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, there now have been a total of 26,767,229 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 452,279 deaths and 16,403,843 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 103,582,807 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,239.043 resultant fatalities … and 75,205,464 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Newly reported Covid-19 cases were down from a day earlier, as were hospitalizations and deaths, following a month when all three metrics hit records before abating … Hospitalizations were at 95,013, down from a day-earlier 97,561 and the second day in a row the number was less than 100,000 since entering six-digit territory on Dec. 2, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

"Even after weeks of decreases, the numbers are still higher than what the U.S. experienced during earlier surges. New daily cases rarely exceeded 70,000 during the worst days of the summer; hospitalizations never exceeded 60,000."

•  The Washington Post reports that "at least 25.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 5.8 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 49.9 million doses have been distributed."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports on how "the job of vaccinating much of the American population is about to fall largely on retail pharmacies, with chains like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger saying they have the manpower and physical space to handle mass vaccinations.

"The U.S. fell short of its initial goal of inoculating 20 million people by the end of 2020. As of Friday, 27.9 million shots had been administered, out of 49.2 million distributed since mid-December, according to CDC data.

"Among the biggest challenges now for retailers is dealing with customers eager to know when it’s their turn."

•  Axios reports on how "mutated versions of the coronavirus threaten to prolong the pandemic, perhaps for years - killing more people and deepening the global economic crisis in the process … The U.S. and the world are in a race to control the virus before these variants can gain a bigger foothold. But many experts say they already expect things to get worse before they get better. And that also means an end to the pandemic may be getting further away."

The premise is that there actually two epidemics with which scientists and public health officials have to deal - the original strain and the mutated versions.

"There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the first epidemic," Axios writes.  "Although the virus is still spreading uncontrolled across the U.S. and much of the world, cases and hospitalizations are down from their peak, and vaccinations are steadily increasing.

"But the next iteration, fueled by variants of the virus, is already taking hold … A more contagious and more lethal strain of the virus could easily send cases, hospitalizations and deaths soaring right back to record levels, even as vaccinations continue to ramp up."

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, said on Meet The Press yesterday, "That hurricane's coming … We are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country."

•  The Washington Post reports that the new variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus that first was detected in South Africa now has been found in both South Carolina and Maryland - and the people who contracted it apparently had not engaged in international travel and have no connection to the others.

"The mutation appears to spread more easily than other variants," the Post writes, reporting that "Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration, has suggested that this variant might be more resistant to antibody therapies. While additional research is still required, vaccines will likely still be effective against the mutation, top infectious-diseases expert Anthony S. Fauci said in January."

•  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is mandating that people in the US will have to wear face masks on all forms of public transportation and in all public transportation hubs.

The mandate goes into effect tomorrow.

“Requiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” according to the 11-page order signed by Marty Cetron, director for CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “Increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5% of gross domestic product.”

•  From the Washington Post:

"A number of leading grocery chains are offering small cash bonuses and other incentives to encourage employees to get the coronavirus vaccine, in an effort that experts say could help speed protection of some of the country’s most vulnerable workers: low-paid, hourly retail workers.

Dollar General, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Lidl, as well as Instacart, have announced plans to promote the vaccine among employees, including flexible work schedules, paid time off to visit a vaccination site and bonuses of up to $200.

"The restaurant industry may also be moving toward incentives. On Tuesday, Darden Restaurants, which employs more than 175,000 workers across Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and many more brands, said it would offer up to four hours of paid time off to get the vaccine.

"However, few other companies have followed suit, potentially in part because of legal uncertainties involved with health screening questionnaires leading up to vaccination.

"The Washington Post reached out to more than 85 major employers across hospitality, retail, manufacturing and financial services to ask about incentive plans. About half responded; only two said they had current plans to compensate workers for getting their shots. The rest were still puzzling through their plans for vaccines and their workforces."

One of the problems, apparently, is that there could be legal issues if you offer incentives that some people are not able to access because they have medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.

•  From Bloomberg:

"Years from now when the pandemic’s impact on global business is analyzed, it’s likely that the most lucrative change will be how it pushed—or actually shoved—massive markets into the modern e-commerce era.

"In many countries, online shopping hadn’t been easy because of underdeveloped infrastructure and the reluctance, or inability, of consumers to use banks and electronic payment. That stalled growth in a lot of the world, but Covid-19’s disruption has forced rapid change.

"Take Mexico, where fewer than half of adults have bank accounts and less than 5% of retail sales occurred online before the pandemic—a third of the global average. The lack of access to banking and mistrust of the financial system left it out of the online boom happening in Europe, China and the U.S. But when stores closed to slow Covid-19, millions of holdouts moved to the web. Mexican companies responded on the fly—igniting a 54% jump in web sales—and accelerated the online ecosystem by years. This kind of upheaval also took place in other major economies, like India, Russia and Brazil, that were slow to e-commerce."

•  The Washington Post has a story about how some front line grocery workers, who thought they'd be prioritized for vaccination, and now being pushed lower on the list as some states have expanded eligibility to older residents.

"Many states are trying to speed up a delayed and often chaotic rollout of coronavirus vaccines by adding people 65 and older to near the front of the line," the Post writes.  "But that approach is pushing others back in the queue, especially because retired residents are more likely to have the time and resources to pursue hard-to-get appointments. As a result, workers who often face the highest risk of exposure to the virus will be waiting longer to get protected, according to experts, union officials and workers."

The additional problem is that a high percentage of front line grocery workers also tend to be people of color - whose communities have been disproportionately harder hit by the coronavirus than White communities.

"The shifting priorities illuminate political and moral dilemmas fundamental to the mass vaccination campaign: whether inoculations should be aimed at rectifying racial disparities, whether the federal government can apply uniform standards and whether local decision-making will emphasize more than ease of administration."

The inconsistency from state to state and even county to county can be frustrating.  In some states, if you're 65 or older you can get vaccinated, but in Connecticut, where I live, it currently is 75 or older.  In some states, teachers can get the vaccine, but again, not in Connecticut - and I live with two teachers.  I'm not complaining here … just pointing out that there seem to be different standards in different places.

•  From the New York Post:

"Travelers passing through Oakland International Airport will now be able to grab a COVID-19 test out of a vending machines, officials said.

The self-administered kits are available for about $150 at the contactless kiosks in each terminal … Oakland is the first US airport to sell the coronavirus tests in vending machines, officials said."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Americans are splashing out on pricier whiskey, tequila and other spirits during the pandemic, helping distillers post their strongest sales in four decades despite widespread bar closures.

"People who can’t spend on concerts, travel and watching live sports are splurging instead on high-end spirits to drink at home, say alcohol executives. That drove U.S. distillers’ revenue up 7.7% to $31.2 billion last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council - or DISCUS - a trade body. It said the figures marked the fastest growth and highest sales for at least 40 years."

•  Variety reports that "the April dates of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and its companion Stagecoach country music festival have been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser. A rep for the officer tells Variety that it remains possible that the festivals could be rescheduled for later in the year, although she deferred to Goldenvoice, the festivals’ promoter, for further details."