January 6, 2023

The Morning Meeting with Al Tompkins is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas worth considering and other timely context for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Let’s start the day with the good news that RSV cases, which clogged hospitals in November, are a fraction of that level of infection today. Both the number of cases (detections) and the percentages of positive tests are in steep decline. That should be a huge relief to parents of young children, who are among the most vulnerable to RSV infections.


The current case count is about 1,700 versus the peak of more than 21,000.

Influenza may have peaked, but has been deadly

The latest flu data, which is only current to Christmas Eve, also shows a decline, but not as steep a decline as RSV cases.


The latest influenza map shows some very hot hot spots. Who knows what the data will show once we have figures for after Christmas, after people gathered, were stuck in airports and so on.


Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina points out:

Flu hospitalizations are on track for a mediocre season compared to, for example, the severe 2017-2018 flu season.

To back that up, look at the CDC’s flu tracking graphic. You will see that if we are at our peak for new cases, we will have peaked far earlier and lower than some other years.


Dr. Jetelina cautions:

This doesn’t mean there isn’t any suffering, though. We have already lost 13,000 Americans to the flu—61 of those were children.

Will flu continue to decline? Not necessarily. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like South Africa, saw two waves of flu: the first driven by one strain—called influenza A—and the second driven by another strain—influenza B. Currently, influenza A is driving U.S. cases, which means that we, too, may have another wave.

WHO says newest COVID-19 variant is the ‘most transmissible’ version yet

The news about COVID-19 is not encouraging as we approach our third year of the pandemic. Yahoo News reports:

The new XBB.1.5 variant of COVID is the “most transmissible” yet detected, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has warned.

The variant, which is a sub-variant of Omicron, is confirmed to be spreading in 25 countries, including the UK and US.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, told a press conference on Wednesday: “It is the most transmissible sub variant that has been detected yet.

If you look at wastewater COVID-19 samples as a predictor of what will happen next — and as you see from the two lines on the chart there is good reason to trust those trends — then we are heading toward a new peak of cases. The data was last updated Jan. 3 from samples collected during the week of Dec. 26.


Look at the wastewater data by region and you will see a familiar trend, with the Northeast leading the country with positive tests and the Southeast not far behind.


You can pull the latest wastewater data for your community here.

What happens while there is no speaker of the House?

While the U.S. House of Representatives remains unable or unwilling to elect a speaker, the work of Congress is grinding to a halt. Politico says if there is no speaker elected by Jan. 13, House committee employees will not be paid because there is no appropriation for that yet.

While there is no speaker, the line of succession to the presidency is two women, just as it was when Nancy Pelosi was speaker.

(The Hill)

The discord in the House has real implications. The New York Times reports:

Returning lawmakers have lost their security clearances to get private briefings from the military and the intelligence agencies because, having not been sworn in, they are not officially members of Congress.

“If there’s a real emergency, we couldn’t respond,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York. “Either the Republicans don’t understand that, or they do understand that, and they don’t care. I don’t know which is worse, but it is a profound danger to the country as long as it lasts.”

Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, said on MSNBC on Wednesday that he was not sure whether paychecks for members of Congress and their aides could still go out, and said lawmakers might ask for back pay.

Outgoing Congressman Billy Long (R-Mo.) posted:

And perhaps not at all surprisingly, some of those who media brand as the “rebels,” who have handed would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy defeat after defeat, are using the moment to raise money.

Biden’s new immigration plan to restrict border crossings

On a normal day, when journalists were not consumed with wild weather or the House in disarray, this story might have been the biggest of the day. President Joe Biden, who until now has opposed extended Title 42 restrictions that allow quick expulsions of migrants who cross the border seeking asylum, has moderated his stance. The president will travel to the border Sunday for a stop in El Paso, Texas.

The president announced new measures to use “parole” authority to allow 30,000 people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela to come to the United States each month. But they must have secured a U.S. sponsor who applies for entry before the migrant crosses the border. “The actions we are announcing today will make things better but will not fix the border problem completely,” the president added. Biden’s program would require migrants to pass background checks and then live and work legally in the U.S. temporarily.

This new parole policy is similar to the one Biden offers to resettle tens of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

To put the 30,000 paroles that the president is offering into context, in fiscal year 2022, U.S. Border Patrol agents say they “encountered” migrants 2.7 million times along the southern border (some were the same person multiple times). That was a record number that followed the previous record set in 2021.


A million of those border stops resulted in migrants being expelled from the U.S. under Title 42. In the meantime, if border crossings stopped today, immigration experts say it would take two years to clear the court dockets.

More coverage and resources:

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