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 27,611,403 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … resulting in 474,933 deaths … and 17,354,388 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 106,736,059 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,328,503 resultant fatalities … and 78,436,334 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  The Washington Post reports that "at least 31.9 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 9.3 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 59.3 million doses have been distributed."

•  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. fell below 100,000 for the first time this year, and hospitalizations continued to decline, as vaccination rollouts picked up speed.

"The U.S. reported just under 87,000 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and published early Monday. The data may update later. Overall, more than 27 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for Covid-19 since the pandemic began, accounting for more than a quarter of all confirmed cases world-wide, according to Johns Hopkins data.

"Hospitalizations because of Covid-19 fell to 81,439 as of Sunday, marking the 26th consecutive daily decline, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care units also fell. As of Sunday, there were 16,616 Covid-19 patients in ICUs across the country, the lowest level since Nov. 19, according to the Covid Tracking Project."

•  The New York Times reports that "South Africa has halted use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine after evidence emerged that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant that was first seen in the country.

"The findings were a devastating blow to the country’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

"Scientists in South Africa said on Sunday that a similar problem held among people who had been infected by earlier versions of the coronavirus: The immunity they acquired naturally did not appear to protect them from mild or moderate cases when reinfected by the variant, known as B.1.351.

"The developments, coming nearly a week after a million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in South Africa, were an enormous setback for the country, where more than 46,000 people are known to have died from the virus. And they were another sign of the dangers posed by new mutations. The B.1.351 variant has already spread to at least 32 countries, including the United States."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Vaccination drives hold out the promise of curbing Covid-19, but governments and businesses are increasingly accepting what epidemiologists have long warned: The pathogen will circulate for years, or even decades, leaving society to coexist with Covid-19 much as it does with other endemic diseases like flu, measles, and HIV.

"The ease with which the coronavirus spreads, the emergence of new strains and poor access to vaccines in large parts of the world mean Covid-19 could shift from a pandemic disease to an endemic one, implying lasting modifications to personal and societal behavior, epidemiologists say."

Indeed, the Journal writes, "a new and potentially lucrative Covid-19 industry is emerging quickly, as businesses invest in goods and services such as air-quality monitoring, filters, diagnostic kits and new treatments."

Does this mean that supermarkets should begin creating permanent coronavirus sections that offer such products?  Maybe.  In fact, maybe the real question is which retailer will be the first to build this new reality into its sets.

•  The Washington Post reports that "the coronavirus variant that shut down much of the United Kingdom is spreading rapidly across the United States, outcompeting other strains and doubling its prevalence among confirmed infections every week and a half, according to new research made public Sunday.

"The report, posted on the preprint server MedRxiv and not yet peer-reviewed or published in a journal, comes from a collaboration of many scientists and provides the first hard data to support a forecast issued last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed the variant becoming dominant in the United States by late March.

"The spread of the variant, officially known as B.1.1.7, and the threat of other mutant strains of the virus, have added urgency to the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The variant is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus and may also be more lethal, although that is far less certain.

"The mutations do not change the fundamental way the virus spreads, and masks and social distancing will continue to be effective in limiting infections, disease experts point out."

•  The Washington Post reports that "nearly a year into the pandemic’s gutting of the economy, businesses across the country are increasingly charging coronavirus-related fees, ranging from a $5 disinfection charge in a hair salon to $1,200 for extra food and cleaning in a senior living center, which are often undisclosed until the customer gets a bill.

"According to a survey by the Washington Post of attorney general offices and financial departments in 52 states and territories, U.S. consumers in 29 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.

"Hidden fees are a legitimate concern for consumers, especially for economically vulnerable Americans or senior citizens without much income, but not every state protects consumers from them. While medical insurance law in some states requires health-care providers to offer refunds to patients who have been unfairly charged for personal protective equipment, other states allow for businesses to tack on extra fees, as long as they’re disclosed upfront.

"It’s unclear exactly how widespread coronavirus surcharges are, as anecdotal social media posts of customer receipts and reports filed with attorneys general and state consumer protection departments are the only way to track them. But health-care providers and residential facilities are some of the worst-affected sectors."

Some people will be able to change their behavior so they don't have to do business with companies perceived as exploiting them, but some won't have any choice … and this will lead to ever-more-public investigations by states and municipalities.  If you are a government official looking to get re-elected, you can't go wrong by being perceived as pro-consumer … especially if it means fighting off the vultures trying to pick the meat off beleaguered people's bones.

•  Axios reports that "on the eve of Super Bowl weekend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote President Biden to tell him that each of the league's 32 teams 'will make its stadium available for mass vaccinations of the general public' … Goodell wrote in the letter, dated Thursday, that this can be done swiftly 'because many of our clubs have offered their facilities previously as COVID testing centers as well as election sites over the past several months'."