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've now had 17,394,314 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 314,629 resultant deaths and 10,170,788 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 74,645,473 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 1,657,680 fatalities and 52,466,399 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "the U.S. logged its latest record-high number of newly reported Covid-19 cases in a day, while also setting new daily records for reported deaths and for hospitalizations … The U.S. also reported 3,656 deaths for Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins data, surpassing a record 3,306 reported Friday. It reported 3,019 deaths for Tuesday … Hospitalizations were also at a record high, for the 11th day in a row, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which reported 113,090 people in hospitals across the country. That included another record of 21,936 in intensive care."

•  From the New York Times this morning:

"As boxes of Pfizer vaccines began arriving around the country this week, hospital pharmacists made a surprising discovery: Some of the glass vials that are supposed to hold five doses contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — person.

"The news prompted a flurry of excited exchanges on Twitter and pharmacy message boards this week as hospital workers considered the tantalizing possibility that the limited supply of desperately needed vaccine might be stretched to reach more people.

"But it also set off a wave of confusion and debate over whether to use the extra doses, or to throw them out. At Northwell Health in New York, for example, an executive estimated that the hospital network might have thrown out enough extra vaccine to account for 15 to 20 doses while it waited for guidance from the state health department.

"On Wednesday, the pharmacists got an answer. In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration said that, 'given the public health emergency,' it was acceptable to use every full dose left over in each vial. The agency said it was consulting with Pfizer to determine 'the best path forward' and advised health officials not to pool doses from multiple vials."

•  Fast Company reports that even as the Covid-19 vaccine begins the process of being rolled out around the country, "researchers who looked at the deals that wealthy countries have struck with vaccine manufacturers found that nearly a quarter of the global population is likely to be waiting until 2022—and possibly longer—to have access to the vaccine."

Here are some of the numbers:

"By mid-November, before any COVID-19 vaccines had regulatory approval, countries had reserved a total of 7.48 billion doses of the vaccines, enough to cover 3.76 billion people. But of the 13 different vaccines with preorders, it still isn’t clear how many will actually succeed. And just over half of the doses have been reserved by wealthier countries, even though low- and middle-income countries make up 85% of the global population. Even if all of the leading vaccines move forward and can reach maximum production, the study says that 22.5% of the world’s population may have to wait until at least 2022 for vaccination."

The other side of this, I'm sure, will be that there will be wealthy folks who will charter flights to locations outside the United States where they can get the vaccine expeditiously, essentially jumping the line.  I suppose that there's not much we can do about them doing that, but maybe we could figure out a way not to let them back into the country afterwards?  Because they may be rich and they may be powerful, but they're clearly guilty of helping to erode the moral fiber of the nation.

•  Politico reports thatVide President Mike Pence will get his Covid19 vaccine on Friday to "promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people."  Second Lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams also will get vaccinated at the same time.

President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to get his vaccine next week, though the story says " he's torn — like many other political leaders — between wanting to set a good example for the country by getting vaccinated and not wanting to appear to cut in front of health care workers and other priority groups. As the incoming commander in chief, he has had the option of taking one of the country's currently scarce Pfizer vaccines, which began rolling out this week, but Biden has so far held off."

•  From Fox News:

"California has sent orders for 5,000 additional body bags, with 60 refrigerated storage units on standby as the state battles historic highs in daily virus cases and positivity rates.

"'We’re going through the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic,' Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a briefing Tuesday.  'I want to focus on the issue of how deadly this disease is.'

"Newsom said California is in the midst of its 'most acute peak' at the moment, and 60 53-foot refrigerated storage units are on standby, while thousands of body bags were distributed to San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo counties."

•  The Los Angeles Times reports that in Southern California, "the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to draft an urgent ordinance mandating an extra $4 an hour for grocery store workers for at least the next 120 days.

"Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who introduced the proposal, cited the need for immediate action amid soaring hospitalizations and infection rates."

The story notes that "in March, several grocery store corporations offered $2 to $4 hourly raises to employees in response to the burgeoning pandemic. Many of those pay bumps lapsed in May, but workers said the risk is far greater now than it was then."

However, "the California Grocers Assn., which counts large chains such as Kroger and Albertsons among its members, said it was concerned by the council’s decision and called it 'limited in scope … By singling out the grocery community, and by the same turn, failing to consult with store operators, we are concerned the city will make policy decisions based on flawed information and reasoning."

This should be a retailer decision, not a mandate from the government that only impacts one sector.

•  From National Public Radio:

"Tyson Foods has fired seven managers at an Iowa pork plant after investigating allegations they bet on how many workers there would get sick from the coronavirus.

"The company, one of the country's largest meat suppliers, launched an independent investigation into the complaints last month, suspending without pay the managers allegedly involved. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder led the investigation."

"The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth," Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks said in a statement Wednesday. "Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings."

They ought to be required to hand in their "I am a human being" identity cards, if you ask me.

•  CBS News reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 in Denver to "send a letter to Kroger Co. CEO Rodney McMullen, urging him to reinstate" a Hero Pay Nonus of $2 an hour for essential workers to "the 42,000 grocery workers represented by UFCW across the nation. The letter also requests the following safety improvements:  Enforcing mask requirements … Reinstating and enforcing strict shopper limits to allow social distancing … Improved staffing on all shifts to enable all workers to take COVID-19 sanitation breaks to wash their hands and disinfect the store."

The letter says, in part:  “Hundreds of thousands of UFCW members work to keep YOUR stores clean, YOUR shelves stocked, and YOUR business running. Their work has enabled the large increases in sales and higher profits you’ve reaped since the pandemic began. Yet, they are working in fear, they are working in danger, and they are working without adequate support and respect from their employer, Kroger … They are risking their health and that of their families to keep America’s food supply chain running and the country fed.  It is time that YOU take care of Kroger’s frontline Essential Workers like they are taking care of your customers.”

Kroger-owned King Soopers responded, in part:  “Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers. While meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials. We are proud of our dedicated associates who are on the frontlines, serving our customers when they need us most. Since March, we have invested over $1.3 billion to reward our associates (i.e., Appreciation Pay, Hero Bonus and Thank You Pay) and safeguard our associates and customers."

Just for fun, Kroger/King Soopers should've capitalized  a bunch of words in its statement, since that's clearly how Sanders and UFCW think you get people's attention.

•  Channel 5 News in St. Louis reports that "Schnucks is investing $200,000 in the communities it operates by purchasing gift cards to local restaurants that will be awarded to all its employees.  Each Schnucks employee will receive a $15 gift card to a restaurant located within five miles of their work location, Schnucks announced in a press release Wednesday."

This is a pattern with Schnucks in terms of community orientation:  "In April, Schnucks announced it would begin carrying grab-and-go meals from local restaurants and in July, the company expanded the partnerships to focus on Black-owned restaurants. "

•  CNN reports that Starbucks "is temporarily suspending its buy-one-get-one drink deals, better known as "Happy Hour," in an effort to reduce the number of customers in its stores as US Covid-19 cases rise."

The next two promotions, scheduled for December and January, were scratched "the increasing infection rate" and the "current guidance from the scientific community to not gather indoors in large groups for prolonged periods of time."

In other words, the responsible thing to do, even if the bottom line takes a hit because of reduced promotions.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon "has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give priority to its workers as vaccinations for Covid-19 begin to roll out.

"In a letter to a CDC vaccine-advisory panel Wednesday, the retail company requested that its front-line workers at its warehouses, data centers and Whole Foods Market grocery stores receive the vaccine 'at the earliest appropriate time.'

"Amazon wrote that it employs more than 800,000 people in the U.S., making it the nation’s second-largest employer behind Walmart Inc."

•  The Associated Press tells the story of Mayor Joyce Warshaw of Dodge City, Kansas, who resigned from her job this week after she was threatened by email and phone after expressing support for a local mask mandate.

“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.

Or, maybe that's exactly who these people are - bullies and morons.  I think she's giving them too much credit.

Interestingly, Dodge City's residents once were a lot more civilized - like back in the 1880s.

I was reading a piece in Smithsonian the other day saying that "Dodge City, Kansas, formed a municipal government in 1878. According to Stephen Aron, a professor of history at UCLA, the first law passed was one prohibiting the carry of guns in town, likely by civic leaders and influential merchants who wanted people to move there, invest their time and resources, and bring their families. Cultivating a reputation of peace and stability was necessary, even in boisterous towns, if it were to become anything more transient than a one-industry boom town."

And now, they have bullies and morons who threaten anyone who disagrees with them.  

I wonder what happens in a few months, when a lot of people have been vaccinated, but not enough to let people stop wearing masks.  What will happen to retailers in Dodge City and elsewhere who try to do the right thing to protect their employees and customers?  Will they be subjected to this nonsense, too?

•  The New York Times this morning reports that "the start of the Australian Open will be delayed bythree weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, a schedule released by the men’s tennis tour revealed on Wednesday night.

The year’s first Grand Slam tournament, which usually takes place during the last two weeks of January, has been rescheduled to the middle two weeks of February. It will start on Feb. 8, according to the ATP schedule.

• The Los Angeles Times has the story of Tom Cruise, who had "a full-blown meltdown about crew members who were caught violating social distancing protocols on the set of Mission: Impossible 7.

Cruise was caught on tape saying:  “I don’t ever want to see it again — ever! … If I see you do it again, you’re f— gone. … That’s it! No apologies. You can tell it to the people that are losing their f— homes because our industry is shut down.”

The Times writes that "the 3½ minutes of rage, occurring on the set of Paramount’s seventh entry in the high-stakes M:I franchise, currently filming outside London, is definitely a lot. Punctuated with multiple profanities," Cruise is heard "dressing down of crew members who were, apparently, standing too close to one another."

“I’m on the phone with every f— studio at night, insurance companies, producers,” he said, “and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies. We are creating thousands of jobs ... . We are not shutting this motherf— movie down. Is that understood?”

I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, to be honest … but I've never liked him as much as  do right now.  He's right - when people ignore the science and abandon necessary precautions, they don't just put other people at risk, but put jobs and industries at risk … not to mention the nation's economy, which cannot recover until we get this thing under control.

When he gets back from London, maybe he could swing by Dodge City?