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 United States, we now have had 16,045,957 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 299,751 deaths and 9,336,480 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 70,833,684 coronavirus cases, 1,591,008 fatalities, and 49,258,434 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  Reuters reports this morning that Alex Azar, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), said this morning that "U.S. approval of Pfizer Inc’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine should come within days, with the first Americans getting immunized as early as Monday or Tuesday."

Azar said that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has informed Pfizer of the authorization and will work with the company to ship the vaccine nationwide.

The announcement follows yesterday's recommendation in a 17-4 vote by an FDA advisory panel that the vaccine should be cleared for emergency authorization, which will allow the two-dose treatment to be used.

•  Even as the good news about the vaccine came from regulatory authorities, there was this sobering report from the Associated Press:

" Just when the U.S. appears on the verge of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, the numbers have become gloomier than ever: Over 3,000 American deaths in a single day, more than on D-Day or 9/11. One million new cases in the span of five days. More than 106,000 people in the hospital.

"The crisis across the country is pushing medical centers to the breaking point and leaving staff members and public health officials burned out and plagued by tears and nightmares … New cases per day are running at all-time highs of over 209,000 on average. And the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is setting records nearly every day."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

A number of states continued to struggle with recent surges of infections. California reported more than 33,500 new cases for Thursday, slightly lower than Wednesday’s record total.

'The rising case numbers prompted several states to impose new social-distancing measures.

"In Pennsylvania, which reported more than 12,000 new cases for the first time since Dec. 4, Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday instituted new restrictions on dining, retail and social gatherings. The new restrictions include a ban on extracurricular activities at schools, a suspension of indoor dining and limits on indoor events to 10 people and outdoor events to 50. The new measures go into effect Dec. 12 and remain in place until Jan. 4.

"Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday issued an executive order imposing a statewide curfew to keep residents at home late at night, an expanded mask mandate to include all indoor settings and outdoor settings where social-distancing isn’t possible and new limits to the size of social gatherings. The new measures go into effect Dec. 14 and last until Jan. 31. Virginia reported more than 3,900 new cases for Thursday, down slightly from a record set on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins data.

"Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, meanwhile, announced an extension of an overnight curfew that will remain in effect until Jan. 2. Thursday marked the state’s fourth-highest case count to date, with 11,738 new Covid-19 infections, Mr. DeWine said."

•  USA Today reports that FedEx and UPS plan to divide and conquer the US when it comes to distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, splitting up the country in a way that they say will be most efficient and effective.

Executives with the two companies explained the strategy yesterday to a US Senate subcommittee.  They said that they are working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get priority for flights carrying the vaccine.

•  USA Today reports that "a top Clorox executive says retail shelves won’t be well-stocked with the company’s popular disinfectant wipes until mid-2021 as feverish demand during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to outstrip supply … His comments mark the third time this year the company has pushed back the time frame for easing nationwide shortages. In May, Clorox officials said they expected substantial improvement in supplies by last summer. Then in August, an executive said stocking up would take at least until the end of 2020."

•  CNBC reports that "Walmart is getting ready to administer Covid-19 vaccinations across the country once a vaccine is approved, the company’s chief medical officer said Thursday.

"In a post on the company’s website, Dr. Tom Van Gilder said the retailer is preparing its more than 5,000 stores and Sam’s Club pharmacies to receive the vaccine doses — such as having freezers and dry ice at pharmacies to store them at the right temperature … Gilder said Walmart is entering into agreements with states to be able to offer vaccinations at pharmacies or other locations, such as long-term care facilities. He did not specify the states or any agreements that the company has signed.

"He said Walmart has begun to tackle other challenges that could slow down or complicate a widespread rollout to the general public, including educating employees about the vaccine so they’re informed ahead of time.

"Walmart is also thinking through a process to help people keep track of their first and second doses of the vaccine. The vaccines that require two doses must be separated by 21 or 28 days, depending on which one, and that timing boosts effectiveness."

•  Hy-Vee has announced that "it will offer rapid antigen COVID-19 testing at 47 Hy-Vee pharmacy locations via an outdoor, drive-thru testing process." 

The first 18 locations started testing yesterday, "with the additional 28 locations scheduled to begin testing over the next two weeks. Patients will receive same day test results in as little as 1-2 hours after completing the test."

•  The Associated Press has an answer to the question, "Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?"

Simply, no.

"For a couple reasons, masks and social distancing will still be recommended for some time after people are vaccinated.

"To start, the first coronavirus vaccines require two shots; Pfizer’s second dose comes three weeks after the first and Moderna’s comes after four weeks. And the effect of vaccinations generally aren’t immediate.

"People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot. But full protection may not happen until a couple weeks after the second shot.

"It’s also not yet known whether the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect people from infection entirely, or just from symptoms. That means vaccinated people might still be able to get infected and pass the virus on, although it would likely be at a much lower rate … And even once vaccine supplies start ramping up, getting hundreds of millions shots into people’s arms is expected to take months."

•  The Los Angeles Times writes about a study in South Korea, based on a "meticulous and often invasive contact tracing regime," that "raised concerns that the widely accepted standard of 6 feet of social distance may not be far enough to keep people safe."

Basically, the premise is that the virus can be contracted via droplets that touch the face, as opposed to just being breathed in, and those droplets can travel farther than six feet depending on air flow - especially in places like restaurants.

•  The Seattle Times reports that "a day after Washington (3-1) paused all team-related football activities due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases within its program, Saturday’s game at Oregon will be canceled and declared a no contest … The Pac-12’s minimum threshold requires each team to have 53 available scholarship players — including one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen — for a game to go on. According to a source inside the program, the Huskies are 'well below' the 53-scholarship minimum.