and access in every community. This development will facilitate increased testing, leverage established relationships between clinics, hospitals and commercial laboratories, and support our ability to better understand the scope of the current monkeypox outbreak.

The CDC is also deploying 300,000 monkeypox vaccine doses with the recommendation that people who have had confirmed or presumed monkeypox exposures get vaccinated against the virus within two weeks of being exposed.

New cars get lower ratings

A lone line of unsold 2021 pickup trucks in an empty storage lot at a Dodge Ram dealership Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

J.D. Power’s 2022 Initial Quality Study finds that new car quality has declined, according to people who commented about their new vehicles within the first 90 days of ownership. See the first list and ranking here.

CNBC reports:

New vehicle quality declined by 11% this year amid parts shortages, shipping snarls and global trade disruptions, according to J.D. Power’s 2022 Initial Quality Study. Buick, Dodge and Chevrolet topped the list while Volvo, Chrysler and Polestar landed in the bottom three.

The 2022 Initial Quality Study found four times as many new models were worse than their segment averages. Disruptions such as a semiconductor chip shortage and personnel dislocations contributed to vehicle problems reaching a record high in the 36-year history of the study, J.D. Power said.

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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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