business news in context, analysis with attitude

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

•  It was a milestone - the global count of Covid-19 coronavirus cases passed one million yesterday, and this morning stands at 1,030,199, with 54,198 deaths and 219,852 reported recoveries.

The US represents about a quarter of those cases - 245,442 as of this morning (up more than 30,000 in just 24 hours), with 6,098 deaths (up 20 percent in 24 hours) and 10,411 reported recoveries.

•  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "the Trump administration is expected to recommend that Americans in parts of the U.S. where the novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading wear cloth face masks or face coverings when in public to reduce transmission.

"The new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would aim to reduce the risk that people who are infected but asymptomatic will spread the virus, according to a draft document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and two people familiar with the planning. It has yet to be announced by the White House."

I think that if this is necessary, then the government should do it.  But … be prepared for the inevitable run on face masks that will occur as a result, and even some ensuing panic. Because if you thought it was hard to find toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizer over the past few weeks, just try finding face masks.

I would like to see one provision in any announcement - that any person or company found to be price gouging on face masks (or any other pandemic-related equipment, for that matter) will be hit with enormous fines and jail time.  (The jail time will be served in the future, when the pandemic has subsided.  The point should be that anyone who gouges will have the book thrown at them, and that it will be a very heavy book that is going to hurt.  A lot.

•  USA Today reports this morning that Amazon "will institute temperature checks for employees and offer masks to protect them as they work during the coronavirus pandemic … The company said it is checking 100,000 workers per day for fevers, and plans to roll out checks across their U.S. and European operations network and Whole Foods Market stores by early next week."

The story notes that "The changes arrive as some Amazon workers expressed concerns over how well the company is working to keep them safe.  On Monday, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, walked out demanding Amazon address issues with social distancing and properly sanitized work environments."

I'm glad Amazon did this.  But quite frankly, it strikes me as two weeks later than it should have happened.  I just hope that it isn't two weeks too late.

•  CNBC reports that "Instacart announced Thursday it will begin providing its full-service shoppers with health and safety kits in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"The kits will contain a reusable cloth face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer. Instacart shoppers can request their kits beginning next week through a website the company built for its shoppers. In-store shoppers will also receive face masks from retail locations where the company has in-store operations, the company said.

"The safety kits come days after some Instacart workers went on strike to protest the how the company was handling their safety during the pandemic. One of their demands was for the company to provide hand sanitizer and wipes."

I repeat:  I'm glad Instacart did this.  But it strikes me as two weeks later than it should have happened.  I just hope that it isn't two weeks too late.

•  The Boston Globe reports that Beantown residents looking to order groceries via Peapod, the e-commerce arm of Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, now are finding delivery waits of as long as two weeks.

According to the story, "While Peapod recommends checking for available time slots before adding to your cart, users will note that, as of April 2, every delivery time listed until April 15 is marked “sold out.” There is no option to choose a time slot beyond that date.  Calls to Peapod Customer Care result in a similar outcome."

Maria Fruci, Stop & Shop’s manager of external communications and community relations, says that "because of the fact that many customers prefer to stay home, we’ve seen unprecedented demand with our home delivery services.  We’ve expanded the availability of delivery times as much as possible, though customers may still be experiencing delays. We are planning to hire more part-time drivers and shoppers in the coming weeks to help fulfill orders. We apologize for the inconvenience and greatly appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to work diligently to provide alternate solutions."

It is a shame that Ahold Delhaize shut down Peapod's midwest e-commerce business just before all this stuff hit.  If they hadn't, they might've been able to move some of their resources from the midwest to New England while the crisis is most pressing there, and then perhaps do the same when things get more critical in the midwest as the so-called rolling apex moves through the country.

•  The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that "Target Corp. on Sunday will start limiting the number of shoppers it allows in its stores to enhance social distancing as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the nation, the company announced on Thursday.

"The Minneapolis-based retailer also said it will provide disposable face masks and gloves to 350,000 store and distribution centers workers in the next two weeks, as well as to the 'shoppers' Target employs through its Shipt same-day delivery operation."

•  Business Times reports that Starbucks is saying that it "will extend special coronavirus provisions, including pay increases for US workers and closed dining areas, for two weeks to May 3.

"The world's largest coffee chain is also considering the use of non-medical grade face masks and possibly handing off mobile orders to customers at doorways to help ease drive-thru pressure in some stores, the company said in a letter to employees … Starbucks is also sending thermometers to company-operated stores for workers to self-monitor if they choose."

•  Fox News reports that Amazon founder-CEO Jeff Bezos will donate $100 million to food banks across the US, a response to the impact of the pandemic on employment figures and food security.

The money will go directly to Feeding America, which will "quickly distribute the funds to their national network of food banks and food pantries, getting food to those countless families who need it."

The story notes that "Feeding America is in charge of more than 200 food banks that feed 46 million people; it generated $2.9 billion in revenue in 2019, most of which went toward sending food to pantries, according to a 2019 financial report."

•  Axios reported that "the Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday that its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus," illustrating how "the global pandemic is changing the fundamentals of the 2020 presidential election, and any snags in the process have the potential to help President Trump's re-election efforts."

The story notes that "the Democratic convention was originally scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee. The party's new plans for mid-August would put its convention just a week before the Republican National Convention, which is set for Aug. 24-27.

"At least 15 states have had to postpone their primary contests by weeks and months because the coronavirus outbreak is forcing voters to stay inside and away from large groups."

•  Feel the need for speed?  You'll have to wait until Christmas, because the much anticipated sequel to Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick, has been pushed from its summer release date to the end of the year holidays because, well, pretty much every movie theater in America is closed because of the pandemic.

•  Finally, from Willamette Week, a follow up on a story we relayed a week or two ago.

You may recall that the Lucky Devil Lounge, an adult club that suddenly lost all of its business when the pandemic created a climate in which lap dancing was a really bad idea.

(To be clear, I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)

And so, the Lucky Devil, which had a restaurant as part of its facility, got into the food-to-go business, using dancers to deliver its food and bouncers to make sure they were safe.

The name of the offering: Boober Eats.

Which I thought was funny.

(Again, I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)

Well, they have to change the name, because Uber sued them for trademark infringement.

The owner is calling the offering "Lucky Devil Eats" - for now.  But he's toying with other names … including some that no doubt could also get him a) press attention, and b) another cease-and-desist order.

Like "Porn Grub."

(I emphasize:  I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)