business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the US, the confirmed number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases as of this morning has reached 142,746, with 2,489 resultant deaths and 4,562 recoveries.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said yesterday that the number of deaths in the US could be between 100,000 and 200,000, and that it is conceivable there will be million s of cases in the US.

President Trump yesterday announced that he is extending federal guidance on social distancing that was scheduled to end today until April 30.  He said in a press conference that he hoped the country would reach “the bottom of the hill” by June 1,  but noted that it “could even be sooner, could be a little bit later.”  He added, "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won."

Globally, the number of coronavirus cases is 734,931, with 34,780 deaths and 155,950 recoveries.

•  The California Grocers Association (CGA) has launched what it calls "a consumer-facing program to educate consumers, media and elected officials regarding the need to not overbuy.  The campaign is entitled 'Shop Smart, Don’t Overfill Your Cart' and includes information packets for CGA members and elected officials.

"In the packets are sample press releases, and company email and website messaging for customers and constituents, along with social media messaging.  The campaign’s focus is to stress the need to not overbuy and that there is a plentiful food supply."

You can see more about it here.

•  CBS News reports that Publix Super Markets has announced that it is "offering rent relief packages" to businesses operating in shopping centers that it owns,  "which includes waiving rent for two months, as well as waiving payments for common area maintenance fees and taxes."

“As a company that started as a small business 90 years ago, Publix wants to help businesses renting from us survive the economic impact of these unexpected closures,” Publix Director of Communications Maria Brous said.

Compare Publix's laudable approach (and similar moves announced last week by Walmart) top those of a mall operator taking the opposite approach…

•  USA Today reports that Taubman Centers - the nation's 16th largest mall owner - is telling its tenants that regardless of whether they are able to open and operate their stores during the pandemic, the rent is due.  No excuses.

"All Tenants will be expected to meet their Lease obligations," the company said in a letter to its tenants, saying that it needed those rent payments to meet its own financial obligations.

Asked by USA Today about the letter, the company confirmed its authenticity but said, ""We understand that these challenging times are going to be hard for some tenants.  We are attempting to navigate through this situation in the best way we can, while being as flexible as we can with our tenants in light of our ongoing obligations. The tenant memo does not replace our willingness to talk to each tenant about their respective challenges and help them chart an appropriate course for the future."

That's nice of them … since in the vast majority of cases, their malls are closed, making it impossible for tenants to do business even if they wanted to.

Hard to imagine this ends well for anyone, especially since so many malls already are in precarious positions.  Be a lot better for folks to work together instead of being oppositional. 

•  USA Today reports that "Kroger will hire 20,000 more employees to meet the demand for groceries and other  supplies sparked by the coronavirus crisis. 

"The supermarket chain, which has shortened the time between an employee applying for a job and starting work to as little as three days, says that this latest hiring surge will take place over the next few weeks."

•  KIRO-TV News reports that Costco is changing its weekday hours, closing the majority of its warehouse stores at 6:30 pm Mondays through Fridays, as a way of minimizing risk to customers and employees.  Its gas stations will close at 7 pm.

Special shopping hours for senior citizens and physically impaired customers will remain from 8-9 am on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays.

•  Fast Company has a story about how, "as the groundswell against single-use plastic has grown, a recent study about the new coronavirus could lend more ammunition: The virus, SARS-CoV-2, can live on plastic for two to three days, versus 24 hours on cardboard."

That doesn't seem to matter to the plastic industry, which is "using the coronavirus crisis for the opposite reason, to argue that public health requires us to overturn bans on single-use plastic bags at stores."

The rationale can be traced to claims that reusable bags can sustain Covid-19.  As those claims gained traction in the media, "mayors and state lawmakers started to react. Maine voted to delay its bag ban, as did New York State. New Hampshire issued an emergency order banning reusable bags. Some supermarkets started asking customers not to bring bags from home."

Fast Company writes that "no one has studied, yet, whether the virus is spreading via reusable bags. But the CDC suggests that the most likely method of transmission is person-to-person contact, not contact through surfaces … Some experts say that porous surfaces, such as cotton, may be less likely to transmit the virus than smooth surfaces such as plastic, so some reusable bags may be better than others; the virus can also be easily destroyed if a bag is washed with soap and water."

I have found retailer approaches to be inconsistent.  Some retailers haven't changed their approaches to reusable bags.   Some allow them but want shoppers to pack them.  And some have banned them completely.  One thing is consistent, though - lobbyists' willingness to take advantage of any situation to make their case.

•  CNN reports that Nordstrom, describing itself as "the largest employer of tailors in North America," is "shifting gears and producing medical masks to help healthcare workers battling the coronavirus."  The company, according to the story, "is sewing more than 100,000 masks that will be sanitized before being distributed to healthcare workers across the country … Members of the Nordstrom alterations teams in Washington, Oregon, Texas and California will sew the masks and give them to Providence Health & Services, a nonprofit health care system which operates hospitals in six states."

•  In Oregon, the Malheur Enterprise reports that the state is instituting new rules that will allow people to pump their own gasoline - leaving New Jersey as the only state in the union with a ban on self-serve gasoline.

The change will only be in effect until April 11, according to the paper, though it could be extended.  Service stations are required to "have an attendant on duty 'to supervise self-service refueling consistent with the social distancing polices'."

•  From the Los Angeles Times:

"If you were wondering how long the coronavirus outbreak will keep the Disneyland and the Walt Disney World resorts closed, you’ll have to keep wondering.

"After closing the parks in mid-March with the promise to reopen by the end of the month, Walt Disney Co. announced Friday that both parks would remained closed until further notice.

"Disney said that it has been paying its employees since the parks closed and that 'in light of this ongoing and increasingly complex crisis, we have made the decision to extend paying hourly parks and resort cast members through April 18'."

The Times notes that "the announcement is not surprising, considering that Gov. Gavin Newsom has recommended that all gatherings over 250 people be canceled. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that residents should be prepared to stay at home until May."

•  Variety reports that Nate ‘n Al Deli, a Beverly Hills fixture known for "brisket and pastrami sandwiches, lox, eggs and onions and an old-fashioned smoked fish and deli counter," has shuttered, "with no plans to reopen."  

The story notes that "the iconic deli is among many restaurants in Los Angeles that have decided it’s not worth it to try and run as a takeout and delivery-only operation during the coronavirus shutdown. It is estimated that a large percentage may not be able to immediately re-open when the shutdown is lifted."

•  From the Department of Unexpected Consequences … Reuters reports that a coronavirus-instigated factory shutdown in Malaysia could lead to a global shortage of condoms.

The story says that "Malaysia’s Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom from its three Malaysian factories for more than a week due to a lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus.  That’s already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex…"

There have been predictions that the restrictions on movement in many communities could lead to a baby boom in about nine months, and I'm not sure that any of those prognostications factored in a lack of protection.

•  A press release you have to read to believe…

" and today announced the launch of Viewneral, the first interactive and collaborative virtual funeral and  memorial service that allows families and friends to memorialize, eulogize, and celebrate loved ones from the comfort of their own home. Weinstein Memorial Chapels in New York, Sol Levinson & Bros., in Baltimore and Chicago Jewish Funerals are early adopters of Viewneral and are currently offering it to their grieving families.  

It goes on:  ""On an average day in the United States, there is an estimated 7,700 deaths, excluding Covid-19 victims, and funeral directors and their clients need a personalized, yet safe way to conduct these end of life ceremonies,' says Michael Schimmel, CEO of Sympathy Brands, parent company to and 'Viewneral will never replace a hug that a mourner needs from family and friends, but during this time of social distancing this will allow loved ones to virtually gather to memorialize the deceased and support the mourning family'."

I'm not being snarky about this.  I'm just a little chagrined about the point to which we all have gotten.  What's next?  Though I guess when you think about it, this isn't any weirder than 'virtual happy hours.'

If I'd used this as my April Fools Day piece, I think most people wouldn't have believed it.  (By the way, I won't be doing one this year … it just doesn't seem appropriate.)