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Coronavirus Files: COVID causes DACA delays; pediatricians recommend masks at school

Coronavirus Files: COVID causes DACA delays; pediatricians recommend masks at school

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Since April 2020, the Center for Health Journalism has been publishing a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your coverage. This week, The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Amber Dance, PhD. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at

Pandemic delays put Dreamers' status at risk

COVID-19 is partly to blame for a backlog of renewal applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, reports Claire Hansen at U.S. News & World Report. DACA status, which grants authorization to work in the U.S. and prevents deportation for more than 600,000 individuals who were brought to the nation illegally as children, requires renewal every two years. CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez reports that about 13,000 renewal applications have been pending for more than four months — forcing many Dreamers into unpaid leave or unemployment. This is happening as the program’s very existence hangs in the balance after a federal court ruled on July 16 that DACA was unlawful, though current recipients are not expected to be affected just yet. “This makes me feel like a second-class citizen,” hospital health aide William Cabeza Castilla told Miriam Jordan at The New York Times. Castilla, who came to the country at age 3, has been unable to work since June 20, with his renewal still pending.

Will masks be fall's must-have back-to-school accessory?

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued its recommendations for the upcoming school year last Monday: yes on in-person learning, and yes on masking, even for older kids who’ve been vaccinated. The latter point contradicts CDC guidelines, released earlier this summer, which say that those who’ve had their shots can forego face coverings at school. “The AAP said universal masking is necessary because much of the student population is not vaccinated, and it’s hard for schools to determine who is as new variants emerge that might spread more easily among children,” writes Elisha Fieldstadt at NBC News. (According to some models, the contagious delta variant — now accounting for 83% of U.S. cases — could lead to an autumn peak in cases just as kids reenter classrooms.)
The idea that vaccinated people of any age should still mask up is getting more attention as case rates reach their highest numbers since early May. Los Angeles County was the first county to reinstate its universal indoor masking mandate on July 18, despite the efficacy of vaccines against delta. The measure is in large part about enforcing masking as a social norm. “Officials suspect that unvaccinated people have stopped wearing masks in indoor public settings and businesses, even though they’re still required to do so,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
But telling vaccinated people to mask up can also undermine confidence in the vaccines, notes Olga Khazan, who breaks down the choice vaccinated individuals face at The Atlantic. Where case rates are high, it might be worth wearing a mask inside: It protects the wearer from rare but possible breakthrough infections, and should such a breakthrough occur, the mask reduces transmission to immunocompromised people and children. But then again, the likelihood a vaccinated, asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier transfers the virus to a vulnerable individual is “really low,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who added that he doesn’t always wear a mask when grocery shopping in his well-vaccinated town.


Full, nonemergency review in progress for Pfizer

The FDA accepted Pfizer’s application for full approval of its vaccine on July 16 with a “priority” designation that triggered a six-month review timeline. But acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock tweeted that the agency plans to complete its review “far in advance” of that deadline. Some say an approval can’t come fast enough. “It is the most discordant part of the U.S. government’s response to COVID-19,” writes David Leonhardt at The New York Times. The emergency authorization label makes some people hesitant about taking an experimental vaccine and makes it difficult for organizations to require students, employees or soldiers get vaccinated. But full approval, even if it comes quickly, may not solve the problem of vaccine hesitancy. If the process looks too hasty, some people won’t trust it, and others won’t be swayed no matter what the FDA does.
As for kids, the first set of large-scale trial results is expected to come from Pfizer in September, for ages 5 through 11. But an unnamed FDA source told Erika Edwards at NBC News that the agency will ask for four to six months of safety data in the children’s trials, compared to just two months for the adult emergency authorization. That may be overkill — experts told CNN’s Holly Yan that historically, serious vaccine side effects usually show up within two months.


Fox News in the hot seat as Republicans turn pro-vaccine

Misinformation on social media has been a pervasive problem throughout the pandemic, but it’s small potatoes compared to the impact of more traditional media, writes Gilad Edelman in Wired: “It is, in short, very hard to argue that any social network has anything close to the impact of Fox News and other conservative media on vaccine hesitancy.” Fox has been taking a beating from commentators recently for “sowing mistrust of the vaccines,” writes Jon Allsop for Columbia Journalism Review. Richard J. Tofel, president of ProPublica, lambasted Fox for its vaccine (and political) messaging in his weekly newsletter, urging Fox News Corp. employees to quit in protest. But the network’s pandemic coverage has shifted a bit recently. Banners pointing viewers to the government site have appeared and talking heads Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy recently made points about taking the virus seriously and the lifesaving nature of vaccines. At The Atlantic, David A. Graham writes, “The shift in tone among these high-profile voices is sharp and sudden enough to merit notice.”
Fox’s shift parallels the recent swelling of the pro-vaccine contingent in the Republican party as surging delta cases among unvaccinated Americans pose an increasingly serious threat. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise finally stopped stalling and got his own first dose this month, citing concerns about the delta variant. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, at his weekly press conference, encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and “ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”


From the Center for Health Journalism

2021 Data Fellowship
The 2021 Center for Health Journalism Data Fellowship (Oct. 25–29) is designed for skilled journalists who want to learn how to mine data sources to reveal key insights essential to high-impact journalism. Fellows receive five days of intensive training on data acquisition, cleaning, analysis and visualization, as well as an introduction to important data sets that can serve as the basis for groundbreaking journalism. Fellows receive a $2,000 grant plus six months of guidance from our expert data journalism mentors. Application deadline: September 1.
Learn more about the Fellowship at a free webinar on August 3, 11 a.m. PTSign up here.


What we're reading

  • “America is getting unvaccinated people all wrong,” by Ed Yong, The Atlantic
  • “States are sitting on millions of surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses as expiration dates approach,” by Olivia Goldhill, STAT
  • “Vaccine inequity: Inside the cutthroat race to secure doses,” by Lori Hinnant, Maria Cheng and Aniruddha Ghosal, AP
  • “Scarred by COVID, survivors and victims’ families aim to be a political force,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

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U.S. children and teens have struggled with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior for much of the past decade. Join us as we explore the systemic causes and policy failures that have accelerated the crisis and its inequitable impact, as well as promising community-driven approaches and evidence-based practices. The webinar will provide fresh ideas for reporting on the mental health of youth and investigating the systems and services. Sign-up here!

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