Daily Digest: May 7, 2021
On Feb. 8, Olivia Messer quit what she calls her “dream job”—she left The Daily Beast, where she was working as the lead COVID-19 reporter.
“When I announced my decision on February 8, I just barely mustered the courage to be honest about it,” she writes in a piece that was published yesterday by Study Hall, “a media newsletter and online support network for media workers,” according to the website.
Messer continues: “While I’m tempted to be vague about my departure, I also believe it’s important to acknowledge the profound exhaustion, loss, grief, burnout, and trauma of the past year covering—and living in—a mass casualty event that has changed all of our lives,” I tweeted at the time. “For now, I must take a break. I know exactly how rare it is to have a support system and circumstance that enables me to acknowledge—and then act on—that fact.“
It had been clear for months that many of us were struggling. Still, the isolation of the pandemic had me convinced that my experience of drowning was unique, and that maybe I just couldn’t handle a hard job. But in response to those tweets, a chorus of reporters and editors—in public, via Twitter DM, and by email—chimed in to offer solidarity and to say they felt the same way. I heard the same things from TV, newspaper, and digital journalists, in Austin and New York, at outlets ranging from conservative-leaning to mainstream to liberal.
While regular readers of the digest know that I had—and have—mental-health struggles that were certainly revved up by the pandemic, I personally never felt like I was “falling apart,” as Messer put it. Nonetheless, there are parts of her story to which I can relate—this one in particular:
Shannon Palus, a senior editor at Slate covering science (and full disclosure, my longtime friend and roommate), said one of the most professionally and emotionally challenging parts of the pandemic for her has been the fact that even the basic science kept changing so rapidly. In February 2020, that uncertainty felt particularly acute.
“It’s my job to parse things for readers, and they just felt unparsable,” said Palus.
It didn’t help that relatively early on, the former president was routinely spouting misinformation about the virus and the CDC went almost completely silent, forcing reporters to take on a larger role in public health messaging.
That desire to parse the unparsable, and take a larger role in making sure readers were getting good, accurate info, is the whole reason this Daily Digest exists.
Anyway, I’m sharing and discussing Messer’s article here not because I want y’all to feel bad for journalists; I am sharing it because I know a lot of you out there can relate.
Now that elements of normalcy are beginning to return, a lot of us are starting to realize just how much the trials of the last 14 months hurt.
I’ll end with one last quote from Messer. Please, feel free to replace the journalism-specific portions with words that describe you. And if you find that you can relate, I beg you to heed her advice.
Whether you’re a newsroom leader or a reporter or an intern—even if you feel like you’re admitting defeat—please ask for help when you need it. That’s how I found solidarity and support.
From the Independent
Protecting the Furry Ones: La Quinta’s Alan Woodruff Works to Make Sure Animals Are Safe and Loved
By Cat Makino
May 6, 2021
Alan Woodruff’s AAARF is devoted to reuniting lost pets with their owners; finding homes for animals in danger of being euthanized; providing meals to animals […]
The Weekly Independent Comics Page for May 6, 2021!
May 6, 2021
Topics tackled on this week’s Independent comics page include free donuts, Netflix and unfortunately placed dog doo.
And Now, the News
• For the first time possibly since “California” has been a thing, the population shrunk last year—by about 182,000. What does this mean? Our partners at CalMatters say: “State forecasters stress that the factors that contributed to this population dip are unique to this period — and therefore temporary. In 2020 roughly 51,000 Californians died of COVID-19. Travel restrictions and fear of contagion also dramatically tamped down the number of new arrivals from abroad, the main source of the state’s population growth over the last decade. ‘Going forward, we anticipate that those two factors that tipped us temporarily into negative territory are going to change over the next few months,’ said Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer.”
• Economists were stunned by a much weaker than expected jobs report today, with just 266,000 jobs added. And what does THIS mean? The Washington Post explains: “One way to make sense of this weak jobs report is to do what Wall Street did and shrug it off as an anomaly. Stocks still rose Friday as investors saw this as a blip. They think there is just a lag in hiring and more people will return to work as they get vaccinated. And they point out oddball months have occurred before, especially with some weird quirks in the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustments. … But another way to look at this is there is a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy. It’s happening on a lot of different levels. At the most basic level, people are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school and day care full time. For example, all the job gains in April went to men. The number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000, a reminder that child-care issues are still in play.”
• Last week, I expressed concern in this space about a disturbing increase in the amount of SARS-CoV-2 detected in Palm Springs wastewater—and relief earlier this week that the levels had plummeted in tests taken one week later. Well, it turns out that the disturbing increase was not real. According to the revised lab report: “The previous week, the city reported a concerning spike in numbers of viral copies/L detected. The city also reached out to the lab to verify the results. GT Molecular did the tests again and it resulted in updated data. The good news is the new data seems to fall in line with the week before and the week after. The lab is reviewing their processes to determine … the root cause of the discrepancy.” In other words, the lab apparently made some sort of mistake. I refer you to the mention in this Daily Digest intro about “even the basic science … changing so rapidly.”
• The numbers of vaccines being administered in Riverside County continue to disconcertingly plummet. The Press-Enterprise reports: “As of April 25, the county administered 134,655 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in a week’s span. The number of doses put into arms in the seven days ending Tuesday, May 4, dropped to 99,611.”
• Pfizer has asked the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. Why is this important, when the shots already have emergency authorization? NBC News explains: “Full approval may … make vaccine mandates ‘a little more feasible,’ said John Grabenstein, a former executive director of medical affairs for vaccines at Merck and a former Department of Defense immunologist. An approval could help employers decide, for example, whether to require employees get vaccinated before going back into the workplace.”
• The MIT Technology Review reports that studies are under way regarding the effects of vaccine-mixing—in other words, you get a dose each of two different SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. Why is this important? “A handful of trials are now under way to test the power of vaccine combinations, with the first results due in later this month. If these mixed regimens prove safe and effective, countries will be able to keep the vaccine rollout moving even if supplies of one vaccine dwindle because of manufacturing delays, unforeseen shortages, or safety concerns. But there’s another, more exciting prospect that could be a vital part of our strategy in the future: mixing vaccines might lead to broader immunity and hamper the virus’ attempts to evade our immune systems. Eventually, a mix-and-match approach might be the best way to protect ourselves.”
• In other science news, MedPage Today quizzed various scientists about the future of the coronavirus—including current mutations, and possible future ones: “Researchers have had an unprecedented front-row seat to real-time viral evolution with SARS-CoV-2, which has achieved significant genetic diversity in the year that it’s been circulating widely. What have they learned about how closely it’s following traditional patterns of viral evolution, and what does that imply about its future?” This piece makes for quite an interesting read.
• California’s unemployment system continues to be a complete and utter debacle. The Mercury News (San Jose) reports: “California workers filed fewer unemployment claims last week—but the state’s labor agency is falling behind again in its uneven efforts to whittle down a mountain of backlogged jobless applications. … The backlog of unemployment claims that have yet to be paid or resolved by state labor officials remains at a mammoth level and totaled 1.08 million during the week that ended on May 1, a report from the Employment Development Department shows.” This is baffling and unacceptable.
• Pandemic problems in Japan are threatening the Summer Olympics yet again. According to Bloomberg News: “Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been determined to press ahead with the Tokyo Games, already delayed a year due to the pandemic, billing the sporting extravaganza as an opportunity to declare victory over the virus. Voters disagree. A survey by the Asahi newspaper last month found just 28% wanted the event to go ahead in July, while 34% wanted it postponed again and 35% wanted it canceled outright.” One factor: Bloomberg notes less than 2% of Japan’s population has been vaccinated.
• I returned to the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast as a guest this week. I joined hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about vacation rentals, travel and easing in to indoor restaurant dining, among other things. Check it out.
• There will be no fireworks show from the city of Palm Springs this year. KESQ notes: “The council voted 3-2 against having a fireworks show in the city, with Mayor Christy Holstege and Councilmember Grace Garner voting in favor. The city will still hold a holiday celebration, but now it’s a race against time to figure out exactly what that will look like.” The concerns over fireworks apparently did not have to do with the virus, but pollution and trauma to pets.
• The area has reached another reopening milestone: According to the folks at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: “The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will expand from five- to seven-day-a-week operations beginning Monday, May 10, with revised hours. … According to Tramway General Manager Nancy Nichols, ‘Since our reopening on February 18 after the COVID closure, we have operated on a reduced Thursday through Monday schedule. For the convenience and enjoyment of both local residents and our valley’s many visitors, we are delighted to be back to seven-day-a-week operations just in time for our summer season.’” Woo hoo!
• And finally … Time magazine ponders the various incentives companies, employers and even governments are offering to the vaccinated. A sampling: “West Virginia is offering $100 savings bonds to 16- to 35-year-olds who get vaccinated. Maryland will pay fully vaccinated state employees $100. Breweries participating in New Jersey’s ‘Shot and a Beer’ program are giving out free drinks to legal adults who get vaccinated in May. Connecticut and Washington, D.C., are also running free-drink promotions for the inoculated. The New York Yankees and Mets will reportedly offer free tickets to fans who get vaccinated at ballparks before games. Lawmakers in Harris County, Tex., approved a $250,000 budget for vaccine perks like gift cards and freebies. Detroit is handing out $50 prepaid debit cards to pre-registered individuals who drive a neighbor to a vaccine clinic. … But will a free drink or a $100 payment actually convince anyone to get vaccinated?“
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