Published on: March 10, 2020
…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• From Bloomberg:
"Target Corp. has joined Kroger Co. in limiting purchases of items like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in response to widespread stockpiling due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"Target began restricting customers to six such items per person over the weekend, spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said in an email Monday. Signs posted in stores say the move is 'due to high demand.' Kroger made a similar move earlier this month, with a limit of five items, and regional grocers across the country have done the same."
According to the story, "Target’s response comes just days after Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell cited 'aggressive shopping' in its stores."
• CVS said yesterday that it will start delivering prescriptions to customers for free.
"The latest steps we’re taking will help ensure patients of all ages have every option available to them when it comes to filling prescriptions,” Troyen Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer for CVS Health, said in a statement. "As long as COVID-19 continues to be a threat, we’ll maintain a relentless focus on how best to serve our patients, members and customers.”
The new policy begins immediately.
At the same time, USA Today reports, "Aetna, a CVS company, will also waive early refill limits on 30-day prescriptions for medicines typically needed to address chronic conditions like hypertension and asthma. And customers who are on Medicare, or who have Aetna health policies will be able to get prescriptions for such medications that last three months."
• CNBC reports that the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) - the trade association formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - is calling on the US Department of Justice "to stop retailers from jacking up prices on hand sanitizer, masks and other coronavirus essentials." The organization "wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr on Monday urging him to take action on sellers taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak."
“If price gouging continues over the coming months, more and more Americans will become unwilling and/or unable to pay excessive prices for these products,” wrote Bryan Zumwalt, the organization's executive vice president of public affairs. “This will decrease the likelihood that individuals will take recommended and necessary preventative actions.”
CNBC writes that "the letter comes as Amazon, Walmart and other e-commerce companies have struggled to curb third-party sellers who are overcharging for products that have spiked in demand amid the spread of the coronavirus."
Some oversight is being provided both by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state Attorneys General, but CBA believes that tougher federal oversight is appropriate. “Given the rapid pace with which COVID-19 is spreading and the nationwide prevalence of price gouging, it is vital that the federal government play a role in these efforts,” Zumwalt wrote. “Accordingly, we urge DOJ to coordinate with state attorneys general to ensure a swift, effective and unified national response to price gouging."
• The Washington Post reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have "sent warning letters to seven companies accusing them of marketing illegal, unapproved drugs and making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims. It was the first time the agencies took such action involving products being touted for the coronavirus.
"The targeted products include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver."
To be clear, there is no known cure or even treatment for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Ironically, one of the companies targeted by federal regulators was The Jim Bakker Show, which has sold something called Silver Solution, a gel that it says is made from precious metal and can help fight the coronavirus. Bakker, of course, is the well-known televangelist who back in eighties was accused of rape and accounting fraud and ended up serving jail time after felony convictions. Now he's back in the news, preying instead of praying, selling useless crap to guileless believers, and saying that it believes in the product “because of the research and the advice from medical professionals that we respect."
Which makes me think that the Consumer Brands Association is right - the Justice Department has to get involved.
• USA Today reports that Delta Air Lines announced that "it will allow travelers holding tickets to any destination in March and April to change or cancel their flight without paying a hefty change fee, regardless of when they bought the ticket.
The broad fee waiver, the first by a major U.S airline, provides travelers holding nonrefundable tickets more flexibility as trips are canceled due to the coronavirus crisis."
United, the story says, "followed suit Monday night, announcing on its website and on social media that the airline would waive change fees for the next 12 months for flights booked between March 3 and March 31, 2020."
USA Today writes that "Delta and other airlines have been sharply criticized this month for only waiving change fees for travelers buying new tickets, a policy designed to boost sagging ticket sales. Southwest is the only major airline that routinely does not charge a change fee."
I have some experience with this. Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak/epidemic/pandemic, I've had five speaking engagements over the next six weeks cancelled or postponed … and because I booked those flights before March 1, United and Delta wanted to charge me change fees. (Not Southwest. It just let me cancel the ticket. No penalty.)
I did a little research, found the email address for United's CEO, and sent him a polite email pointing out that people making reservations after March 1 were aware of the coronavirus issue, and that it was those of us who booked in January and February who really needed relief - we had no idea when we booked of how quickly things would fall apart. I sent off the email, and within 24 hours got a phone call from United customer service informing me that they would waive all change fees for me.
It is a shame that it took an email to prompt that decision, but give credit to United for responding appropriately and quickly. FYI … Delta did the same thing. So it is possible to get at least some of these airlines to loosen their policies. (My kids are scheduled to go to Ireland on vacation in April, and we've been unable to get Aer Lingus to budge on its policy; I sent its CEO the same email I sent to United's CEO, and have received no response. Disappointing.)
• Boston and Dublin, Ireland, both announced yesterday that they are cancelling their annual St. Patrick's Day parades next week because of concerns about the coronavirus.
New York City and Philadelphia, however, said that their plans for St. Patrick's Day parades have not changed.
Not yet anyway.
• Variety reports that "both weekends of the Coachella Festival as well as the Stagecoach Music Festival that follows have been postponed due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak," with plans to stage them in October.
According to the story, "Organizers have yet to release a statement, but insiders say the decision was inevitable as coronavirus panic continues to sweep the live entertainment sector.
"Dominos are falling in the festival world, as the Coachella and Stagecoach postponements follow quickly on the heels of Friday afternoon’s announcement that South by Southwest is officially off for 2020. That was preceded by a Friday morning news conference officially confirming days of reports that Miami’s EDM-based Ultra Music Festival was being called off. Today, Miami’s Winter Music Conference was also called off."
• Italy, for the moment, has been virtually closed for business by the COVID-19 coronavirus.
From the BBC:
"Italy has extended its emergency coronavirus measures, which include travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, to the entire country.
"On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered people to stay home and seek permission for essential travel.
"He said the measures were designed to protect the most vulnerable. 'There is no more time,' he said in a TV address.
"Italy's coronavirus death toll jumped from 366 to 463 on Monday. It is the worst-hit country after China.
"The number of confirmed infection also increased by 24% from Sunday, official figures showed. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions."
• It has become an article of faith that we have entered a period in which people should not shake hands. Instead, people should bump fists or elbows … or maybe just wave or nod.
But in some circles, there are calls to use a very specific hand gesture, which doesn't just help avoid bodily contact, but also suggests a mindset that might be timely.
It is a gesture that, in fact, seems highly logical: