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 a total of 13,920,038 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 274,332 deaths and 8,223,391 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 63,685,519 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,476,246 resulting fatalities and 44,077,182 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  From the New York Times:

"Each week, good news about vaccines or antibody treatments surfaces, offering hope that an end to the pandemic is at hand.

"And yet this holiday season presents a grim reckoning. The United States has reached an appalling milestone: more than one million new coronavirus cases every week. Hospitals in some states are full to bursting. The number of deaths is rising and seems on track to easily surpass the 2,200-a-day average in the spring, when the pandemic was concentrated in the New York metropolitan area.

"Our failure to protect ourselves has caught up to us.

"The nation now must endure a critical period of transition, one that threatens to last far too long, as we set aside justifiable optimism about next spring and confront the dark winter ahead. Some epidemiologists predict that the death toll by March could be close to twice the 250,000 figure that the nation surpassed only last week.

''The next three months are going to be just horrible,' said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health."

You can read the entire piece, by the always excellent Times science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., here.

•  There are reports this morning that the Covid-19 coronavirus actually was present in the United States as early as mid-December - "weeks before it was officially identified in China and about a month earlier than public health authorities found the first U.S. case."

The Wall Street Journal writes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "found evidence of infection in 106 of 7,389 blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from residents in nine states across the US … The findings significantly strengthen evidence suggesting the virus was spreading around the world well before public health authorities and researchers became aware, upending initial thinking about how early and quickly it emerged."

•  The New York Times has a piece about a recent Harvard meeting at which CEOs from companies like Walmart, CVS and Kohl's discussed the impact of the pandemic on business and their concerns going forward.

The Times writes:

"Vaccine announcements are welcome, of course, but they raise questions: How should executives interpret data about effectiveness? How will delivery logistics play out? What if employees don’t take the shots? (A recent Gallup poll found that around 40 percent of Americans wouldn’t agree to get the vaccine if it were approved today.) C.E.O.s are grappling with how to verify a person’s health when they enter a business."

At the same time, "executives ranked corporate culture as their top concern, a worry that grows as employees continue to work from home … executives are increasingly focused on getting employees back to the office safely, whether by investing in air quality improvements or reconfiguring work spaces. But these adjustments are costly, and they affect budgets from facilities to technology, H.R. and elsewhere."

•  From Axios:

"The TSA screened 1,176,091 people at checkpoints in the U.S. on Sunday, the highest number since mid-March, according to a spokesperson."

The number shouldn't be too much of a surprise, the story says, since "in a Harris Poll survey conducted from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21 … 25%-30% of Americans said they were likely to ignore health officials' warnings about the risks of gathering with family for Thanksgiving."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "advised Americans on Nov. 19 not to travel for Thanksgiving, warning that doing so may increase their chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19. More than 93,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, with many hospital systems on the brink of disaster."

•  The New York Times reports this morning that it will take time - weeks, not days -  before we know the impact that all the Thanksgiving travel had on coronavirus infection rates around the country.

"It takes time for infections to take hold, time for tests to detect them, and time for results to be reported," the Times writes.

"In interviews, four experts agreed that there probably will be an upward bump in cases linked to the holiday, similar to the rises that were seen after Memorial Day and July 4. But they had different estimates for when it would emerge.

"Part of the uncertainty stems from the virus itself. Its incubation period — the time after a person catches it but before symptoms appear — can range from two days to two weeks or longer, though five days seems to be typical."

•  CNN  reports that "as the crush of incoming Covid-19 patients continues to strain hospitals across the US, officials across several states are worried their hospitals will be overwhelmed as the holiday season approaches … California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday told reporters that the intensive care unit bed capacity in the state might reach 112% by Christmas Eve, if the trend of surging coronavirus cases continues … At the current rate of new infections, hospitalizations could double or triple within the next month if there are no major changes, Newsom told reporters.

"The number of patients needing intensive care will surpass capacity by mid-December, he said. Total hospitalizations statewide could reach 78% by Christmas Eve."

At the same time, the story says, "In Rhode Island, officials prepared to use field hospitals after telling residents their systems were already at capacity.

"In New York, where some hospitals saw room capacity taxed in March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this time medical systems need to take steps to move patients to the other facilities that have space."  And "in West Virginia, state officials told hospitals to prepare to delay elective surgeries as the Covid-19 numbers surge."

•  The Boston Globe reports that "Rhode Island is opening two field hospitals and public health officials are pleading with residents to stay home as a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases pushed hospitalizations to near-record levels.

"A 335-bed field hospital run by Care New England opened Monday in Cranston, while a 594-bed facility at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence will begin receiving COVID patients Tuesday. Fewer than a dozen patients were expected to be admitted in Cranston on Monday, while the Providence site anticipates about two dozen on its first day.

"The field units are functioning as a relief valve so hospitals can continue treating other ailments, according to Dr. James V. McDonald, a medical director at the Rhode Island Department of Health."

The story goes on to say that "as case counts climb throughout the region, Vermont is building field hospitals. The Massachusetts National Guard on Monday began constructing a 250-bed field hospital at the DCU Center, to be staffed by UMass Memorial Health Care when it opens this Sunday."

•  CNN reports that "Sunday marked the busiest US air travel day since the coronavirus pandemic began. And that means countless travelers could be carrying the virus home and infecting others unknowingly."

 White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx tells CBS that ""if your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected."

•  While the number of people of traveling on Thanksgiving was far more than the CDC wanted, the fact is that it was far below the numbers of past years, and Fast Company has a piece about how "the decline in holiday travel is especially dispiriting for the myriad of businesses that line airport terminals: duty-free shops, restaurants, bars, newsstands, local boutiques, souvenir peddlers, and salons."

In some cases, the story says, "the passengers might not even be near the open businesses, as airports close down entire concourses and shift airlines to different gates to consolidate. Certain concessionaires have closed down temporarily, while others have had to cut the number of employees due to social-distancing rules.

"For those who have decided to risk flying, there is also the question of whether to venture into the smaller space of a store, where social distancing may be difficult, if not impossible."

Fast Company notes that while airport businesses traditionally have had "the benefit of a captive audience, they’re also spending more to operate: rent and insurance costs are sky-high, as are the fees paid to suppliers who must comply with stringent security measures."  That investment has been rendered problematic by the pandemic, forcing these airport businesses to consider when or if or how  they'll be able to return.

•  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"U.S. employees started heading back to the office in greater numbers after Labor Day but that pace is stalling now, delivering another blow to economic-recovery hopes in many cities.

"The recent surge in Covid-19 cases across the country has led to an uptick in Americans resuming work at home after some momentum had been building for returning to the workplace, property analysts said. Floor after floor of empty office space is a source of great frustration for landlords and companies, which have invested millions of dollars in adapting building plans and developing new health protocols to make employees comfortable with a shared location."

According to the story, "About a quarter of employees had returned to work as of Nov. 18, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that monitors access-card swipes in more than 2,500 office buildings in 10 of the largest U.S. cities.  That rate is up sharply from an April low of less than 15%, which largely consisted of building-maintenance and essential workers. The office return rate climbed steadily during the summer and early fall, but it has flattened out after reaching a high point of 27% in mid-October."