business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the US, there now have been 7,494,671 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 212,660 deaths and 4,736,621 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 34,519,817 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 1,028,230 fatalities and 25,691,112 reported recoveries.

•  Of all those cases, there was one that got all the attention overnight - yesterday President Donald Trump was diagnosed as having contracted Covid-19. along with First Lady Melania Trump.  Diagnosed earlier, and possibly the source of the infection, was White House aide Hope Hicks, who traveled with the President this week.

•  From the New York Times this morning:

"For months, public health experts have been eagerly watching the companies developing spit tests for the coronavirus that could be used at home, producing results in a matter of minutes.

If these rapid saliva tests worked, as many news articles have pointed out, they could greatly expand the number of people getting tested. Some experts have even said they could perform as well as a vaccine in curbing the spread of the coronavirus and paving a path back to normalcy.

"But so far, the technology is not panning out as some have hoped.

"E25Bio and OraSure, two companies pursuing rapid at-home coronavirus tests, have abandoned efforts to use saliva in their products. Their tests, which detect pieces of coronavirus proteins called antigens, will for now rely on shallow nose swabs instead.

"'If I was placing a bet - which I am, because I’m leading an antigen-based testing company - I would say it’s going to be very difficult for antigen-based testing to work on saliva samples,' said Bobby Brooke Herrera, an E25Bio founder and its chief executive. The notion that the virus sets up shop in the mouth and produces enough antigen to be picked up by today’s technology, he said, 'is far-fetched'."

•  NBC News writes that "despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ rollback of coronavirus restrictions, Publix says it is not making any changes to its current mask policy.

"The mask requirement has been in place at Publix since July 21. The grocery giant announced last month it was getting rid of its one-way aisle policy."

The story notes that "DeSantis lifted all restrictions last week on restaurants and other businesses in Florida, and banned local fines against people who refuse to wear masks as he seeks to reopen the state’s economy despite the spread of the coronavirus."

Good for Publix.  Taking away mask mandates right now is way premature, and it is entirely fair for a retailer to require them, in much the same way that it can require pants and shoes.

•  The Washington Post reports that Amazon said yesterday that "nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive, or had been presumed positive, for the coronavirus since the pandemic started spreading through the country this year … Amazon said in a blog that the number of employees who have had the illness includes its workers at its grocery store chain Whole Foods Market. In total, 19,816 employees have had covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19, it said, or about 1.44 percent of the 1,372,000 front-line workers employed by Amazon during that period."

The Post notes that Amazon "has faced harsh criticism this year as hundreds of workers and critics have said it hasn’t done enough to keep employees safe as they work in its warehouses amid a surge in demand to send items to shoppers across the country."

•  The Washington Post has a story about how, while "corporate America has long been defined by physical offices," in just a few weeks earlier this year "the pandemic upended that as thousands of companies mandated their employees work from home. What many thought would be a temporary workaround is now a mass experiment with no end in sight, as many companies await a vaccine or other developments to ensure workers’ safety.

"While many companies are anxious about the new reality, fearful of reopening and worried about the loss of workplace connection, some employers have embraced it — even going so far as making remote work permanent. Outdoor apparel company REI, Facebook and Ottawa-based Shopify have all announced some measures making work from home the new norm.

"Twitter, the first major U.S. company to make a public announcement in May about its permanent work-from-home plans, has a big head start in identifying the pitfalls and advantages of work from home.

"For the last two years, Twitter has been quietly dismantling its office culture, making changes that resulted in blessing employees … who asked to relocate - whether it was Hawaii, rural Ireland or back home in a cheaper state. However complicated, the official policy on employee relocation requests was 'get to yes'."

In fact, the Post writes, Twitter is "preparing for a future when the company anticipates half of its employees will permanently work from home. (Prior to the pandemic, it was only 3%.)"

One of the most important things to note about Twitter's decision is that it started the process several years before the pandemic, after founder Jack Dorsey had a particularly productive day working from home and started the process of considering the implications of a "distributed workforce."  To me, the real lesson here is not about working from home, but rather about being willing to consider new possibilities even when you don't have to.

•  Swedish retailer H&M announced that it will permanently close 250 of its 5,000 stores, saying that the effects of the pandemic has created an environment in which it makes sense to consolidate stores and focus more on online sales.

•  The National Football League announced that the Tennessee Titans game this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers has been indefinitely postponed because of a growing number of coronavirus cases on the Titans team and staff.  The count is now 11, and the NFL has banned any in-persona activities for ther team until further notice.

The NFL had hoped to allow the game to be played on Monday or Tuesday.

The Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans last weekend, have not had any cases of Covid-19.