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 United States as of this morning, there have been 1,859,597 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 106,927 deaths and 615,426 reported recoveries.

Globally,  there have been 6,388,317 confirmed coronavirus cases, 377,883 fatalities and 2,922,563 reported recoveries.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the first major federal effort to measure the deadly impact of the new coronavirus in nursing homes found around 26,000 deaths, a total that likely falls short of showing the full toll on some of the most vulnerable Americans.

"The new survey of nursing homes, released Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, showed 25,923 resident deaths tied to Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 449 deaths among the facilities’ staff. The survey also found about 95,000 infection cases at nursing homes across 49 states, about a third of them among staff members."

Which means, if my math is correct, that roughly a quarter of all pandemic deaths in the US were in the population of the nation's nursing homes.  Which strikes me as appalling (if oddly reassuring for those of us not living in a nursing home).  Seeing those stats, however, makes me wonder who the hell would ever go into one of those places.  Not me.  And I know not Mrs. Content Guy.

•  From the Associated Press:

"The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the U.S. economy could be $15.7 trillion smaller over the next decade than it otherwise would have been if Congress does not mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus.

"The CBO, which had already issued a report forecasting a severe economic impact over the next two years, expanded that forecast to show that the severity of the economic shock could depress growth for far longer.

"The new estimate said that over the 2020-2030 period, total GDP output could be $15.7 trillion lower than CBO had been projecting as recently as January. That would equal 5.3% of lost GDP over the coming decade.

"After adjusting for inflation, CBO said the lost output would total $7.9 trillion, a loss of 3% of inflation-adjusted GDP."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Companies are starting to roll out tests that can diagnose coronavirus infections at home, offering people who are seeking to return to work a potentially safer, more accessible option to check their health.

"Yet experts worry about the accuracy of the results generated by the at-home tests, costs that insurers often don’t cover and other factors that could limit use … While the technology behind at-home kits is similar to what other Covid-19 diagnostic tests use, where and when the sample is collected can affect accuracy, said Alan Wells, professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh and medical director at UPMC Clinical Laboratories.

"A sample taken from saliva or a nose swab could return a false negative, Dr. Wells said, if the disease has moved onto the lungs, as it often does."

•  The New York Times has an excellent summation of what, at this point, we think we know about the Covid-19 coronavirus.

An excerpt:

"Summer is almost here, states are reopening and new coronavirus cases are declining or, at least, holding steady in many parts of the United States. At least 100 scientific teams around the world are racing to develop a vaccine.

"That’s about it for the good news.

"The virus has shown no sign of going away: We will be in this pandemic era for the long haul, likely a year or more. The masks, the social distancing, the fretful hand-washing, the aching withdrawal from friends and family - those steps are still the best hope of staying well, and will be for some time to come."

The Times goes on:

"Some scientists think that the longer we live with the virus, the milder its effects will become, but that remains to be seen.

"Predictions that millions of doses of a vaccine may be available by the end of this year may be too rosy. No vaccine has ever been created that fast.

"The disease would be less frightening if there were a treatment that could cure it or, at least, prevent severe illness. But there is not. Remdesivir, the eagerly awaited antiviral drug? 'Modest' benefit is the highest mark experts give it.

"Which brings us back to masks and social distancing, which have come to feel quite antisocial. If only we could go back to life the way it used to be.

"We cannot. Not yet. There are just enough wild cards with this disease — perfectly healthy adults and children who inexplicably become very, very sick — that no one can afford to be cavalier about catching it. About 35 percent of infected people have no symptoms at all, so if they are out and about, they could unknowingly infect other people."

The bottom line, the Times writes: 

"Wear a mask, keep your distance. When the time comes in the fall, get a flu shot, to protect yourself from one respiratory disease you can avoid and to help keep emergency rooms and urgent care from being overwhelmed. Hope for a treatment, a cure, a vaccine. Be patient. We have to pace ourselves. If there’s such a thing as a disease marathon, this is it."

•  USA Today reports that the nation's supermarket shoppers can "expect months more of seeing store employees wearing masks and gloves – and store signs urging shoppers to follow suit.

"But industry officials believe the pandemic crisis and shopping frenzy are beginning to settle into a busy new grind as America tries to reopen the economy.

"The 'new normal' that's unfolding includes:  A big shift to e-commerce … Continued occasional shortages for meat and produce items (though toilet paper is predicted to become reliably restocked on shelves by the end of summer) … Higher prices as supermarkets continue to pick up the slack of feeding Americans amid wide restaurant shutdowns."

The story goes on:  "What lies beyond depends on whether consumers or their finances ultimately change during the pandemic and once it ends. Industry officials wonder if Americans might keep cooking more at home. They also don't know how much a worsening economy will change consumer needs."

•  Pandemic trend news from Bloomberg:

"New York reported 54 daily deaths from the coronavirus, the fewest since the pandemic began and down from the state’s peak of almost 800 a day in April. New cases in Italy fell to the lowest level in three months … Florida reported 56,830 cases on Monday, up 1.2% from a day earlier, compared with an average increase of 1.4% in the previous seven days. Deaths reached 2,460, an increase of 0.4%.

"California cases rose 2.2% to 113,006 while deaths increased 0.9% to 4,251, according to the state’s website."

Plus, Bloomberg writes:

"New Zealand could remove most of its remaining restrictions on people and businesses as soon as next week after successfully wiping out the coronavirus.

"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that cabinet would bring forward its decision on a further relaxation of measures to June 8 and the move could take effect on June 10. The nation’s Alert Level would be reduced to 1, which denotes 'very few restrictions,' Ardern told Radio New Zealand.

"The country has just one active case remaining and no new infections for the past 10 days."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Starbucks "said it would further limit employee hours to match pared-back operations at its U.S. stores, reflecting expectations that sales won’t bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic until at least this fall."  The company is "encouraging workers to take unpaid leave until September because it has decided to keep the dining rooms at most of its thousands of U.S. cafes closed for now. The latest reduction comes after the chain in May reopened stores with reduced operations and had to trim employee hours as a result, limiting sales to drive-throughs, delivery and pickup.

"Starbucks has pared down its business because many restaurant owners remain concerned over how to protect workers and customers, the company said. Executives haven’t said when cafe service will return."

•  National Retail Federation (NRF) Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz yesterday offered some perspective on the economy's recovery from the pandemic:

"Is it possible the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us? Maybe, but we are not out of the woods yet, and uncertainty abounds,” Kleinhenz said. “Predicting what will happen is even more challenging than usual. While history often helps guide us, previous downturns offer little guidance on what is likely to unfold over the next six to 12 months. There is no user’s manual in which government, businesses or consumers can find precise solutions for what we are going through.”

"Record drops in employment, gross domestic product, retail sales and other indicators have resulted in 'such unparalleled numbers that it is not comparable to anything in economic history and it has yet to catch up with the reality of what we are experiencing,' Kleinhenz said.  'With such sizable disruptions, it is difficult to tally the damage or determine the future'."

•  From the Seattle Times:

"A Seattle-based factory trawler cut short its fishing season off the Washington coast after 85 of 126 crew tested positive for COVID-19 in screening results obtained Saturday,  according to a statement released by vessel operator American Seafoods.

"The test results for the FV American Dynasty are a somber finding for the North Pacific fishing industry, which has been trying to keep the novel coronavirus off the ships and out of the shore-based plants that produce much of the nation’s seafood.

"The outbreak also underscores the toll coronavirus continues to take on the food processing industry across the nation. In Washington state, outbreaks in meat plants, fruit and vegetable fields and packing facilities prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to order new protections for agricultural and food processing workers."

•  The Wall Street Journal asks whether, "as some American theme parks gingerly begin to reopen this week," if "cash-strapped, jittery thrill seekers will return in the face of a still-spreading coronavirus pandemic."

The story notes that "the parks, which closed across the nation in March, are requiring masks and temperature checks and social distancing for guests. But it remains uncertain whether enough people will venture out to the parks to stave off a financial shock for the companies."

The Journal writes that a big uncertainty is season-pass sales:  "For years, theme parks—especially regional operators such as Six Flags and Cedar Fair—competed by building bigger, faster and zanier rides. From Six Flags’ 50-mile-per-hour Batman: The Ride to Cedar Point’s iconic Millennium Force, the companies have laid out big bucks to lure visitors.

"In recent years, theme parks have increasingly shifted their business models, and marketing budgets, toward season passes, which provide a stream of cash from loyal customers. That helps steady revenues and is attractive to big investors."  But those passes may seem like less of a good deal to customers dealing with pandemic realities, not to mention recession-related concerns.

•  The Associated Press reports that "Parisians who have been cooped up for months with takeout food and coffee will be able to savor their steaks tartare in the fresh air and cobbled streets of the City of Light once more — albeit in smaller numbers.

"The city famed for its vibrant cafe society and coffee culture will get some of its pre-lockdown life back as cafes and restaurants partially reopen Tuesday."

However, "Dampening the mood of new freedom, social distancing of one meter (about three feet) between tables will be obligatory and drastically reduce the numbers. For the city well-known for its tiny chairs and fashionably-small 50-centimeter-wide (20-inch-wide) round tables that often touch, this will lower capacity in some outside areas by over half.

"To help matters, the normally space-restricting Paris City Hall is now allowing restaurateurs to be expansive — and have issued an authorization for them to enlarge their outside areas, or create one, without the normal legal red tape until Sept. 30. To do this, they will have to sign a charter promising to respect 'pedestrian traffic, the cleanliness of the premises, safety or even noise reduction vis-à-vis residents'."

C'est la vie.  Mieux vaut quelque chose que rien.  (If my French is imprecise, well, excusez-moi.)

•  CNN reports that in Germany, "The Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research is leading a trial that's sampling wastewater from plants serving some of the largest urban areas and trying to find evidence of the coronavirus.  The ultimate goal is for almost all sewage plants to install these coronavirus early warning systems so as to track the spread of Covid-19."

"If it would be possible to have an idea of the concentration of coronavirus in the wastewater, we can calculate the number of infected people in Leipzig and this would be very interesting in the coronavirus strategies," Dr. Ulrich Meyer, the technical director of Leipzig's waterworks, tells CNN.

However, skeptics suggest that this process is both complex and potentially imprecise.

Not to mention a breeding ground for bad puns.

•  The BBC is reporting that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has issued new guidelines covering how airlines should deal with keep passengers safe even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim victims.

One recommendation:  restricted access to toilets.

Yikes.  This could be a problem.  Especially for those of us of a certain age who may find restricted bathroom access to be a little…well, restricting.  I wonder if they'll start putting colostomy bags next to the barf bags in the seat pockets.

There's only one bit of good news here - the ICAO guidelines also are calling for limiting or eliminating food and drink services on short-haul flights.