March 14, 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.

On one hand, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program said there will “without a doubt” be a rise in COVID-19 in Ukraine, where only one-third of the population was vaccinated before Russia invaded. Ukraine, like Russia, has high COVID-19 case rates but, during the war, testing has been interrupted and people have been huddled in close quarters to escape the fighting.

But Ryan says other countries should not fear getting infected by refugees.

“Let’s be very careful with our rhetoric,” he said. “This always arises that in some way, that people fleeing the horrors of war are going to bring stuff with them. But they’re not.”

Medscape reports that countries that are accepting Ukrainian refugees are also offering “health screenings, vaccinations, mental health support, and other health care at points of entry.”

But CodaStory reports that some countries are much harder for Ukrainians to enter if they have not been vaccinated:

Much of Europe still has strict Covid regulations in place — meaning those who aren’t vaccinated are barred from using public transport or entering most businesses, cafes, hotels and restaurants unless they have a green pass showing they’ve tested negative. In Stuttgart, Germany, dozens of refugees were forced to sleep overnight in the train station’s waiting room after they were barred from staying in hotels because they lacked “the relevant evidence” to prove their Covid credentials.

“They are already unwell, they’re fleeing a war, they’ve come to Germany, and now on top of everything they have to face these difficulties, and are told that first, they need to be vaccinated,” said Maria Azzarone, co-founder of Wolja, an NGO which is helping refugees stranded in Stuttgart. She described how some were able to find some hotels with on-the-spot testing, but others were forced to spend the night huddled on benches in the train station.

In Italy, unvaccinated Ukrainians face similar problems. Prime Minister Mario Draghi hasn’t waived Green Pass requirements for incoming refugees — and they need to either be fully vaccinated or pay for a test every 48 hours to access public transport, hotels, and restaurants.

Canada has invited an unlimited number of Ukrainians to apply to come to the country for two years — but they won’t be exempt from Covid requirements. Currently, unvaccinated people arriving in Canada will have to undergo two weeks’ quarantine, with no exceptions for refugees.

Last November, the Wilson Center reported how Ukrainian distrust for vaccines, not just COVID-19 vaccines, goes back decades. Only half of Ukraine’s population is vaccinated against polio and measles.

China locks down a city of 9 million

You have probably never heard of Changchun, a city of 9 million people that China is locking down because of a new outbreak of COVID-19. Think about it: It is bigger than New York, twice the size of Los Angeles.

The Associated Press reports:

Residents are required to remain at home, with one family member permitted to venture out to buy food and other necessities every two days. All residents must undergo three rounds of mass testing, while non-essential businesses have been closed and transport links suspended.

The latest lockdowns, which also include Yucheng with 500,000 people in the eastern province of Shandong, show China is sticking to the draconian approach to the pandemic it has enforced for most of the past two years, despite some earlier indications that authorities would be implementing more targeted measures.

But then look at this detail. The lockdown is not because of thousands of new cases:

Just two cases were reported within Changchun itself on Friday, bringing its total to 78 in recent days. Authorities have repeatedly pledged to lock down any community where one or more cases are found under China’s “zero tolerance” approach to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Free Press published images of body bags stacked one on top of another right next to patients being treated in a hospital ward. The hospital says it “is sorry.”

Officials in Hong Kong hope COVID-19 cases there are starting to stabilize.

Telehealth company connect US doctors with Ukrainians in the war zone

A group called Aimee says it is connecting U.S. and European doctors with people living in Ukraine to get them free emergency medical advice. The group, which is a team of 100 people led by Stanford and Caltech Ph.D.s, has been around for more than a decade working with people in conflict zones. Its website says:

We focus on three areas 1) battlefield wound and trauma, 2) supporting primary care physicians in Ukraine with specialists in the USA and Europe, and 3) private primary and urgent care directly to people in Ukraine.

The group says:

We support the following medical conditions: battlefield injuries, non-battlefield emergency and urgent care, maternity and delivery, primary care, mental health, chronic diseases, allergy & immunology, cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, gynecology, infectious disease, internal medicine, nephrology, neurology, oncology, pulmonology, rheumatology, and urology.

The Aimee team created the telemedicine platform used by NASA Space Station and SpaceX and traveled to over 50 countries deploying telemedicine in refugee camps and orphanages such as Iraq, Syria, and Philippines.

I don’t know about you, but I hope somebody(s) does a story on this one so we can see what sounds like a good idea in action.

The pandemic has been tough on dry cleaners

Not far from where I live, a locally owned dry cleaner closed after decades in business. The Washington Post reports that by the end of this year close to a third of all dry cleaners will close.

In the D.C. region and other large metro areas, dry cleaning has long been seen a vehicle to the middle class for immigrant families, many of them Korean Americans who settled here in the 1970s through 1990s, industry experts say. There were low barriers for entry and limited need for language skills, not to mention a community of other store owners often willing to help with loans and training.

But even before the pandemic, many of those independent stores were bracing for change: Their U.S.-born children were choosing not to take over the family business, opting instead for white-collar fields. Even in buttoned-up Washington, offices were loosening their norms for professional attire and lessening the need for professional cleaning.

“At one point, you had casual Friday, and then you went to casual every day,” said Mary Scalco, the chief executive of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, a trade group based in Prince George’s County. “Many of them repositioned themselves as convenience stores and took on a wider range of clothes — it’s your golf shirts, polos, khakis, not just your ties and suits.”

Why people quit: understanding from new survey

Pew researchers just released a new survey that confirms what you might have suspected and even lived in the last year:

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year. The survey also finds that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility.

(Pew Research Center)

I see several eye-openers in the data beyond the usual issues around pay and lack of advancement opportunities. 45% said a lack of flexibility in work hours was a key reason for leaving. A similar number mentioned benefits, not just pay. And I find it interesting that close to one in five people mentioned vaccine mandates as a reason for leaving. That’s a way bigger number than I would have guessed.

The study said most people who quit have found new work and that it was fairly easy to do so.

And Pew’s research found that most — but not all — people who quit are happier with their new situation:

At least half of these workers say that compared with their last job, they are now earning more money (56%), have more opportunities for advancement (53%), have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%) and have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours (50%).

Still, sizable shares say things are either worse or unchanged in these areas compared with their last job. Fewer than half of workers who quit a job last year (42%) say they now have better benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off, while a similar share (36%) says it’s about the same. About one-in-five (22%) now say their current benefits are worse than at their last job.

Shrinkflation: How companies hide inflation from you by sneaking in smaller portions

This Sept. 26, 2014 photo shows Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Food companies and grocery stores hate to raise prices so instead, they hope you do not notice fewer chips in a bag or an ounce or two less in a bottle or can.

Quartz gives us a few examples of shrinkflation showing up on your shelves right now:

(Quartz)

The article adds:

Frito-Lay confirmed Doritos shrunk their bags due to pandemic pressures. “Inflation is hitting everyone…we took just a little bit out of the bag so we can give you the same price and you can keep enjoying your chips,” said a representative.

Representatives at Proctor & Gamble which makes Crest toothpaste, and at Mondelez—which makes Nabisco Wheat Thins, confirmed reductions in their products’ volumes but did not disclose the reasons why.

While Crest 3D White does now sell a 5 oz tube, its 4.1 oz tube shrunk to 3.8 oz. Bounty, according to a representative at Proctor & Gamble, got better as it got smaller since the paper towels are more absorbent than they used to be.

Gatorade—the sports drink brand of PepsiCo—recently replaced its 32 oz size with a 28 oz bottle for the same price. That’s the equivalent of a 14% price increase.

You will also notice “Family Sized” boxes of cereal and crackers are shrinking and so are some pet food cans. The Miami Herald reminds you, “To avoid being tricked into spending more, industry experts advise shoppers to keep an eye on a product’s net weight or price per ounce.” In other words, don’t just be price-conscious, be weight-conscious.

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,…
Al Tompkins

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