Friday, September 03, 2021

75.7 acres in Iowa sells for $22,600 an acre to an investor who will rent it to a farmer; that's becoming more common

Grundy County, Iowa (Wikipedia map)
The market outlook for high-quality farmland, already hot, got a little hotter last week when 75.7 acres in Iowa sold for just over $1.7 million, a state-record $22,600 an acre.

The land is in Grundy County, where land sales are "extremely competitive," competitive, Cody Skinner of Iowa Land Co. told Bill Spiegel of Successful Farming. The tract has high-quality soil, a low erosion factor and has a corn suitability rating of 90.6 on a scale of 100. And it has a wind-energy tower with an annual easement payment: $21,122 next year and "increasing 2% per year through 2044, when the final payment is $36,363.01," Speigel reports. A 25-year extension is possible.

The land was sold at auction for a living trust, and Skinner said he did the usual promotion, but "never before has Iowa Land Co. received so much interest in a farm," Spiegel reports. “We were blown away,” Skinner told him. “We had interest from Connecticut to California, and bidders from a dozen states.” Thirty bidders registered, and three or four local farmers bid until the price reached $20,000 per acre. "Thereafter another three to four non-farmers resumed bidding until the gavel dropped at $22,600," Spiegel reports. "A farmer-investor from the Cedar Rapids area won the bid, using a 1031 exchange, a tax device that delays recognition of capital gains through exchanges of certain types of property. "He plans to rent the farm to a local farmer, Skinner says."

"More potential sellers are calling Iowa Land Co. to test the market," Spiegel reports. "Pent-up demand and strong commodity prices are fueling demand by farmers; meanwhile, more investors are also interested in buying farmland." Skinner said, “In the last year we’ve seen more investors becoming buyers than anytime before. People are pulling money out of the stock market to invest in something tangible like farmland. Where we used to see 80% local buyers, anymore it’s 50/50, farmers and investors.”

Study: W.Va. mining cuts aquatic species biodiversity by 40%, with some loss even in streams meeting EPA rules

Map from study, adapted by The Rural Blog; click on it to enlarge.
Appalachian streams are some of the most biologically diverse in the world, home to many species that can't be found anywhere else on Earth (like the hellbender salamander, for example). But surface mining threatens that diversity as downstream pollution hurts or destroys many species' habitats, according to a newly published study in the journal Ecological Applications.

A Duke University team led by Marie Simonin of France's National Research Institute for Agriculture examined 93 streams in southern West Virginia and found a clear link between coal mining and species loss: streams in heavily mined watersheds have 40 percent fewer species than streams with cleaner water. That includes fish, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, fungi, bacteria, and more. They were able to tell what species had vanished by collecting and comparing DNA from scraps left in the streams such as scales, skin and excrement.

Pollution threatens the hellbender.
 (Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
The study is significant not just for its findings but for its breadth; other studies have noted the link between surface mining and species loss, but this study looked at all species in the same streams at the same time.

The study highlighted another concern: Pollutants hurt aquatic species at much lower concentrations than previously known, since the team found significant diversity loss in streams whose pollution was still well within Environmental Protection Agency disturbance standards. Duke biology professor Emily Bernhardt, the senior author of the paper, summed it up in a recent interview about the study: "By the time you get to the EPA’s reference point, you've already lost most of the species you're going to lose."

Sackler family wins immunity from opioid lawsuits, but must give up Purdue Pharma ownership, pay $4.3 billion

"Members of the Sackler family who are at the center of the nation's deadly opioid crisis have won sweeping immunity from opioid lawsuits linked to their privately owned company Purdue Pharma and its OxyContin medication," Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio reports for NPR. "The deal grants 'releases' from liability for harm caused by OxyContin and other opioids to the Sacklers, hundreds of their associates, as well as their remaining empire of companies and trusts. In return, they have agreed to pay roughly $4.3 billion, while also forfeiting ownership of Purdue Pharma."

The Sacklers, who have earned at least $10 billion from opioid sales, will remain one of the wealthiest families in the world. They have admitted no wrongdoing and refused to explicitly apologize in court for their role leading the company, Mann reports: "The settlement has incensed opioid activists and many legal scholars, who describe the outcome as a miscarriage of justice." Several states have said they intend to appeal the ruling of U.S. District Judge Robert Drain.

Drain called the settlement, which he approved Wednesday in White Plains, N.Y., "a bitter result," and said he expected a larger settlement since he believes that "at least some of the Sackler parties have liability" for opioid Oxycontin claims, Mann reports. "The costs of further delay, he said, and the benefits of an agreement he described as 'remarkable' in its ability to help abate the epidemic, tilted toward approval," Jan Hoffman of The New York Times reports.

The Sacklers "are receiving protections that are typically given to companies that emerge from bankruptcy, but not necessarily to owners who, like the Sacklers, do not themselves file for bankruptcy," Hoffman reports, noting that the family will remain one of the richest in the nation. "While the settlement serves as a benchmark in the nationwide opioid litigation aimed at covering governments’ costs and compensating families, it also means that a full accounting of Purdue’s role in the epidemic will never unfold in open court. Purdue pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for drastically downplaying OxyContin’s addictive properties and, years later, for soliciting high-volume prescribers."

Nearly 500,000 Americans have died from opioid overdose in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quick hits: Meatpackers rely more on special-visa workers; pastor's book calls for different thinking about rural churches

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email

A pastor's new book challenges readers to change the way they think about rural churches: "Look at the assets of rural churches and encourage congregations to build on them on their own terms, not on the terms imposed by others." Read more here.

Prison populations have long been used to artificially bump up rural population counts (which increases their political power and sometimes brings in more state and federal spending). Before the 2020 census, only two states (Maryland and New York) outlawed the practice. But now seven other states have joined them. That could have big implications as state legislatures begin redrawing political maps. Read more here.

A new fall foliage prediction map will help you plan your leaf-peeping. Read more here.

"It's been a slow death": Guests on CBS's "60 Minutes" describe cutting ties with parents and siblings over QAnon conspiracy theories. Read more here.

Meatpacking plants have long relied on immigrant labor. Now, some are turning to foreign workers with visas. Read more here.

From his porch in rural Missouri, a Congressional aide is helping interpreters escape Afghanistan. Read more here.

The Agriculture Department is giving up to $200 million in pandemic assistance to timber harvesters and haulers. Read more here.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

New rural infections were 1/3 higher than urban last week

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Aug. 22-28
Daily Yonder map; click the map to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The new infection rate in rural counties was one-third higher than in urban counties last week, Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. The last time the rural rate was that much higher was in August 2020 (and remained that way for nearly the rest of the year). 

Rural counties saw 189,183 new infections over the week of Aug. 22-28, a 17 percent increase from the week before and the highest number since early January, the Yonder reports. Also last week: the 1,779 rural Americans who died from Covid-19 last week (an 18% increase over the week before) pushed the rural death toll over 100,000.

Click here for an interactive county-level map, regional analysis and charts from the Yonder.

Rural hospitals can't find enough nurses to fight Covid-19

Rural hospitals and clinics have had a hard time recruiting and keeping enough skilled workers for decades, but the pandemic has made it worse.

"Across the country, thousands of hospitals are overwhelmed with critically ill patients, prompting many overburdened nurses to change careers or retire early. The shortages are particularly dire in rural areas, rural health experts say, because of the aging workforce and population, smaller salaries and intense workload," Aallyah Wright reports for Stateline. "Rural health care leaders have begun offering sign-on bonuses and benefit packages to combat shortages during the pandemic. But they’ve found that even those perks aren’t enough to keep or attract skilled health professionals. Instead, they say, the focus needs to shift to boosting nursing school enrollment and getting workers into the field faster."

The problem is so dire that Nebraska hospitals are recruiting unvaccinated nurses, and one Kentucky hospital is so short-staffed that administrators are considering allowing infected but asymptomatic nurses to work in Covid-19 units. 

The pandemic is hitting rural areas—and their hospitals—especially hard because of lower vaccination rates. Some of that stems from lack of vaccine access, but mostly it's a function of vaccine resistance, Jill McKeon reports for PatientEngagementHIT.

Roundup: Study shows masks work; county map shows senior vax rate; Covid worse for unvaxed pregnant women

Screenshot of New York Times map shows full-vaccination rates by county; click image to enlarge.

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

Many senior citizens still aren't vaccinated, making the Delta variant surge deadlier. Though access is a problem for some seniors, many in rural areas are more likely to refuse the shots. The story has a county-level map showing the percentage of unvaccinated seniors in your county. Read more here.

A massive, randomized study confirmed that widespread use of surgical masks in a community limits the spread of the coronavirus. The study, which tracked more than 340,000 adults in rural Bangladesh, is by far the largest randomized study on the subject. Read more here.

Increasing vaccine mandates have spurred a cottage industry in fake vaccination cards. But selling or buying fake cards is a federal crime, this article warns, and some have already been charged. But local judges have a lot of latitude. Read more here.

Correctional officers are spreading the virus in prisons, especially those located near communities with high infection rates. Read more here.

Medical experts stress the importance of vaccination for pregnant women. Unvaccinated pregnant women who are infected with the coronavirus are 15 times more likely to die from Covid-19, 14 times more likely to get intubated, and 22 times more likely to have a preterm birth than vaccinated individuals. Read more here.

More than 220 children's hospitals nationwide are begging the Biden administration for help, saying that a surge of young Covid-19 patients has them at or near capacity, and they expect to see even more patients. Read more here.

The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is associated with an increased risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. But the side effect is rare and usually mild, and people are more likely to suffer from it if they get infected with the coronavirus, a new study found. Read more here.

Oklahoma nurses and doctors beg people to get vaccinated to help ease hospital overcrowding. "I have zipped up too many body bags," said one. Read more here.

A regenerative tissue engineer and a biomedical engineer give a short TED Talk explaining how the mRNA coronavirus vaccines were created so quickly. Watch the video here.

In a recent column, agricultural economists Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray give their perspective on rural vaccine resistance. The decision whether to vaccinate is not strictly a personal one, they write, since unvaccinated people are more likely to spread it to others. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, they write, "The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins." Read more here.

About 40% of Americans say they get coronavirus vax info from social media, but not many believe it's the best source

Pew Research Center chart; click on it to enlarge.

Social media is a notorious source of misinformation about the pandemic and vaccines. That adds significance to a new Pew Research Center survey showing that nearly 40 percent of Americans say social media is an important source for coronavirus vaccine news. Pew conducted the survey from July 26 to Aug. 8. Here's some of what they found:

  • Women and younger Americans are more likely than men and older Americans to say they get coronavirus vaccine news and information on social media; younger Americans and women are more likely to be on social media in the first place.
  • About half of the respondents said they get news and information about vaccines from social media: 30% said they get "some" and 18% said they get "a lot."
  • The other 51% say they've gotten little or no vaccine news or information from social media.
  • Though half the respondents get at least some vaccine news from social media, only a few (6%) believe it's the best way.
  • Another 33% said it's an important way, 29% said it's not an important way, and 31% said they don't get any vaccine news on social media.
  • Respondents who say social media is an important source of vaccine information are more likely to regularly rely on social media for news in general.
  • Only 4% of respondents said they regularly get general news from Snapchat, and 11% said the same about Instagram. But 85% of people who regularly get news from those platforms say they get a lot or some information about the vaccine there too.
  • 31% of respondents said they regularly get general news from Facebook, and 82% of that group say they're getting vaccine news there too.

Extreme weather events have left some towns in eastern North Carolina struggling, and fearing for their futures

Fair Bluff, N.C., can't afford to buy and demolish such ruined buildings.
(Photo by Mike Belleme, The New York Times)
"Climate shocks are pushing small rural communities . . . many of which were already struggling economically, to the brink of insolvency," Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times. Rather than bouncing back, places hit repeatedly by hurricanes, floods and wildfires are unraveling: residents and employers leave, the tax base shrinks and it becomes even harder to fund basic services. That downward spiral now threatens low-income communities in the path this week of Hurricane Ida and those hit by the recent flooding in Tennessee — hamlets regularly pummeled by storms that are growing more frequent and destructive because of climate change." (Not all are hamlets.)

Downtown Fair Bluff (Photo by The News Reporter, Whiteville)
Flavelle's object example is Fair Bluff, N.C.: "The town’s only factory, which made vinyl products, closed a few months after Matthew. The population of around 1,000 fell by about half. The federal government tried to help, buying the homes of people who wanted to leave, but those buyouts meant even less property tax, tightening the fiscal noose. Al Leonard, the town manager, who is responsible for its recovery, said his own job may have to be eliminated, and maybe the police department, too."

The city has received money from several sources for recovery, but it has a bigger plan, Flavelle reports: "Buy the ruined stores downtown, tear them down, clean up the land and turn it into a park that can flood safely. Build a new downtown a few blocks east on land is less likely to flood. Rebuild, revive and regain what has been lost. But the town can’t afford any of it." The price tag: $10 million. Leonard told him, “Fair Bluff’s recovery will go as far as someone else’s money will take us.”

Such money is usually federal, and the federal government lacks a coordinated approach, Flavelle reports: "In 2016, the Obama administration set up a working group among agencies that handle disaster policy and recovery, including FEMA, HUD and the Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to devise a coordinated approach for what experts call managed retreat — relocating entire communities from areas that can’t be protected. But that work stopped under President Donald J. Trump and hasn’t resumed. Instead, agencies continue to pursue their own programs, even if they conflict with each other." As examples, he cites the troubles of nearby towns, Princeville and Seven Springs, and reports the sad calculus: "With each flood, more people leave. The tax base shrinks. Those who stay lose the will to improve their properties, knowing that they’ll likely flood again."

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

States and localities may have to give back emergency rent aid if they don't start distributing more of it; only 11% so far

Estimated percentage of renting households in arrears, June 23 to July 5, based on Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Surgo Ventures map; click the image to enlarge, or click here for an interactive version.

Nearly 6.2 million households owed $16.8 billion in back rent in August, according to The National Equity Atlas. Congress authorized $46.5 billion in emergency pandemic rent aid, but state and local programs have only distributed 11 percent of that to renters facing eviction. If they don't start disbursing more aid soon, some agencies may have to give money to areas doing a better job.

"The Biden administration put grantees on notice through new guidance issued Wednesday that the Treasury Department is prepared to claw back unspent funds and reallocate the money to other jurisdictions," Andrea Noble reports for Route Fifty. "If grantees, including state and local governments, have not dispersed their first round of allocated funds by Sept. 30, the department is required to 'recapture excess funds that have not been obligated … and reallocate those resources to high-performing jurisdictions that have obligated at least 65% of their original allocation.'"

Half the emergency assistance was distributed to state and local governments in December and the second half in March. "Only about $5 billion of the first tranche of funding has been spent, according to Treasury Department data detailing payments through the end of July," Noble reports. "The pace at which money is being distributed to renters hasn’t drastically improved over the summer, even as the nationwide eviction moratorium expired and was replaced by a new moratorium that covers only some jurisdictions with high rates of coronavirus transmission."

The Treasury's new guidance included recommendations for how to speed up aid distribution. That includes streamline the application process by dropping documentation requirements that have significantly slowed things down. Applicants can self-attest to some things such as financial hardship, risk of homelessness or household income when documentation isn't available, the Treasury recommended. "The guidance also indicates that state and local grant programs can provide advance bulk rental assistance payments to large landlords and utility providers based on an estimated amount of eligible debt," Noble reports. "In addition, the guidance allows state and local programs to partner with nonprofits to provide assistance to renter households at risk of eviction while their applications are being processed."

Sources: Trump EPA quashed report linking leukemia and formaldehyde, used in farming, factories and buildings

In 2017 the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump suppressed a report that, using updated calculations, showed formaldehyde causes myeloid leukemia, according to several sources. The Integrated Risk Information System division's report could have big repercussions on public health if the Biden administration allows it to be finalized, Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept.

Millions of workers each year are exposed to formaldehyde through construction, firefighting, agriculture, manufacturing and more. Because the chemical is so commonly used, a "wide range" of business lobbies have pressured EPA not to finalize the assessment, Lerner reports. EPA refused to release the report following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, saying in court that the assessment wasn't complete or ready to be shared publicly. But that's not true, former EPA officials told The Intercept. The report was ready to go in early 2018, but former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler and others would not allow it to be published, they said.

Wheeler's office exhibited an unusual amount of interest in the report while the researchers were working on it, and shared it with the American Chemistry Council, the sources said. The trade group then sought to preemptively discredit the research before it had been published.

The EPA regulates formaldehyde using outdated calculations. The assessment with new calculations "concludes that 1 microgram of formaldehyde in a cubic meter of air increases the number of myeloid leukemia cases by roughly 3.5 in 100,000 people, more than three times the cancer risk in the assessment now in use. If the nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukemia risks are combined, the cancer risk could be 4.5 times higher than the current value," Lerner reports. "Even using the much lower, outdated cancer risk number set in 1991, formaldehyde is already the greatest source of nationwide cancer risk from industrial air pollutants, estimated to cause roughly 18 of the 32 cancers in every 1 million people in the U.S. that are caused by toxic pollutants in the air, according to the EPA’s own data. If the risk values are increased by a factor of four or more, the reported cancer risk from formaldehyde will go up accordingly, revealing previously unrecognized cancer hot spots around the country."

National parks put up 'selfie stands' to help manage crowds wanting to get that perfect photograph of their visit

Selfie stand in Iowa's Black Hawk County
Parks are so overrun this summer that crowd control has become a major issue for the National Park Service. Some parks "are using counterintuitive tricks like encouraging selfies in one place to prevent them in another, and they are rolling out algorithms and autonomous vehicles to manage the throngs of recreation-seekers," Katharine Gammon of The Guardian reports. Park officials "are also acknowledging a hard truth: perhaps there simply isn’t enough space at America’s most iconic attractions for everyone who wants to visit them."

One major challenge is "the many visitors all aiming to get the perfect photograph, Gammon reports. "At popular spots in Yosemite and near the Grand Canyon, some have even fallen to their deaths in the process. . . . Enter the selfie station: a humble wooden stand in front of a stunning vista, ready to hold a camera for a safe and easy photo experience. They are part of an effort to corral people’s natural desire to take photos and to promote less-well-known areas."

State parks are doing likewise. "Tom Hazelton, who leads Iowa’s County Conservation System, has overseen the installation of more than a hundred selfie stations in his state" in the last three years, Gammon reports. “They are getting used and they are low maintenance and easy to build; the signs are $30 and the wood is another $60, and there you go.”

USDA nutrition spending hit all-time high in fiscal 2020; hunger at pandemic low; webinar on food insecurity Sept. 8

Here's the latest on hunger and nutrition assistance programs:

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will host a one-hour webinar at 1 p.m. ET Sept. 8 to discuss USDA's annual report on food insecurity in the U.S., which will come out that day. The report covers changes in food insecurity from previous years, the prevalence of food insecurity by household demographics, and food insecurity among children. ERS social-science analyst Alisha Coleman-Jensen will host. Click here for more information or to register.

"After cresting at 13.7 percent at the end of 2020, the U.S. hunger rate is now the lowest, 7.8 percent, since the pandemic began in early 2020. Analysts say the expanded child tax credit, coronavirus relief programs and rebound from recession all helped," Chuck Abbott reports for The Food & Environment Reporting Network. That's according to a data analysis of the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Spending on USDA's domestic food and nutrition assistance programs in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2020, reached an all-time high of $122.1 billion, 32 percent higher than FY 2019. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which rural residents use disproportionately, accounted for 65% of the spending. About 40 million Americans participated in SNAP each month, up 12%. Read more here.

Rural hospitals need telehealth most but often don't have it

Rural hospitals are the most likely to benefit from telemedicine, especially for emergency patients, but they're the least likely to have it because of government reimbursement barriers and low patient volume, according to a study report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers used telestroke care as a case study. Stroke patients must receive treatment very quickly, and often there is not enough time to transfer them to a larger hospital that has stroke specialists. Through telestroke, small, rural hospitals can initiate care for such patients, but they are less likely to have telehealth than larger, suburban hospitals, and the inequity may contribute to worse conditions and more deaths among rural patients.

The cost of implementing telehealth is a significant barrier for rural hospitals; it can cost from $17,000 to $50,000. Plus, hospitals must pay an average of $60,000 for annual subscription fees, and $3,000 to $8,000 per year in maintenance and connectivity expenses. And many such hospitals don't get enough patients who need telehealth to cover the costs of the service. And dealing with the reimbursements—which are often insufficient—is a bureaucratic headache many hospitals would rather avoid. 

The researchers suggest some changes that could help increase telehealth adoption in rural emergency departments. For instance, EDs pay for telemedicine, but the reimbursement typically goes to the remote specialist who treats the patient via telehealth. EDs can bill consultants for the hospital's telehealth subscription expenses, but it's such a cumbersome process that most EDs just eat the cost and write it off as overhead. Instead, the paper suggests, payers could reimburse the hospital directly for telehealth-related costs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Federal judge tosses out Trump administration's definition of 'waters of the United States' supported by farmers

"A federal judge Monday threw out a major Trump administration rule that scaled back federal protections for streams, marshes and wetlands across the United States, reversing one of the previous administration’s most significant environmental rollbacks,' Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report for The Washington Post. "District Judge Rosemary Márquez wrote that Trump officials committed serious errors while writing the regulation, finalized last year, and that leaving it in place could lead to 'serious environmental harm'."

In 2015, President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency defined intermittent and seasonal waterways as "waters of the United States" that are subject to regulation under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Business and farming groups said the rule was too vague and restrictive and states were better positioned to regulate their waters. But the EPA's scientific advisory board (most of whom were handpicked by the Trump administration) said the administration's change conflicted with established science and the objectives of the law.

"Márquez, a Barack Obama appointee, noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees permits to dredge and fill waterways under federal jurisdiction, determined that three-quarters of the water bodies it reviewed over a nearly 10-month period did not qualify for federal protection under the new rule," Grandoni and Dennis report. "Federal agencies identified 333 projects that would have required a review under the Obama rule, she added, but did not merit one under the Trump standards."

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the organization is "extremely disappointed," and the ruling "casts uncertainty over farmers and ranchers across the country and threatens the progress they’ve made to responsibly manage water and natural resources."

Rural health-care workers are less likely to get coronavirus vaccinations; more employers could impose mandates

Health-care worker vaccination rate by residence typeCovid States Project graph; click on the image to enlarge it.

Rural health-care workers are less opposed to the coronavirus vaccine than they were a few months ago, but they're still less likely than their suburban and urban peers to be fully vaccinated, according to a new study from The Covid States Project.

Health-care workers across the board are more likely to be vaccinated than the general public, but rural workers are less likely than their suburban and urban peers. Only 63 percent of rural health-care workers are vaccinated, compared to 74% of suburban and 75% of urban health-care workers, the study found.

Vaccine resistance among rural health-care workers is at 25%, down from 32% in March. Health-care workers in all of the most vaccine-resistant demographics became more receptive to the vaccine between March and June, including rural, Republican, female, non-college-educated, White, Black, and those that make under $25,000 in a year.
Health-care worker vaccine preferences by rurality. Covid States Project graph; click the image to enlarge it.

But, though vaccine resistance has decreased in recent months, it's still a significant issue among health-care workers. "These numbers showing that healthcare workers are 27% unvaccinated and 15% vaccine resistant suggest that, absent mandates, most of the currently unvaccinated healthcare workers will remain unvaccinated, potentially fueling outbreaks in healthcare facilities," the researchers write. "Given the current surge of cases due to the Delta variant, this will continue to put pressure on health care providers to mandate vaccination for their staff."

The Covid States Project is a joint effort of Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities. It receives support from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and Amazon.

News consumers, bummed and burned, tune out; get them back with journalism that offers solutions to problems

With so much depressing news these days, it's little surprise that many people avoid the news altogether. "Almost a third of people surveyed worldwide for the Reuters Digital News Report said they 'often or sometimes' avoid the news," Christine Schmidt reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab. "The leading cause for Americans avoiding news in 2017 was 'It can have a negative effect on my mood' (57%) and 'I can’t rely on news to be true' (35%). Basically, we are bumming — and burning — people out."

Nieman Lab founder Joshua Benton recently shared quotes from Americans on why they avoid news and said it's clear that, when journalists write about big problems, they should also present potential solutions. 

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Media Engagement analyzed how solutions journalism can best do this. They recommend including five specific elements in such articles:
  • Problem: The causes and symptoms of the issue
  • Solution: The replicable ideas tied to solving the problem
  • Implementation: The how-to details of putting the solution into action
  • Results: The progress, data-based or anecdotal, that has been made in working toward a solution
  • Insights: The teachable, big-picture lessons that can be learned beyond one particular solution or situation

News media roundup: NNA creates training program to help community newspapers use Postal Service more effectively

Max Heath
The National Newspaper Association Foundation has created the Max Heath Postal Institute to train newspapers and printers for best uses of the mail in a rapidly changing postal environment. It recognizes the work of Max Heath, who died in July and was an expert on newspapers and the mail. Its first program is set for Oct. 21 with a U.S. Postal Service presentation, “Liberating your Newspaper from Costly Address Change Notices.” NNAF has a donation link for those who want to support the institute.

After cutting print days, the locally owned Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., is buying a new printing press. Read more here.

New inductees to the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame include media executive Lloyd Ballagen and former small-town newspaper owner Joel Klaassen. Ballagen, who died in 2020, was the CEO and board chairman of Hutchinson, Kansas-based Harris Enterprises, which operated a dozen newspapers and 13 radio stations in seven states. Klaassen is the former owner of the Hillsboro Free Press. The inductees will be honored in an Oct. 9 ceremony. Read more here.

"After selling the Helena World in 2019, The Pine Bluff Commercial in 2020 and the Hot Springs Village Voice this year, The Gannett Co. has sold its longest-held Arkansas newspaper, the Baxter Bulletin of Mountain Home," Kyle Massey reports for Arkansas Business.

The American Press Institute surveyed news publishers on how they retain subscribers. Here are some of their proven tactics. Read more here.

If you know someone who's taking, or thinking about taking, horse dewormer for Covid-19, pass this along to them

Cartoon by Nick Anderson
Demand is surging nationwide for ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug typically used for livestock, based on unsubstantiated claims that it can help Covid-19 patients. How bad is it? A Las Vegas-area feed store is requiring customers to show a picture of themselves with their horse before they can buy it, and the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have warned against using it to treat Covid-19.

This didn't start with ivermectin. It's largely a function of trust, or lack of it: in government, in science, and in the "elites" believed to control both. When Donald Trump, whom supporters saw as an outsider, cast doubt on top scientists from the beginning of the pandemic, it set the stage for supporters to doubt them when vaccines were released. Trump also advocated for untested Covid therapeutics such as hydroxychloroquine and publicly floated the notion of injecting disinfectants into the body to "clean" the lungs. Some followers listened; hydroxychloroquine prescriptions shot up 900% in 2020, leading to shortages for patients with autoimmune disease. And the day after Trump retweeted a viral video from America's Frontline Doctors claiming hydroxychloroquine cured Covid-19, poison-control centers in many states saw a significant rise in calls from people who had ingested bleach, Lysol and other household cleaners.

Part of the appeal of HCQ and ivermectin is that both drugs have already been FDA-approved and have been long in use to fight other human diseases. Ivermectin is used to treat parasites in animals and humans, but has a long history of being promoted as a panacea for everything from AIDS to autism. Last summer it became popular in Latin America and India for Covid treatment, mostly because doctors didn't have access to a vaccine and believed an experimental treatment was better than nothing.

But the science is inconclusive at best, and leading scientific bodies have said so. The studies ivermectin fans often cite are either far too limited in scale to draw conclusions (which the studies' authors acknowledged), or say ivermectin only shows a therapeutic effect at toxic doses, or are ethically suspect. One study was yanked from a peer-reviewed journal almost immediately because the paper contained unsubstantiated claims and promoted the authors' own ivermectin treatment.

In some cases, courts have forced hospitals to allow Covid-19 patients receive ivermectin. Why not just let them take it? It's not necessarily safe, for one thing: Some people are experiencing violent diarrhea and other side effects from taking it, especially those using the over-the-counter version meant for animals. And putting one's faith in ivermectin may dissuade people from seeking other experimental but approved treatments for Covid-19, such as monoclonal antibodies.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent of The Washington Post explains "How right-wing media and social isolation lead people to eat horse paste," which tastes awful.

Pandemic roundup: Rural hospitals in low-vaccination areas are filling up; doctor-patient talks become more urgent

Vaccination rates as of Aug. 26, compared to the national average, adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version.
Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

Nearly 300,000 rural Americans completed their coronavirus vaccinations last week, the largest single-week gain since mid-July, The Daily Yonder reports. New weekly rural vaccinations have climbed by more than two-thirds in the past three weeks, indicating that concerns about the Delta variant are driving up vaccination rates. Read more here.

In Alabama, where rates are low and Covid-19 patients are filling hospital beds statewide, rural doctors' efforts to persuade patients to get vaccinated assume even greater importance. Read more here.

Some vaccine skeptics have claimed that many doctors secretly oppose coronavirus vaccinations. So a health journalist spoke to more than 200 health care providers, epidemiologists, and public-health officials from all over America and offered them anonymity so they could speak freely. All 203 of them supported coronavirus vaccination. Read more here.

Rural hospitals, pushed to the limits by the Delta variant surge, face delays in providing treatment and doing surgeries. The article is about Oregon, but it's happening across the country. Read more here.

Many rural hospitals and morgues in low-vaccination areas of rural California are filled past capacity. Read more here.

A rural Kansas man is one of many patients nationwide who have died waiting for an intensive-care bed because of the surge in Covid-19 patients. Rob Van Pelt, 44, went into cardiac arrest while under light sedation for a routine procedure. He was stabilized and flown to the nearest emergency hospital with a cardiac team. He died after three days, still waiting for a bed. Read more here.

A similar case: a Purple Heart combat veteran from rural Texas died from gallstone pancreatitis because his small local hospital couldn't find an ICU bed at a larger hospital for him. Read more here.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said people in his state tend to be less worried about the pandemic because they're Christians who believe in eternal life. Read more here.

An unvaccinated rural pastor who almost died from Covid-19 now preaches about the importance of getting vaccinated. Danny Reeves of Corsicana, Texas, says he's not anti-vaccine, and had encouraged vulnerable people to get vaccinated, but because he's in his 40s and generally healthy, he thought it wouldn't be a big deal if he got infected. "In that I was deeply, deeply wrong," Reeves told NPR. "I was falsely and erroneously overconfident." Read more here.

A religion researcher who grew up in rural Texas discusses the role politics and evangelical Christianity can play in vaccine refusal. Read more here.

When Covid deaths are dismissed or stigmatized, grief is mixed with shame and anger. Read more here.

A new study shows that more than a quarter of small businesses require employees to get vaccinated and wear masks, and about the same percentage require customers to wear masks. Small businesses make up the majority of jobs in rural America. Some rural small-business owners can face backlash over masking requirements. Read more here.

An anti-mask organizer in Texas has died from Covid-19. Read more here.

The Delta variant surge in Florida serves as a cautionary tale, showing that—even in states that have prioritized vaccination—the pandemic can run rampant when other measures are not implemented, such as mask mandates, social distancing, and school and/or business shutdowns. Read more here.

Covid has shut down a Texas oil town 100 miles from the nearest intensive-care beds. Read more here.

Fact check: Widely shared social media posts that claim Dr. Anthony Fauci said in 2005 that hydroxychloroquine could effectively treat novel coronavirus infections are false. Read more here.

Covid-19 cases are rising in nursing homes across the nation. Read more here.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that American opinions about pandemic restrictions are largely split along political lines—more so than in any other country surveyed. Read more here.

Many vaccine holdouts said they'd be more likely to get vaccinated if the Food and Drug Administration approved it. But now that the Pfizer vaccine has been FDA approved, many people are moving the goalposts rather than get vaccinated. That demonstrates the necessity of vaccine mandates, said one infectious-disease expert. Read more here.

Vaccines prevented fewer infections as the Delta variant surged, but they remained effective at keeping people out of hospitals, researchers have found. Read more here.

Conspiracy theorists falsely claim that the FDA didn't really fully authorize the Pfizer vaccine. Essentially, they say that the Pfizer vaccine that has been in use for months isn't the same as the Pfizer vaccine that will be marketed under the name Comirnaty (not true; they're identical), and that the FDA has engaged in a bait-and-switch: the agency fully approved Comirnaty, they say, but only extended the emergency-use authorization for the vaccine that has been in use for months. They suggest that full authorization was simply a pretext for mandating the emergency-use version (again, they're the same vaccine), and others have wrongly claimed that a "real" full authorization would automatically void the emergency-use authorization of the vaccine that has been in use. Read more here.

Half of hospitalized Covid patients had lingering symptoms one year later, a recent study has found. Read more here.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Pandemic roundup on children and parents: Concerns are greater in rural areas; religion and politics are factors

Chart by The Covid States Project; click the image to enlarge it or here for the original version.
Here's a roundup of pandemic news related to parents, kids and schools:

Rural parents are more concerned about coronavirus vaccinations than their suburban and urban peers, according to a recent survey from The Covid States Project, a joint effort of Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities. The study found that rural parents shared the same concerns as parents in cities and suburbs, but to greater degrees. They were 10 percentage points more likely than urban parents to say they were concerned that the vaccines have been tested enough (58% to 48%), nine points more likely to wonder whether the vaccines actually work (51% vs. 42%) and what long-term health effects they might cause (56% vs. 47%), and eight points more likely say they were concerned about how new the vaccine is (52% to 44%).

A rural Eastern Kentucky couple's worries about coronavirus vaccination help illustrate the Covid States Project's findings. Josh Stacy told Brandon Roberts of Spectrum News that government mistrust is a big reason he doesn't want the vaccination for himself, his wife Tomi, or their two daughters, ages 13 and 5. He also cited his Christian beliefs, saying that he doesn't think the vaccination itself is the Mark of the Beast, but believes it "can lead to that." He believes the virus is man-made and believes the government and elites want to use it as population control, and says his doubts about the vaccine have intensified as he's watched his fully vaccinated mother and stepfather battle Covid-19.

Governors in several states have barred schools from enacting mask mandates; as kids head back to school, many parents in those states—including some in rural areas—are protesting, filing suit, and signing petitions in an effort to allow schools control over their own masking policies. Read more here.

16- and 17-year-olds are the age group with the highest rate of new coronavirus infections, according to the CDC. Read more here.

Several rural Kentucky school districts have shut down because of spiking Covid-19 cases, but students won't be able to learn at home much because the state legislature recently passed a law limiting remote learning. Superintendents say they're worried the kids will have to make up the days over spring break and in summer. Read more here.

Children's hospitals around the country are seeing a surge in Covid-19 patients. Read more here.

No coronavirus vaccine has been approved for kids under age 12. This article explains the various regulatory and logistical hurdles that will need to be cleared before that happens. Read more here.

Here's an illustration of how infectious the Delta variant is, and how important it is for all parties to wear masks: A California elementary school teacher who didn't know she was infected took off her mask during story time. Though the desks were distanced from each other and masks were required indoors, half of her class tested positive in the next week—nearly all of them in the two rows closest to her desk. Read more here.

"Since March 2020, the federal government has provided $190 billion in pandemic aid to schools, an amount that is more than four times what the U.S. Education Department spends on K-12 schools in a typical year," Bryan Anderson reports for The Associated Press and Report for America. That includes about $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools. Some rural schools are using the money to beef up their tech capabilities so students will be better able to learn at home during pandemic shutdowns. Read more here.

Extreme weather roundup: Drought drives up feed prices, pinching cattle farmers; heat endangers farmworkers

Here's a roundup of extreme weather across the nation, from hurricanes to wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat:

Drought is crushing ranchers in North Dakota. Farmers can't grow enough feed, so they're selling off their cattle before the animals starve. Read more here.

Hundreds of farmworkers across the U.S. have died from heat over the past few decades, but there are no federal rules protecting them. Read more here.

U.S. dairy farms grapple with high feed prices amid the drought. Read more here.

Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast, causing widespread power outages and some rural hospitals to evacuate their critical patients to large hospitals—a difficult task when most large hospitals in the region are already overcrowded with Covid-19 patients. Read more here.

For households displaced by floods in New York state, the rural housing shortage poses problems. Read more here.

All residents on the California side of southern Lake Tahoe are ordered to evacuate as a huge wildfire approaches. Read more here.

Wildfire smoke has clouded summers for kids who are breathing in wildfire smoke, sometimes from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Read more here.

For residents of Paradise, Calif., the still-raging Dixie Fire serves as a constant reminder of the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed their town. Townspeople are implementing an ambitious plan to identify the properties at the highest risk of burning and, if the owners are willing, buying the properties and turning them into fire-resistant green spaces. Read more here.

As temperatures rise, so do the health risks for California's farmworkers. Read more here.

California is the nation's top almond producer, but the drought is taking a toll on the industry. Read more here.

Wildfire smoke could threaten West Coast wines; grape growers are scrambling to protect their vineyards. Read more here.

The megadrought has prompted water cuts for farmers and residents; it's also setting the stage for bitter legal and political fights from conservationists who want to keep waterways wet to protect fish habitats. Read more here.

Conservation groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over a plan to log some trees that burned down in an Oregon wildfire last year. The groups say an environmental study should be done first to make sure the logging doesn't cause flooding and doesn't hurt nearby rivers or endangered species. It's far from the first time conservationists have clashed with government officials over post-wildfire logging. Read more here.

Local reporter pushed and punched several times while covering anti-mask, anti-vaccine rally in Traverse City, Mich.

Brandon Quealy
The Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office in Michigan is investigating a complaint that a Traverse City Record-Eagle reporter was punched in the face while attempting to cover an anti-mask, anti-vaccine rally last week, Mardi Link reports for the Record-Eagle.

The incident happened when reporter Brendan Quealy went to a public park in a nearby township Thursday to cover an event organized by Citizens Liberating Michigan. The group opposes masking and vaccine mandates, and announced the event after the local school board voted to require masking for all K-12 students and staff through Sept. 27, Link reports.

After Quealy began recording audio of the event with his cellphone, an event organizer, Heather Cerone, told him they did not authorize recording of the event, and claimed it was on private property because they rented the park pavilion. She directed people to stand in front of Quealy to prevent him from seeing what was going on, Link reports. Quealy told investigators that two men approached him and told him to leave, pushed him, and one of the men pushed him into a wooden fence and punched him in the face with both fists.

Traverse City (Wikipedia map)

The county prosecutor told Link that, though a pavilion may be rented for a private function, other people—including reporters—have the right to be in areas surrounding the pavilion, and event holders must accept that the pavilion is open-air and that their events may be seen and heard by others.

Sheriff Tom Bensley told the Record-Eagle that some people "are not happy with the news outlets," and said this was the second anti-news media incident he's seen recently. The first incident happened in May, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited rural Leelanau County. Sheriff's deputies arrested a man after a local television news crew recorded him trying to destroy a microphone and spitting at the camera, Link reports.

Farm income forecast due Thursday; online event at 1 ET

The Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service will release its second Farm Income Forecast for 2021 on Thursday, Sept. 2. That same day at 1 p.m. ET, USDA economist Carrie Litkowski will host a free, one-hour webinar to discuss the contents of the report. Click here to register for the webinar.

The most recently published farm income forecast, released in February, predicted that net farm income would drop $9.8 billion to $111.4 billion in 2021. Though cash receipts were expected to increase in 2021, lower direct government farm payments were predicted to drive most of the decline in net income measurements. Higher production expenses, including spending on feed, fertilizer and labor, was also expected to contribute to the decline in net income. That's particularly significant as drought drives up feed prices.

The forecast is updated three times a year, usually in February, August and November. From the webinar page: "These core statistical indicators provide guidance to policymakers, lenders, commodity organizations, farmers, and others interested in the financial status of the farm economy. ERS' farm income statistics also inform the computation of agriculture's contribution to the U.S. economy's gross domestic product."