A New Level of COVID Concern: NYC on High Alert, Hospitalizations Rise; FDA approves boosters for children; the federal government offers more free tests
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter Briefing of story ideas on coronavirus and other hot topics for journalists, written by Senior Professor Al Tompkins. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
Tell me if you heard this one (maybe two years ago?). New York’s health department said the city is now on “high COVID alert” as case numbers and hospitalizations rise.
Mayor Eric Adams said the city was approaching the threshold that would again require mandatory masking. The city is seeing about 3,500 new cases a day, but the true number is much higher because so many people are using home tests and not reporting results. Hospitalizations are also increasing, at a rate of about 130 new admissions per day. That’s the same rate of hospitalizations the state had in November 2021 and November 2020.
The New York Times summarizes the situation thus:
The average number of new confirmed cases reported daily in the United States has tripled since early April, reaching more than 95,000 on Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also increasing, by 26% nationally in the past two weeks. New deaths from the virus have fallen to around 300 a day on average – in part a reflection, public health experts say, of the protection against serious illnesses that many Americans have gained by getting vaccinated or overcoming a past coronavirus infection.
The Food and Drug Administration, which still hasn’t approved vaccines for children under age 5, has approved boosters for children ages 5 to 12. She approved the Pfizer booster for children who completed their primary vaccine series at least five months ago.
“While it has been largely true that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than in adults, the omicron wave has seen more children falling ill with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer-term effects, even after initially having mild illness,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a press release.
Pfizer provided these details about the results of its recall tests that led to the emergency use authorization:
The EUA is based on data that shows children 5-11 years of age had a robust immune response with a favorable safety profile following a 10 mcg booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a time where Omicron was the prevalent variant
To date, 4,500 children aged 5 to 11 have participated in the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial
The federal government just announced that you can order more free at-home COVID-19 tests, the third round of free tests the government is offering. The government has sent around 350 million free tests so far to around 70 million homes.
More than a year ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was sending $2.25 billion to states and major cities to help them serve the underserved communities that have been hardest hit. by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states spent most of the money, but a staggering number of states spent between nothing and next to nothing.
Kaiser Health News finds:
- The Missouri Department of Health spent none of its $35.6 million.
- Wisconsin, Illinois and Idaho — whose state health departments each received between $27 million and $31 million — used less than 5% of their grants.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Health has used about 6% of its nearly $27.7 million grant.
- The California Department of Health spent just over 10% of its $32.5 million funding.
Public health agencies give a litany of reasons for this: They need time to hire people. They blame their state’s lengthy budget process. They say it takes time to work with nonprofits to set up programs or for them to put the money to use. They are already tapping other federal dollars to fight covid disparities.
The rise in unspent relief dollars is a major reason Republicans in Congress oppose Democrats’ efforts to appropriate billions of additional federal dollars to manage the pandemic.
Here is a list of the states, territories and cities that got a share of the $2.25 billion.
Americans returned to driving in 2021 after a year at home to avoid COVID-19. That year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 43,000 people died on US highways, streets and highways. That’s a 10.5% jump from 2020.
But remember, that year was an anomaly for all the reasons you know well. The report lists some of the categories that have seen the biggest increases in road fatalities. Rural roads were particularly dangerous.
Traffic fatalities (number of fatalities) in the following categories saw relatively large increases in 2021 compared to 2020:
- on rural interstate roads (+15%),
- urban thoroughfare (+15%),
- during the day (+11%).
- weekends (+11%).
- on out-of-state travel (+15%), reversing the trend seen in 2020.
- newer (vehicle age
- passenger vehicles (+10%).
- multi-vehicle accidents (+16%).
- speed-related crashes (up 5%) – even higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
- Age group 25-34 (+10%), age group 35-44 (+15%), age group 45-54 (+12%) and age group 65 and over (up 14%), reversing the downward trend in deaths among people aged 65 and over seen in 2020.
- women (+12%).
- non-retained passenger vehicle occupants (up 3%) – even higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
- alcohol-related crashes (up 5%) – even higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
- motorcyclist deaths (+9%), continuing the trend observed in 2020.
- pedestrian fatalities (up 13%); pedal deaths (+ 5%).
- accidents involving at least one large truck (+13%), reversing the trend observed in 2020.
Many journalists reported in 2020 on drivers seeming to go faster because, with people working from home, there was less traffic. I pulled out some data that might help you follow this angle:
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, speed-related fatalities increased sharply from 2019 to 2020 (17%). This year, data shows that speed-related fatalities increased further (up to 5%) from 2020 to 2021. As a result, estimated fatalities in speed-related crashes in 2021 were even higher compared to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
The number of motorcycle-related deaths has increased, and I wonder, with the increase in gas prices, if we will see an increase in ridership this summer. I bet yes. I see a lot of these e-bikes these days too, and some of them go quite fast, just like motorcycles in city traffic.
Each year, the Social Security Administration releases a list of the most popular baby names from the previous year. This year, a few old-fashioned names made the list:
You can also search for your year of birth to see what the most popular names were at the time. The most popular names in my year were Michael and Mary. I guess the parents weren’t feeling particularly creative at the time.
A congressional committee held the first UFO hearing for the first time since the 1960s, and while the military didn’t reveal any huge surprises, the hearing confirmed that some of the most widely circulated videos of the “unidentified aerial phenomenon” are real. One of the most interesting parts of the hearing is the news that the Pentagon says there have been 400 military reports of possible encounters.
A navy official said a floating pyramid-shaped object captured on military videos was likely a drone. Scott Bray, the deputy director of Naval Intelligence, told the House committee that UAP reports increased dramatically between 2004 and 2021, likely because there’s less stigma attached to reporting such incidents these days.
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