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.
In the last seven days, the average gasoline price in the United States has risen a mind-boggling 41 cents per gallon to reach $4.10 per gallon, the highest level ever. Sunday alone saw the average price rise 16 cents per gallon. You have to go back to the days of Hurricane Katrina to find a similar one-day rise of 18 cents per gallon.
Diesel prices set an all-time one-day price increase Sunday at more than 22 cents per gallon, breaking the 2003 one-day increase record. Gas Buddy compiled the previous milestones:
- June 8, 2008: $4/gal is seen for the first time
- July 17, 2008: All-time record high is set at $4.103 per gallon
- May 12, 2021: $3/gal average seen for the first time since 2014
You never know what to make of the futures traders bet on but some say oil could trade for as much as $180 a barrel and even $200 a barrel if the war in Ukraine rages on for months.
Oil prices crush airlines, jet fuel prices spike
Airlines are still emerging from the pandemic interruption and have now been smacked with a stunning rise in jet fuel prices. Jet fuel prices have risen more than 50% already this year and are still rising. Fuel accounts for 40% to 50% of air operating costs of a single flight, depending on the type of plane used.
Airlines used to protect themselves against rapid fuel price increases by fuel hedging, meaning they would lock in prices by entering into contracts for fuel. CNBC explains why that ended:
It could take months before travelers feel the fuel price in tickets. Cowen & Co. airline analyst Helane Becker sees a roughly four-month delay before fares catch up.
“As a result, it is likely the next few months will be financially concerning, even though traffic is strong,” she said in a note Friday.
Some large U.S. airlines like American abandoned fuel hedging after oil prices peaked and then crumbled in 2014. The fuel-price slump drove a decade of U.S. airline profits that was eventually upended by the coronavirus in 2020.
“It’s not something we’re considering at this time,” American spokesman Matt Miller said about hedging.
United and Delta, which owns a refinery, didn’t immediately comment.
There are four major types of jet fuel.
- Jet A: This is the most widely used grade of jet fuel, used widely in the United States and Canada
- Jet A1: This is used in other parts of the world in addition to Jet A. Jet A1 is more likely to be used in artic flights and fights where the air is colder.
- Jet B: This fuel is used in the most frigid conditions, for polar flights and for military aircraft. Some military aircraft have specific fuels, such as JP-7 and JP-8.
- TS-1: This fuel is used by Russian and former Soviet countries.
Based on the recent spike in oil prices, jet fuel will likely rise to at least $3.45 per gallon — up from $2.3 per gallon at the end of 2021.
A fully loaded jumbo Jet (Boeing 747-400) flying from London to New York burns about 82,300 liters or 21,741 gallons of fuel.
State surgeon general advises against vaccines for healthy children
Florida’s new surgeon general is the first in the country to tell healthy children not to take the COVID-19 vaccine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend.
Dr. Joseph Ladapo cites studies that show the vaccine loses efficacy among children. He said, “We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids, in terms of actually being able to quantify with any accuracy and any confidence the even potential of benefit.”
Ladapo is a bit of an anomaly in the medical world. He opposed mask mandates, won’t say if he is vaccinated and has openly questioned whether vaccines were effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Ladapo’s boss, scolded university students for wearing masks at an event he was speaking at, even though they were complying with CDC guidelines.
What is the strength of the US military?
The war in Ukraine pushed me to do a little inventory of the strength and health of the U.S. military. Here are some data points that give at least a top-line look.
The total military population has been about steady for the last decade.
I wondered where the U.S. military is currently deployed. These figures have changed a little since the Russian buildup near Ukraine began. The gray number is 2011 and the red dot is last year.
Every year, the Heritage Foundation, a research and educational institution whose mission is to build and promote conservative public policies, does a global assessment of U.S. military strength. This is the latest, published in January:
Heritage assesses each branch of the military. Here are Heritage’s assessments, edited for length and clarity. Go here to read the complete report.
Army as “Marginal.” The Army is aging faster than it is modernizing. It remains “weak” in capacity with only 62 percent of the force it should have. However, 58 percent (18) of its 31 Regular Army BCTs are at the highest state of readiness, thus earning a score of “very strong” and conveying the sense that the service knows what it needs to do to prepare for the next major conflict.
Navy as “Marginal,” Trending Toward “Weak.” The Navy’s current battle force fleet of 296 ships and intensified operational tempo combine to reveal a service that is much too small relative to its tasks, resulting in a capacity score of “weak,” which is unchanged from the 2021 Index. It desperately needs a larger fleet of 400 ships.
Air Force as “Weak.” Though the Air Force possesses 86 percent of the combat aircraft that this Index recommends, public reporting of the mission readiness and physical location of these planes would make it difficult for the Air Force to respond rapidly to a crisis. Modernization programs are generally healthy, but the advanced age of key aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory is driving the service to retire planes faster than they can be replaced.
Marine Corps as “Strong.” The score for the Marine Corps was raised to “strong.” However, in the absence of additional funding in FY 2022, the Corps intends to reduce the number of its battalions even further from 24 to 21, and this reduction, if implemented, would harm the Corps’ overall ability to perform the role it has set for itself: enabling the projection of naval power into heavily contested combat environments. The service has moved ahead aggressively with a redesign of its operating forces and the acquisition of new warfighting tools, but it remains hampered by old equipment and problematic funding.
Space Force as “Weak.” The service has done quite well in transitioning missions from the other services without interruption in support, but it does not have enough assets to track and manage the explosive growth in commercial and competitor-country systems being placed into orbit. The majority of its platforms have exceeded their planned life span, and modernization efforts to replace them are slow and incremental. The force also lacks defensive and offensive counter-space capabilities.
Nuclear Capability as “Strong” but Trending Toward “Marginal” or even “Weak.” This score of “strong” with a conditional trend toward “marginal” or “weak” reflects a greater risk of a degradation in nuclear deterrence than has been seen in the recent past. Current forces are assessed as reliable today, but nearly all components of the nuclear enterprise are at a tipping point with respect to replacement or modernization and have no margin left for delays in schedule.
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