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COVID-19 By The Numbers
Tuesday, October 25
New national test results show that the pandemic spared no part of the country as it caused historic learning setbacks for America’s children.
According to the Associated Press, every state saw math or reading scores decline in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results. National math scores saw their largest decreases ever and reading scores fell to 1992 levels.
This year was the first time it was given since 2019, and it’s seen as the first nationally representative study of the pandemic’s impact on learning.
Californians recently got their first statewide look at statewide Smarter Balanced test scores measuring the toll the pandemic took on students — and the way state education officials have handled the rollout provides plenty of clues that the news won’t be good.
Earlier this fall, the state Education Department refused a media request to immediately release the scores, saying it would do so by the end of 2022. That fueled speculation that the agency’s head, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, was delaying the release until his November re-election bid.
Eventually, the department reversed course and agreed to release the data. But it did so in a way guaranteed to complicate coverage.
A small sample of California students took the National Assessment of Education Progress to allow comparisons between all states, showing an achievement drop in every state.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom immediately issued a press release highlighting the fact that California students overall didn’t fare as poorly as those in most other states.
The results show that California fared about the same as Florida and Texas, two states that rushed to return to in-person learning.
Monday, October 24
Pfizer will charge $110 to $130 for a dose of its COVID-19 vaccine once the U.S. government stops buying the shots, according to the Associated Press.
Pfizer executives said the commercial pricing for adult doses could start early next year, depending on when the government phases out its program of buying and distributing the shots.
The drugmaker expects that people with coverage through public programs like Medicare or Medicaid will pay nothing since the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover many recommended vaccines without charging any out-of-pocket expenses.
The price hike would make the two-dose vaccine more expensive for cash-paying customers than a typical annual flu shot, where prices range from $50 to $95, depending on the type.
Last year, the drugmaker charged the country $19.50 per dose, and it had three tiers of pricing globally, depending on each country’s financial situation.
The vaccine alone brought in $36.78 billion in revenue last year for Pfizer and was the drugmaker’s top-selling product. Analysts predict it’ll rack up another $32 billion this year.
Friday, October 21
The Medieval world left a biological legacy — genes that helped them survive the Black Death likely make some people today more susceptible to certain diseases.
According to the Associated Press, scientists said in a study that it’s a prime example of the way germs shape us over time. But what helped people survive the bubonic plague in the 14th century led to problems generations later.
It raised the frequency of genetic mutations that today are detrimental. Some of the same genetic variants scientists identified as protecting against the plague are associated with certain autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
All of this begs the question: Will the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impact human evolution? One scientist said he doesn’t think so because the death rate is so much lower and the majority of people who have died had already had children.
In the future, however, more deadly pandemics may well continue to shape us at the most basic level.
Thursday, October 20
The International Energy Agency said that it expects carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels to rise again this year, but by much less than in 2021 due to growth in renewable power and electric cars.
According to the Associated Press, last year saw a strong rebound In emissions of CO2 — the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming — after the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coal emissions grew 2% as countries that previously imported natural gas from Russia scrambled for other energy sources. However, this didn’t outweigh the expansion of solar and wind power, which saw a record rise in 2022.
Oil use also increased as pandemic-related restrictions eased, resulting in more people commuting to work and increased air travel.
Carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses need to decline drastically in the coming decades to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), the ambitious threshold agreed upon in the 2015 Paris climate act.
Scientists say there is little room left for maneuvering because temperatures have already risen by 1.2 Celsius (2.2 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.
Wednesday, October 19
Having a fast internet connection at home has become a near-requirement for many Americans, especially with the rise of remote education and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But an investigation by The Markup has found that internet service providers often offer drastically different speeds to different customers, even when those customers live in other parts of the same city.
In many cases, the poorest and least white parts of a city are only offered service that’s so slow it doesn’t meet federal regulator’s definition of broadband — and providers regularly charge the same amount for that service as they do for their fastest speeds in other neighborhoods.
Tuesday, October 18
Last year was a roller coaster ride for theme parks worldwide, with U.S. water parks approaching pre-pandemic levels and parks in China struggling with lockdowns.
That’s according to the TEA/AECOM 2021 Theme Index and Museum Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report.
Last year, U.S. theme parks recaptured only about two-thirds of their attendance from 2019. But the year marked an upward trajectory with attendance increasing by 134% over figures from 2020, when most theme parks were shuttered for several months in an effort to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
U.S. water parks approached their pre-pandemic figures. Attendance at Chinese theme parks in 2021 was about half of what it was pre-pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom will end California’s COVID-19 state of emergency in early 2023, barring a winter surge in cases or new vaccine-resistant variant.
The end of the state of emergency will not mean the end of COVID-19, but Newsom says the state is prepared to deal with it and future pandemics.
Most of the emergency provisions have already sunset, and Newsom plans to terminate the rest on February 28. That’s just shy of three years before it was declared at the start of the pandemic. But he’s asking state lawmakers to pass a bill to allow nurses to continue to give out COVID-19 treatments.
Senior administration officials say ending the state of emergency is more of a legal milestone that won’t have a major impact on Californians’ day-to-day lives. They say the emergency could stay in place longer if a surge overwhelms hospitals this winter.
Monday, October 17
Just a few months ago, it looked like the U.S. had lost its chance to eliminate the spread of monkeypox — that is, stamp out the outbreak and get cases down to zero, except for new infections from abroad.
According to NPR, experts were worried it was just a matter of time before the virus spread more widely in the U.S., especially in settings like daycare and college dorms.
Now it’s clear those concerns didn’t materialize. Some infectious disease experts are even raising the idea that the U.S. could eliminate the virus.
Monkeypox cases have declined since a peak in early August — from 440 cases per day down to 60 — and they’re the lowest they’ve been since June. The virus has continued to circulate almost entirely within gay and queer networks. Vaccine supply is plentiful, and it’s even outstripping the current demand.
10:35 a.m.: Germany urges stronger COVID measures
Germany’s health minister is urging the country’s 16 states to consider stepping up measures against the coronavirus amid a rise in new cases, according to the Associated Press.
Karl Lauterbach said he favors requiring mask-wearing indoors, a measure that had largely faded in the country except on public transportation, medical facilities and care homes.
Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin that it would be better for states to impose limited restrictions now than stricter ones later.
German authorities registered over 144,000 newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours and 165 COVID-related deaths. The health ministry has launched a new advertising campaign showcasing real people affected by COVID-19 to encourage vaccination.
Friday, October 14
The Biden administration says the COVID-19 public health emergency will continue through Jan. 11 as officials brace for a spike in cases this winter, according to the Associated Press.
The public health emergency was first declared in January 2020 and has been renewed every 90 days since. It’s dramatically changed how health services are delivered.
The decision comes as the pandemic has faded from the forefront of many people’s minds. Daily deaths and infections are dropping and people — many of them maskless — are returning to schools, work and grocery stores as normal.
The administration has said it would provide 60 days notice before it ends the public health emergency.
It’s becoming clearer that New York City’s recovery from the pandemic will be drawn out and that some aspects of the city’s economic ecosystem could be changed for good.
More workers returned to their offices as the summer ended. But those limited numbers mean continued hardship for New Yorkers whose jobs are built around the commuting class.
Remote work has brought an upswing in jobs and liveliness to some neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. But that hasn’t made up for what’s been lost.
The city’s unemployment rate was over 6% in August. That’s significantly higher than the national rate of under 4%.
Thursday, October 13
11:03 a.m.: Seattle to end COVID-19 emergency proclamation
The city of Seattle will end its COVID-19 emergency proclamation at the end of October, according to the Associated Press.
Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement Tuesday that Seattle will lift its remaining COVID emergency order to align with Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to end Washington’s state of emergency on Oct. 31. Harrell said while the impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt, it is thanks to Seattle’s strong response including its high vaccination rate and strong health care system that the city can continue moving toward recovery and revitalization.
The remaining policies linked to the emergency order including some renter protections and wage protections will end, and others will be phased out.
The White House says eligible Americans should get the updated COVID-19 boosters by Halloween to have maximum protection against the coronavirus by Thanksgiving and the holidays, as it warns of a “challenging” virus season ahead.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Tuesday the U.S. has vaccine and treatment tools to largely eliminate serious illness and death from the virus. But he stressed that’s only if people do their part.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only about 11.5 million Americans have received the updated shots so far, but if more people get them it could save hundreds of lives each day by winter.
Wednesday, October 12
Updated Oct. 13
Kids as young as 5 can soon get updated COVID-19 booster shots.
The tweaked boosters rolled out last month for Americans 12 and older — shots designed to target the currently spreading omicron variants. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized kid-size versions for 5- to 11-year-olds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also signed off.
Officials hope to expand protection against an expected winter surge. The updated shots contain half the recipe that targeted the original coronavirus strain and half protection against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions.
Eager to admire colorful foliage, eat sushi and go shopping, droves of tourists from abroad have started arriving in Japan.
Beginning Tuesday, the government lifted border restrictions that had been in place for more than two years to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines have added flights and visa-free travel is back for short-term business visits and tourism.
Travelers are expected to deliver a sorely needed $35 billion boost to the world’s third-largest economy. And given the bargains to be had with the yen weakening against the U.S. dollar, the flood of visitors is expected to keep growing.
Tuesday, October 11
Respiratory illnesses are rising in younger patients in the United States, though the spike has largely been due to illnesses other than COVID-19.
According to NPR, some pediatric hospitals across the county have begun running out of beds, with many systems still feeling the strain from the pandemic.
“We’ve been strapped, and hospitals have sort of been functioning at the edge of how they can function. We’re seeing more people requiring help and fewer beds available, largely due to staffing needs,” Dr. Ibukun Kalu, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, told NPR. “This combination is going to create more and more problems.”
The CDC issued a health advisory in September about the increase in pediatric respiratory illnesses, including RSV, enteroviruses and rhinovirus.
During the pandemic, California’s low-income families that are required to pay a fee to receive subsidized child care got a waiver from paying. That waiver is set to expire next year, worrying parents who have struggled to afford it in the past.
Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill last month that would have made the waiver permanent. Parents say the waiver, which will end in June 2023, allowed them to pay other expenses or get caught up on delinquent bills. Now they will have to stop paying down debt, saving for emergencies and enrolling their children in extra activities like dance lessons to pay the fees instead.
California helps low-income families afford child care through several different programs. For most families the programs are free, but others must pay a share of their subsidized child care costs — what the state refers to as a “family fee.” Families pay the fee directly to their child care provider or to the contractor that manages their subsidized child care.
The pandemic put a spotlight on the child care challenges facing families with the lowest incomes, who got hit hardest by COVID-19. Many worked service jobs that were frozen or eliminated, or worked essential jobs they were required to do in person. Their circumstances drove state officials to waive the fees.
A legislative analysis of the bill that would have permanently waived the fees found that eliminating the fees for some families and decreasing the fees for others would cost $136 million a year. A 2021 study by the California Budget and Policy Center found that the state collects about $68 million annually in child care fees from families with low and moderate incomes.
Thursday, October 6
Homelessness is expected to be up when the federal government releases results from an annual count in the coming months — the first full tally since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Experts say with the end of pandemic relief measures that kept many people housed, the crisis is deepening.
But, according to the Associated Press, the story is not uniform across the U.S. In two high-rent state capitals, the numbers have been moving in opposite directions.
In Boston, where there’s been improvement, officials credit a strategy of targeting housing to people who have long been on the streets.
While in Sacramento, people are becoming homeless faster than they can be housed.
Fueled by a long-running housing shortage, rising rent prices and the economic hangover from the pandemic, the overall number of homeless in a federal government report to soon be released is expected to be bigger than the 580,000 unhoused before the coronavirus outbreak, the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
In West Coast cities such as Sacramento and Portland, Oregon, growing homelessness has become a humanitarian crisis and political football over the past decade.
Research has shown that in places seeing spikes in homelessness often follow a lack of affordable housing. To make matters worse, pandemic government relief programs — including anti-eviction measures, emergency rental assistance and a child tax credit that kept people housed who may have been on the streets otherwise — are ending.
Wednesday, October 5
Do you feel like a different person than you were at the start of the pandemic? A new study has found that many Americans have experienced a personality shift during the past three years.
According to NPR, the research saw that early in the pandemic many people saw a drop in traits associated with neuroticism. But as the pandemic wore on, researchers were more likely to see declines in traits such as trust and creative thinking.
“The first year [of the pandemic] there was this real coming together,” Sutin says. “But in the second year, with all of that support falling away and then the open hostility and social upheaval around restrictions … all the collective goodwill that we had, we lost, and that might have been very significant for personality.”
1:36 p.m.: Tax cut trend reaches two-thirds of states
About two-thirds of U.S. states have adopted some sort of tax relief this year. The tax-cut trend has been fueled by record state budget surpluses and large growth in state revenues after an initial downturn during the coronavirus pandemic.
Missouri became the latest state to act, when Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed an income tax cut into law Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. Republican-led states have been more apt to approve permanent tax rate reductions. Many Democratic states, meanwhile, have opted for one-time tax rebates, including California.
A bipartisan collection of states also have suspended gas taxes or cut sales taxes on groceries.
Tuesday, October 4
If you’ve recently taken a COVID-19 booster shot and started feeling ill, you turn to an at-home COVID-19 test to suss out your symptoms.
But then you look down, you see a positive result. Is it possible that the vaccine booster messed with the results?
“It would be absolutely impossible” to test positive because you got the vaccine, Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport, said to NPR.
This is because the tests are not calibrated to test the same things in boosters since they’re all based upon different parts of the COVID virus.
Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, warned that the country is seeing a steady rise in COVID-19 cases as it goes into the fall and urged older people to get a second booster shot tweaked to protect against new variants.
According to the Associated Press, other European countries such as France, Denmark, and the Netherlands are also recording an increase in cases. Lauterbach said that Germany is “clearly at the start of a winter wave.”
German officials recorded 96,367 new cases in the past 24 hours, about twice as many as a week ago.
Starting Saturday, Germany’s 16 states can again impose pandemic restrictions such as a requirement to wear masks indoors.
Monday, October 3
After virtually disappearing for two years in the U.S. as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down society, there are hints the flu could reemerge this fall, potentially causing an unusually early and possibly severe flu season.
As a result, many experts urge people to get their flu shots right away to ensure they’re protected — but what’s the best timing?
The usual flu season starts in November in the U.S. and peaks in January or February. In general, some doctors may wait until mid-October to get the flu shot, but cases are already rising.
According to NPR, the precise timing of when you get a flu shot over the next month or so doesn’t matter as much, as long as you get one — especially this year.
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said that in a worst-case scenario, the flu could hospitalize as many as 560,000 people in the U.S. this year and kill as many as 63,000.
Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans: Don’t skip your flu shot this fall.
And for the first time, seniors are urged to get a special extra-strength kind. There’s no way to predict how bad this flu season will be, according to the Associated Press.
Australia just emerged from a nasty one. In the U.S., annual flu vaccinations are recommended starting with 6-month-olds. Because older adults don’t respond as well, the U.S. now recommends they get one of three types made with higher doses or an immune-boosting ingredient.
Meanwhile, the companies that make the two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines are now testing flu shots made with the same technology.
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