April 12, 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.

You know that the Biden administration is bracing for bad news when the day before the Consumer Price Index is released, the White House press secretary predicted the figures will show inflation is “extraordinarily elevated.”

There are so many drivers behind today’s new Consumer Price Index figures, including high oil prices, Chinese shipping hang-ups, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, companies having problems hiring employees and, when they do hire them, companies having to pay workers more. Experts will be most interested in food and energy inflation since they are inescapable expenses for most.

The real question may not be about today’s figures, but whether the rate represents the peak of this inflation cycle. Oil prices have fallen since their highest level, but food prices are not moderating.

Without a doubt, the Biden administration will call today’s inflation figures “Putin’s price hike.” But inflation was rising fast before Russia’s invasion. Don’t be surprised if energy prices are running at about an 18% inflation rate, but keep in mind the number is lower now. And housing prices, including rent, make up a third of the CPI, and they have risen more than 4.9% nationally and are still going up.

It is always worthwhile to keep things in context, but today’s 30-year-olds have never seen inflation as high as it is running right now.


Match that inflation rate with this Gallup polling chart and you may see some confusing trends.


The reason is that people’s economic issues are not always about inflation. Back in 2009, you will recall, the issue was the banking crisis and the stock market’s dramatic drop.

The latest Gallup polling does show, however, that inflation is a top national concern.


These figures are more than economic figures; they are a mirror on the state of the country. Because these numbers reflect how much everyday people pay for everyday expenses, they influence election outcomes, too. That is especially bad news for Democrats because the 16 states in the South are looking at an annual inflation rate of about 8.4% from a year ago.

It is my experience that these Gallup figures sort of magically become the key talking points for people running for federal office, especially when the No. 1 issue jumps up 7% in a single month. Immigration and oil prices are nowhere near as hot with the general public compared to inflation.

Philadelphia reinstates indoor mask mandate while virtually everybody else resists

The Philadelphia health commissioner says if we wait to put masks back on and the U.S. gets hit with a new COVID-19 wave, “It will be too late for many of our residents.” So, today, the city is starting a one-week “education period” to teach residents of Philadelphia to put masks back on indoors. On Monday next week, the city will begin enforcing the mandate.

Staffing shortages will make air travel more challenging this summer

JetBlue and Alaska Airlines say staffing shortages are forcing them to cut flights. Not just a few flights, but hundreds of flights. Alaska Airlines is cutting 2% of flights because of a pilot shortage, while JetBlue is dropping up to 10% of its flights. CNBC reports:

(JetBlue) canceled more than 300 flights over the weekend, a week after bad weather in Florida kicked off hundreds of flight cancellations and delays on JetBlue and other carriers.

Airlines are scrambling to staff up to handle a surge in travelers this spring and summer. Staffing shortages contributed to hundreds of flight cancellations and delays last summer and airlines executives have been looking for ways to avoid a repeat.

“Despite these challenges and, based on your feedback that the schedule is wound too tight, we know the best plan is to reduce capacity now,” Geraghty wrote. “I think everyone recognizes that the industry still remains very much in recovery mode, so we believe this proactive step is the right decision.”

The schedule cuts followed a rough couple of weeks for both airlines that saw hundreds of flights canceled because of crew shortages.

South Korea finally gets a break

A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a bench as a precaution against the coronavirus under cherry blossoms in full bloom at a park in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, April 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korea, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, has had a heck of a time with the latest COVID-19 surge. But the country is now watching new case counts fall fast, down 29% in the last week. Korea may ease social distancing rules this week.

1/3 of the most popular baby formulas sold out

The supplies for baby formula were already tight, then there was a formula recall that made things worse. A survey by Datasembly says 30% of popular baby formula brands may be sold out at retailers.

USA Today reports:

After she visited three different stores in one day, Elyssa Schmier, the vice president of government relations for advocacy group MomsRising, “all of a sudden realized my formula was nowhere to be found. … It’s almost a full-time job trying to find Similac.”

After experiencing the nationwide shortage firsthand, Schmier organized an Instagram Live discussion Friday with Brian Dittmeier, who is the senior director of public policy for the National WIC Association.

Among the states hit worst with baby formula supply shortages, according to Datasembly: Minnesota had the highest out-of-stock percentage for the week of March 13th at 54%, followed by Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Texas, all at 40% or higher.

Cities with the highest out-of-stock rates: San Antonio (56%), Minneapolis (55%), and Des Moines (50%), for the week of March 13. Houston, New Orleans, and Oahu were above 45%.

Supply chain problems create shortage of walkers/wheelchairs: Charities fill the need

Kaiser Health News reports that charities that repair and refurbish used wheelchairs and walkers have been a lifeline for people who need such help:

Such programs save low-income and uninsured patients money, and by refurbishing used medical equipment, they keep it out of landfills. During the pandemic, the programs have also helped soften the impact of supply chain-related shortages and are helping meet increased demand as delayed elective surgeries resume.

“Once hospitals started elective surgeries again, there was a huge increase in need,” said Donna Ralston, who founded the South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet six years ago in a 10-feet-by-10-feet shed at her church.

Hospitals across the U.S. have reported not having enough walkers, crutches, canes, and wheelchairs. Supplies are limited because of shortages of raw materials such as aluminum, said Alok Baveja, a professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.

“The availability, not just the cost, has an impact on the durable medical equipment industry,” Baveja said.

The crunch may be made worse by disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said American Hospital Association spokesperson Colin Milligan.

Aluminum prices have more than doubled in the past two years, including more than 20% over the past six months on the London Metal Exchange. A bill that passed Congress April 7 to suspend normal trade relations with Russia will allow President Joe Biden to raise tariffs on aluminum and other imports from that country, increasing aluminum prices even more.

Landlords take federal rent assistance money, evict people anyway

The Texas Tribune found that some landlords got a piece of the $2 billion in rental assistance money sent to their state, but even after they were paid, they evicted struggling tenants anyway:

Housing advocates and lawyers who represent tenants facing eviction say they routinely see cases of Texas landlords accepting thousands of dollars from the government and evicting the tenants the money was intended to help.

The Tribune contacted government agencies involved in the program and found that none of them — including the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which runs the state rent relief program — track how often this happens.

And it’s not just happening in Texas.

According to the National Housing Law Project, 86% of the 119 lawyers across the country who responded to a survey gauging how the end of a federal moratorium on evictions was affecting tenants said they had seen cases where landlords either declined to apply for assistance from rent relief programs or took the money and proceeded to kick out their tenants.

Colleges and universities recruiting adults who left school without a degree

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting piece about how schools are eyeing a potential target audience to reverse sagging enrollment: the 36 million adults who attended college but left without completing a degree.

Many of those who dropped out of college over the last two years left for financial reasons, but other things contribute to dropouts, including the complications of managing everyday life during the pandemic. When schools started contacting people who left without a degree, they found that if they provided coaching and help navigating what can be a complex system, adult learners came back to finish their degrees and certificates.

Not only is this an interesting story about how schools are trying to make up for the big enrollment losses of recent years, but it has the potential to help people learn how to complete their degree goals.

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.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News