business news in context, analysis with attitude

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

•  In the US as of this morning, there have been 1,621,336 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 96,363 deaths and 382,244 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 5,214,039 coronavirus cases, 334,997 fatalities and 2,094,143 reported recoveries.

•  Fox News has a poll saying that "about 7 in 10 (72 percent) report wearing a mask all or most of the time when they are out in public, and 6 in 10 (60 percent) plan to get a vaccine shot when one becomes available."

Wait a minute.  More people are willing to wear masks in public than are willing to get  a vaccine when one becomes available?  Does that strike anyone else as a little strange?

Some other results from the Fox News poll:  "Some 70 percent of voters are concerned about catching coronavirus, down from 76 percent in April … Overall, 38 percent personally know someone with coronavirus, up from 21 percent in April.  That number climbs to 55 percent among Northeasterners and 45 percent among those living in urban areas … One in five (20 percent) believe the U.S. has the virus completely or mostly under control, while almost twice as many (35 percent) say the virus is not at all under control.  Another 43 percent sit in the middle and say it is somewhat contained … Fifty-one percent think government stay-at-home orders and other restrictions hit the right balance.  The rest split between believing the restrictions didn’t go far enough (27 percent) and went too far (21 percent)."

•  The Boston Globe reports that "President Trump said on Thursday that 'we’re not gonna close the country' again if the coronavirus sees a resurgence.

"During a tour of a Ford plant in Michigan, a reporter asked the president if he was concerned about a potential second wave of the illness.

“'People say that’s a very distinct possibility. It’s standard. And we’re going to put out the fires. We’re not gonna close the country. We’re going to put out the fires - whether it’s an ember or a flame, we’re going to put it out. But we’re not closing our country'."

•  MLive.comreports that "Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday morning lifting some restrictions on business and social activity.

"Gatherings of 10 people or less are now permitted, starting immediately, as long as participants practice social distancing, the governor’s office announced.  Starting Friday, May 29, health care providers can perform nonessential medical, dental, and veterinary procedures, and starting Tuesday, May 26, retail businesses and auto dealerships across the state will be allowed to operate via appointment only. Retail businesses and auto showrooms are limited to 10 people inside at a time."

•  MarketWatch reports that we can add Shopify to the number of companies embracing the work-from-home trend that has resulted from the pandemic.

CEO Tobi Lutke is saying that "the e-commerce company will keep its offices closed until 2021 and that the majority of Shopify's employees will continue working remotely even after the company reopens its offices."

Lutke wrote on Twitter that "office centricity is over," and that the physical office can "act as an on-ramp to the same digital workplace that you can access" from home.

•  From the San Jose Mercury News:

"Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that it may not be long before remote work becomes standard for at least half of the social networker’s employees … Zuckerberg said in the next five to 10 years, 50% of company employees could be working remotely on a permanent basis.

"Zuckerberg said the move to more full-time remote work has been sped up by the coronavirus crisis, as Facebook has already said nearly all of its employees will work from home until the end of 2020 as part of the effort to contain the spread of the disease that has killed more than 90,000 Americans."

•  The Boston Globe has the results of a small survey done by Rebecca Wetteman, a technology industry analyst who works from home in Boston’s South End, who wanted to understand how working from home affected productivity.

"Wetteman found that for people with children, productivity has dipped 2 percent, compared with working in the office. But it is down even more, 3 percent, among people who live alone," the Globe reports.

"The top three distractions in the home office? Social media, kids, and other adults.

"Those distractions — coupled with tasks like making lunch for kids, walking dogs, and arguing with spouses about who has to go to the drugstore next — seem to be extending the workday. Wetteman’s research found the workday in the era of COVID-19 lasts 9.75 hours."

•  Good piece in the Boston Globe by food writer/restaurant reviewer Devra First in which she declares, "I am a restaurant critic, and I am not ready to eat in a restaurant right now."

"Let me be clear: I want to, badly," she writes.  "Before the pandemic, going out to eat was one of the most regular and pleasurable activities in my life. For many years, multiple times a week, I pulled up a chair at Thai bistros, Italian trattorias, sushi counters, and New American canteens, then went home to write about it. Did I go to restaurants for work, or did I work to go to restaurants? I mean, yes.

"But there are simply too many sticking points right now - practical, moral - to contemplate anything more up close and personal than takeout.

The practical concerns:  "Massachusetts still averages more than 1,000 newly reported infections a day, and coronavirus loves to spread in enclosed environments like dining rooms and places of worship. I pray for everyone who will soon be attending religious services, an option in Phase I. On Mother’s Day, at a California church, 180 people were exposed to the virus by an asymptomatic congregant who tested positive the next day. There is no steak frites heavenly enough to get me to take a comparable risk at this moment. Even seated 6 feet apart, served by people in stylish matching masks embroidered with the restaurant’s logo, a crack pit crew disinfecting each table between uses, there are too many unpredictable vectors."

The moral concerns:  " I am not particularly worried about restaurant compliance and prioritization when it comes to diners’ health and safety. I am, however, worried about compliance and prioritization on the part of diners. The public isn’t trained to think about hygiene the way the restaurant workforce is. Less generously, the public can be unconcerned or downright disdainful when it comes to the well-being of others. When restaurants reopen, diners will be taken care of. Will workers?"

First writes, "It pains me to say it, because many restaurants won’t make it through this … The pivots to takeout, groceries and supplies, cocktail mixers, meal kits help, but they aren’t enough to keep businesses that were founded on a dine-in model going long-term. (They also prove, once again, how nimble, creative, and resourceful people in this industry are — just the qualities one wants from entrepreneurs, and qualities that should be rewarded.)"

•  The Seattle Times also has a piece about the future of the restaurant business.

"There’s one thing every restaurant has in common: They’re trying to sell you a complete experience built on a creator’s vision," the Times writes.  "And while everyone agrees that for safety, it’s important to adhere to the state’s social distancing regulations, those same regulations make it difficult for restaurants to deliver the atmosphere and aesthetic they pride themselves on."

The story cites Eric Rivera, of Addo in Seattle, saying that his "creativity has been on full display during the pandemic. Rivera started his restaurant as a two-seat dining experience out of his apartment, and he’s consistently shown he’s never afraid to switch things up.

"Over the last couple of months, he’s gotten even more creative with the idea of what a restaurant should be, and the functions it should serve. He’s trotted out an ever-changing menu that can consist of family-style meals and pantry staples one week, and 'Game of Thrones' or Mariners-themed dinners the next. He’s also offered at-home versions of his 20-course tasting menu since the dining room shut down and has successfully launched an in-house delivery service.

"Rivera can’t predict what the post-pandemic restaurant scene will look like more than anyone else, but he’s not the type to hang onto a menu item over nostalgia or ego, and is willing to unhinge from the traditional dining room experience to experiment with what works for Addo and his customer base.

“'You have to take the idea of a restaurant off and say, ‘I’m going to run this like a business.’ Find out what people need, what people want and give it to them,' he says of his approach.

"That nimbleness will be valuable in a new dining world where the rules of operation evolve more quickly than restaurants can keep up."

I feel this pain as a consumer.  If there have been core experiences in my life over the past 30 years, when I have spent 25-30 percent of my time on the road, is has been going to restaurants and bars (and movie theaters, of course) … and I feel the loss of those things really deeply … and I feel badly for some of the people I have met in those places, and their loss of livelihood.

•  From the Washington Post:

"Across the country, stores are reopening to a changed reality. Retailers that have spent years trying to get customers to linger, in hopes they’ll buy more than they need, are reimagining their stores for a grab-and-go future filled with deliberate purchases. Gone, they say, are the days of trying on makeup or playing with toys in the aisles. The focus now is on making shopping faster, easier and safer to accommodate long-term shifts in consumer expectations and habits.

"Apple is checking shoppers’ temperatures at the door. Best Buy is asking customers to shop by appointment. Macy’s and Nordstrom are doing away with beauty consultations and alteration services, while the Gap is closing off bathrooms and fitting rooms. Cosmetics giant Sephora won’t allow shoppers to test products anymore. Others are quarantining returns for as long as 72 hours before putting merchandise back on shelves.

"American Eagle Outfitters, meanwhile, is reimagining every part of the shopping experience. It has invested in curbside pickup and infrared machines that measure customers’ temperatures as they walk by. Entryway displays once piled high with apparel have become “welcome tables” with bottles of hand sanitizer, disposable masks and sticky blue mats that clean shoe soles. Clothes are even folded differently, to encourage hands-off browsing. The new protocols, which already have been rolled out at 435, or nearly half, of its U.S. stores, offer a glimpse of how even the most innocuous interactions might be tempered."

•  National Public Radio reports that Florida theme parks Legoland and Universal have submitted and gotten government approval of plans that will allow them to reopen their facilities in early June.

"In Orange County, the Economic Recovery Task Force, chaired by County Mayor Jerry Demings, reviewed the Universal plans and approved a June 5 reopening date for its Universal Studios and Island of Adventure theme parks, as well as for its water park, Volcano Bay. The task force also gave approval to reopening plans for 13 smaller attractions in the Orlando area. Legoland received approval from officials in Winter Haven and Polk County for a June 1 reopening."

All that is required now is final approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said "he wants to see theme parks reopen once they submitted plans for keeping employees and guests protected from the coronavirus."

According to the story, "Both Legoland and Universal says employees and guests will undergo temperature checks on arrival. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit won't be allowed in … Unlike Universal, Legoland's guidelines don't make masks mandatory for guests, although they are recommended and provided free to those who want them. Face coverings at Legoland will be required for all employees."

Both theme parks will limit capacity and enforce social distancing on lines, as well as offer hand sanitizer throughout their facilities.

NPR notes that "Disney hasn't yet unveiled reopening plans for its parks in Orlando. Disney Springs, its retail, dining and entertainment complex, resumed welcoming visitors this week. Shanghai Disney reopened last week to a limited number of guests. Disney World and SeaWorld, Orlando's other major theme park, are expected to present their reopening plans to local officials for approval in coming weeks."

•  Variety has a story about how country music star Keith Urban "was thrilled to get some genuine human feedback on May 14, when he became the first major artist of the pandemic era to do a concert for fans sheltering in place in (or on) their vehicles, playing for about 200 people in 125 cars or trucks at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown, Tenn … Urban’s show was a secret, invitation-only freebie for Vanderbilt University medical personnel. But it was also a road test of sorts for scaling up the concept of drive-in concerts, which began popping up in Europe earlier this year, from novelty one-offs to the mainstream.

"Concert promotion giant Live Nation is looking at taking the concept nationwide this summer, although it would skip the drive-in theater middleman and produce the concerts at its 40 amphitheaters — outside the front gates, in the parking lots."

Brilliant idea.  It does, however, mean that they also have to figure out something called "carload pricing."  But it does show yet again that the cliche is true - necessity really is the mother of invention.

•  From the Washington Post this morning:

"A study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received an antimalarial drug promoted by President Trump as a 'game changer' in the fight against the virus had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.

"People treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, were also more likely to develop a type of irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded.

"The study, published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet, is the largest analysis to date of the risks and benefits of treating covid-19 patients with antimalarial drugs. It is based on a retrospective analysis of medical records, not a controlled study in which patients are divided randomly into treatment groups — a method considered the gold standard of medicine. But the sheer size of the study was convincing to some scientists.

"'It’s one thing not to have benefit, but this shows distinct harm,' said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. 'If there was ever was hope for this drug, this is the death of it'."

The story goes on:  "For those given hydroxychloroquine, there was a 34 percent increase in risk of mortality and a 137 percent increased risk of a serious heart arrhythmias. For those receiving hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic — the cocktail endorsed by Trump — there was a 45 percent increased risk of death and a 411 percent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmias.

"Those given chloroquine had a 37 percent increased risk of death and a 256 percent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmias. For those taking chloroquine and an antibiotic, there was a 37 percent increased risk of death and a 301 percent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmias."