March 7, 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.

Over the weekend, a gas station in Los Angeles posted a $7 per gallon price tag on regular gasoline. Nationwide, gasoline prices surged to the highest level since 2008 on Sunday. The national average for a gallon of gas hit $4.009 on Sunday, according to AAA.

Watch for the Department of Energy’s newest forecast on supplies and prices due out today. They will be posted here. You will be able to get regional prices here.

It might be a good time to visit oil producers in your locality. In fact, a majority of states in the country produce oil, even if for some it is not much. Click on the map to see the state-by-state production.

(Department of Energy)

It may surprise you that the Department of Energy says:

In the U.S., crude oil is produced in 32 U.S. states as well as on federal offshore lands. The domestic petroleum industry got its start in 1859 after the successful drilling of the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

  • Texas is the largest domestic producer of oil in the U.S., at 43.02%.
  • North Dakota is the second-largest crude producer in the U.S., and it has been one of the fastest-growing state oil producers from 2016 to 2019.
  • New Mexico is the third-largest domestic oil producer and one of three states that saw an increase in production from 2019 to 2020, despite the reduced demand brought about by the pandemic.
  • Located in the heart of the U.S. Mid-Continent oil region, Oklahoma comes in fourth in crude oil production.
  • Colorado is the fifth-largest producer of crude oil, with 90% of its production originating in Weld County. In 2020, as a result of new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, the state produced about four times more crude oil than it did in 2010.
  • Excluding the 28 states that do not currently produce oil, Idaho is the smallest domestic crude producer in the U.S., at 0.00002%.

Grain prices are skyrocketing, too. The effects will soon show up on your grocery bill.

Grain prices — including wheat, corn and soybeans — have also exploded in ways that will show up on your grocery bill. For restaurants and other places that serve massive amounts of food, this will be substantial.

Let’s start with wheat, since Russia and Ukraine (pre-war) produced a fourth of the world’s wheat exports.

Here is what has happened to wheat prices in a one-year window. Trust me when I tell you these charts will not be difficult to analyze.


Here is the soybean chart for the last 12 months:


Now let’s look at corn, which not only affects food prices but also affects gasoline since it is used in ethanol production. And since corn is a critical ingredient for livestock feed, it also affects cattle, pork and poultry prices.


Millions of doses of COVID drugs for immunocompromised sit unused

AstraZeneca developed a drug called Evusheld with the help of the federal government specifically for the 7 million Americans who have compromised immune systems. For these people, the COVID-19 vaccine does not work, and their bodies do not produce much or any antibodies if they get infected with the virus. The Biden administration bought 1.7 million doses of the drug and nearly half of that is now ready for shipment.

But, The New York Times says, “370,000 doses have been ordered by the states, and fewer than a quarter of those have been used.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved this drug under an emergency use order, similar to the process it used to approve the COVID-19 vaccines.

One look at the federal government’s database shows that even in places that got the drug more than a month ago, hardly any have been administered. This is just a sample of the Florida data to give you an idea of what you will find for your state.


The Times reports that there is a great deal of confusion about the drug and people who could benefit from it — who could use it and get out of their homes for the first time since the pandemic began — don’t hear about it:

Evusheld, which is administered in two consecutive injections, appears to offer long-lasting protection — perhaps for half a year — giving it considerable appeal for this group.

Interviews with doctors, patients and government officials suggest the reasons the drug is going unused are varied. Some patients and doctors do not know Evusheld exists. Some do not know where to get it. Government guidelines on who should be prioritized for the drug are scant. In some hospitals and medical centers, supplies are being reserved for patients at the highest risk, such as recent transplant recipients and cancer patients, while doses in other areas of the country are being given out through a lottery or on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hesitance is also an issue. Some doctors and other providers do not know how to use Evusheld and are thus loath to prescribe it. The fact that it is an antibody treatment can be confusing, because most such treatments are used after someone gets Covid rather than for preventive care.

Adding to the confusion are revised Food and Drug Administration guidelines for Evusheld, released last month, that called for doubling the initial recommended dose after data showed the drug may be less effective against certain variants.

The Los Angeles Times finds that few, even in the immunocompromised population, even know about this drug, which of course, is an opportunity for you journalists to do your work. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The new treatment can “give them the antibodies that they essentially need in order to avoid getting admitted to the hospital” for COVID-19, said Dr. Krist Azizian, chief pharmacy officer for Keck Medicine of USC. “This could truly be lifesaving.”

But immunocompromised people and their advocates complain that scant awareness and a complicated process for allocating the limited supply have hampered the rollout of Evusheld, which is far from a household name even among the immunocompromised.

Many people who need it “don’t even know that it exists,” said Janet Handal, president and cofounder of the Transplant Recipients and Immunocompromised Patient Advocacy Group.

Thousands of Americans volunteer to fight for Ukraine

The Ukrainian embassy says around 3,000 Americans have answered the call to fight for Ukraine. Worldwide, Ukraine says about 16,000 people have joined an international force to fight the Russian invasion.

Military Times reports:

A number of veterans have reached out to Military Times, either saying they are planning to travel to Ukraine to fight or want to. Ukraine’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to questions about how many U.S. veterans had signed up.

The call for volunteers has been met with enthusiasm on several online forums like Reddit and Discord.

One Reddit page for those volunteering to fight for Ukraine has more than 32,000 members according to the site.

A former SEAL turned CIA officer who writes under the name Frumentarius offers his own advice about going.

Notify the U.S. State Department first, he urges. And he offers a note of caution to those who want to fight.

“If you are determined to go, be professional, responsible, and realistic in your expectations,” Frumentarius writes. “Follow the Ukrainian government’s advice about how to officially register, and do not go there telling them where and how you want to participate in the fighting.

“They will place you in whatever capacity they need you, and wherever they need you most. You are not Rambo, there to single-handedly slay Russians and post your selfies. You will be part of a military machine that is under extreme stress, and you need to seamlessly integrate into that system to be an effective part of it.”

The Ukrainian government says it only needs volunteers who can head straight to the front line without need for much training. And Ukraine is trying to be clear that this is all voluntary. “We are not hiring anyone,” Ukrainian officials stressed.

Russia outlaws spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian military with fines and prison

A journalist work in a newsroom of the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Dozhd has suspended operations because of the new restrictions. (AP Photo/Denis Kaminev)

Tass, the Russian news service, reports a new law was unanimously passed and went into effect over the weekend:

Article 207.3 “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” will appear in the Criminal Code (CC) of the Russian Federation. This article provides for imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles. At the same time, if an official position is used in the commission of a crime or actions are committed out of mercenary motives, then a punishment of five to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to 5 million rubles is provided. If the fake information caused serious consequences, the term of imprisonment will be from 10 to 15 years.

Some Russian media suspended operations because of the new restrictions, including Dozhd, The Village and

The Russian government also blocked some Western news sources, including the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Meduza, and German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

This perhaps is a place where I should say that I am proud to be a teacher for journalists at both VOA and Radio Free Europe.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty announced Sunday:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has suspended its operations in Russia after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists. These Kremlin attacks on RFE/RL’s ability to operate in Russia are the culmination of a years-long pressure campaign against RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991 when it established its Moscow bureau at the invitation of then-President Boris Yeltsin.

Also on March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that could subject any journalist who deviates from the Kremlin’s talking points on the Ukraine war to a 15-year prison sentence. Because RFE/RL journalists continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbor, the company plans to report about these developments from outside of Russia.

Over the last week, nine of RFE/RL’s Russian language websites were blocked after RFE/RL refused to comply with the Russian government’s demands to delete information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Overnight on March 3-4, Russian authorities blocked access within Russia to websites run by RFE/RL’s Russian, Tatar-Bashkir, and North Caucasus services, including the Russian-language North.Realities, Siberia.Realities, Idel.Realities, and Caucasus.Realities sites. On February 28, Russia blocked access to two other RFE/RL websites, including Current Time, the 24/7 digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Before Russia blocked the BBC, the British news service announced it was bringing back WWII-era broadcasting technology by resorting to shortwave radio broadcasts on the frequencies of 15735 kHz from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and 5875 kHz from midnight to 2 a.m., Ukraine time.

The BBC also offers a higher security online service, which The Verge explains:

The BBC says users may Download its iOS and Android apps as a workaround to access its online coverage. In 2019, the corporation also launched a Tor Onion domain, which is designed to offer a more secure, higher performance, and censorship-resistant way to access its website via Tor browsers compared to a typical .com or URL. The BBC’s current onion domain is: https://www.bbcnewsd73hkzno2ini43t4gblxvycyac5aw4gnv7t2rccijh7745uqd.onion

BBC explains the Tor network:

The BBC World Service’s news content became available on the Tor network last week in a move that attracted wide media attention.

The decision to go ahead with setting this service up came at a time when BBC News is either blocked or restricted in several parts of the world.

For example, in Egypt, Iran and China, our audiences are finding it either impossible or difficult to access our content without the use of a circumvention tool, such as a VPN.

The Tor network is an overlay network on the internet, which provides increased security and is resistant to blocking.

The Kyiv Independent (which I read every day and you should too) included these two notes about media coverage in Ukraine:

The Russian military seized a TV broadcasting tower in Kherson. As a result, there are concerns that it will be used to disseminate misinformation across this city.

Russia demands Telegram remove bots that search the platform for evidence of Russian servicemen captured or killed in Ukraine.

Make no mistake about the hunger for news within Russia and Ukraine. Radio Free Europe reports, “During the period February 23-March 1, audiences viewed RFE/RL videos 436.4 million times on Facebook, 305.4 million times on YouTube, and 83.2 million times on Instagram – reflecting increases of 265 percent, 406 percent, and 185 percent, respectively, over the previous week.”

Bellingcat jeers Russian censor’s fines

I have written before how much I admire the work of the forensic journalists at Bellingcat. As you can imagine, their work uncovering truth does not sit well with Russian censors, who wanted the news organization to brand itself as a foreign agent. Russia just imposed a fine and this was Bellingcat’s response, poking the (Russian) bear one more time. Bravo.

It turns out media are the enemy of corrupt dictators who have good reasons to fear truthful reporting.

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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