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, here are the updated pandemic numbers:  21,857,616 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … 369,990 deaths … and 13,024,142 reported recoveries.

Globally:  87,744,324 confirmed coronavirus cases … 1,893,473 deaths … 63,212,429 reported recoveries. (Source.)

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"The number of people hospitalized in the U.S. due to Covid-19 hit a record as newly reported coronavirus cases rose to over 250,000.

"More than 132,000 people were hospitalized because of the disease as of Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Intensive-care units were also stretched, with more than 23,700 patients in ICUs across the country.

"The U.S. daily case total for Wednesday was higher than the nearly 230,000 new coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The nation also reported 3,865 fatalities for Wednesday, a single-day record, according to Johns Hopkins."

•  The New York Times writes that "with no robust system to identify genetic variations of the coronavirus, experts warn that the United States is woefully ill-equipped to track a dangerous new mutant, leaving health officials blind as they try to combat the grave threat.

"The variant, which is now surging in Britain and burdening its hospitals with new cases, is rare for now in the United States. But it has the potential to explode in the next few weeks, putting new pressures on American hospitals, some of which are already near the breaking point."

The problem, the Times writes, is that "the United States has no large-scale, nationwide system for checking coronavirus genomes for new mutations, including the ones carried by the new variant. About 1.4 million people test positive for the virus each week, but researchers are only doing genome sequencing — a method that can definitively spot the new variant — on fewer than 3,000 of those weekly samples. And that work is done by a patchwork of academic, state and commercial laboratories.

"Scientists say that a national surveillance program would be able to determine just how widespread the new variant is and help contain emerging hot spots, extending the crucial window of time in which vulnerable people across the country could get vaccinated."

•  CNBC reports that "CVS Health and Walgreens said Wednesday they are on track to complete the first round of Covid vaccine shots at nursing homes across the country by Jan. 25.

"The federal government partnered with the two pharmacy chains to administer the shots to residents and staff in long-term care facilities … Less than 1% of the U.S. population lives in long-term care facilities, but they account for about 38% of all Covid-19 deaths in the country as of Dec. 31, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

According to the story, "With their updates this week, the companies offered a bright spot for a vaccine rollout that has been slower than federal officials and public health officials anticipated. The U.S. has distributed just over 17 million doses, and 4.8 million people have been given their first shot as of Tuesday — far short of the country’s original goal of immunizing at least 20 million people by the end of 2020."

•  From the Washington Post:

"The federal government is accelerating a plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines through retail pharmacies, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday.

"In a briefing with reporters, Azar and other officials from Operation Warp Speed acknowledged the slow rate of vaccine administration and said the administration is taking 'immediate action' for states to speed up getting shots into arms."

According to the story, "The partnership with more than 40,000 pharmacy locations from 19 chains will be one way for states to allocate doses of vaccine directly to these locations, Azar said. The original plan had been to ramp up the program over time because there isn’t enough vaccine supply to spread across all the pharmacies.

"The CDC sent instructions to state health departments this week to allow states to 'turn on' the process. The CDC is recommending that one or two pharmacy partners in each jurisdiction be selected to receive vaccine as part of the program, according to information sent to the states."

•  Reuters reports that "the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it is carefully monitoring allergic reactions to the coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc and urged individuals who had a serious reaction not to get the second dose.

"In a conference call with reporters, the U.S. public health agency said allergic reactions are occurring at a rate of 11.1 per 1 million vaccinations. That compared with flu vaccines, in which such reactions occur at a rate of 1.3 per 1 million shots.

"The severe reactions are still 'exceedingly rare,' they said, stressing the need for people to get vaccinated when the shots become available to them, given the threat of death and serious disease from the coronavirus that has already claimed more than 357,000 lives in the United States alone."

•  From the Washington Post:

"The mutant variant of the novel coronavirus first seen in Britain is likely to be present in much of the United States. Although the variant has so far been detected in a very small fraction of infections, it shows signs of spreading and may become significantly more common in coming weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and infectious-disease experts.

"The cases have been mostly isolated: One in New York, one in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Colorado. The exception has been California, and specifically San Diego County, where a robust surveillance operation has found 32 cases of the variant.

"National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told the Washington Post on Wednesday:  'I would be surprised if that doesn’t grow pretty rapidly.'

"There is no evidence that the variant, which has recently been detected in more than 30 countries, carries a greater risk of severe disease or death. But the appearance of coronavirus variants, including another mutation-laden variant that has shown up in South Africa, presents a challenge for every country hoping to crush the pandemic.

"A more transmissible virus could drive more patients into hospitals and boost the covid-19 death toll. It also could prolong the march toward herd immunity."

•  USA Today reports that "Amazon is now selling COVID-19 tests for customers to use at home as cases continue to rise in the U.S. 

"The DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at-Home Collection Kit detects the presence of the virus but does not confirm immunity or detect antibodies. DxTerity's molecular-based PCR test received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last month. The test differs from the quicker and less expensive antigen tests, which use a nasal swab or throat swab to detect the virus. 

"A single COVID-19 testing kit is listed for $110, and a 10-pack bundle is available for $1,000. "

•  The Washington Post reports that "students on the campus of the University of California at San Diego can now access free, self-administered coronavirus tests at vending machines, in a first-of-its-kind approach that eases the burden on staff and provides more flexibility as the school scales up testing.

"The 11 machines were introduced Jan. 2 as the school switches from biweekly to weekly required testing for the 10,000 students on campus (about a quarter of UC-San Diego’s total enrollment.) The school plans to install nine more machines in the coming weeks."

The paper says that "students use their school ID cards to obtain tests from the machines, swab their nostrils and drop off their samples. The samples, once collected, would be analyzed at campus labs within 72 hours. Thousands of students and employees have taken advantage of the machines, UC-San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said in an email."

• is out with a new study about the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, which, it notes, "has been completely upended by COVID, though with dramatically different effects on sub-sectors. QSR restaurants benefitted from their strength in drive-thru, delivery, and takeaway allowing them to offset losses and even drive strength during the pandemic. And the year to come could be especially well suited for their offerings as economic uncertainty could further boost the appeal of their high-value offering.

"But what about sit-down chains? There is a real concern that the current environment could cause further damage to an industry that had already been facing challenges prior to the pandemic."

Unsurprisingly, the company says in a blog posting, "the current resurgence of COVID cases has been especially unkind to the sit-down restaurant sector," with major chains seeing significant traffic decreases, sometimes (as in the case of Denny';s, seeing decreases of as much as 50 percent during certain weeks.

•  Sears is back.  But not as a retail entity.

The Wall Street Journal reports that "public-health agencies and health-care organizations from Iowa to Florida are using some of the hundreds of closed Sears department stores to help with the nationwide effort to administer Covid-19 vaccines to millions of people.

"Vast floor plans, sprawling parking lots and easy access to highways that attracted property developers and shoppers during the retailer’s heyday are drawing the attention of health officials. The stores are well-known destinations, and house enough space for workers and vaccine recipients to adhere to social-distancing guidelines."