Published on: March 24, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• This morning, there are 391,947 reported cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus globally, with 17,136 deaths and 102,843 people reported to have recovered.
In the US, there are 46,168 reported cases of Covid-19, 582 deaths, and just 295 people reported to have recovered.
• From the Washington Post, news of new reported symptoms that may alert people to the possibility that they have the coronavirus:
"While every case is different, the telltale symptoms of the novel coronavirus have been widely agreed upon — a high fever, persistent cough or shortness of breath. In the most severe instances, those afflicted have reported confusion or difficulty breathing, and sometimes, anxiety is the most prevailing symptom of all.
"But a team of British ear, nose and throat doctors on Friday raised the possibility of a new indicator of the coronavirus, one they say has been observed globally, even in patients who are otherwise asymptomatic: anosmia, a condition that causes the loss of sense of smell. In a statement, they warned that adults experiencing recent anosmia could be unknown carriers of covid-19, and urged them to consider self-isolation."
• In breaking news this morning, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, have been postponed until 2021 because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
• From CNBC:
"A week after leaders of Walmart, Target, CVS Health and Walgreens pledged to set up coronavirus testing in their parking lots, the public is still waiting for their widespread availability.
"Only one of the companies — CVS — has opened a testing site so far. The company opened its first drive-through test site Thursday afternoon in Massachusetts, but it is limited to police, firefighters, nurses and other first responders who are referred by government or public health officials.
"In the next few days, Walmart said it will open two sites and Walgreens said it will open one site in the Chicago area. Target has not yet announced any detailed plans.
"None of the four companies have said when or where they’ll add more test sites — and when the drive-through locations will welcome the general public.
"The slow ramp-up of sites has underscored concerns voiced by health-care systems and criticisms by politicians about personal protective gear shortages and challenges of reaching cities and towns across the U.S. as the coronavirus spreads.There are no proven treatments or vaccines for the coronavirus, but medical professionals say testing can help contain the pandemic by encouraging people to self-quarantine and closely monitor their condition so they can seek hospital care, if necessary."
I'm no expert, but the testimony from experts that I find to be the most persuasive is when they say that the best way to stabilize the economy and level the pandemic curve is testing, testing and more testing, combined with a broad lockdown of the nation's institutions so that we shut this thing down.
• Albertsons announced yesterday that as it looks to hire some 30,000 people to address "critical needs" during the pandemic, it plans to partner with "major companies to provide part-time jobs to their employees who have been furloughed or had their hours cut."
In other words, Albertsons is looking to hire laid off and furloughed employees from other companies, or those who have seen their hours reduced, to help it get through the crisis while simultaneously helping those people generate some income. The expectation on both sides is that these people will return to their previous employers once the crisis passes.
“The most valuable asset and the core of any business is people, and we are working hard with many Human Resource teams across a variety of businesses who are actively defining next steps for their employees,” said President and CEO Vivek Sankaran. “So many businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors are scaling back hours or temporarily closing as their customers remain home and adhere to shelter-in-place orders. We are grateful to be a resource to help fill a critical need in our own business and take care of people who want to continue working during this time of national emergency.”
Currently, Albertsons Cos. has secured partnerships with 17 companies, including ASM Global, BJ’s Restaurants, G6 Hospitality, Hilton, Inspire Brands,Marriott International, MGM Resorts, Regal Cinemas, and G6 Hospitality.
This is brilliant. An industry that needs people turns to industries that have been hit hard to find people who need work.
• At the same time, MarketWatch reports that CVS Health "is embarking on one of the most ambitious hiring drives in its history with plans to hire 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary workers - and it has decided to tap directly into its customers’ workforces by taking on furloughed workers from the Marriott and Hilton hotel chains."
The story notes that "taking on furloughed workers from its own customers will likely speed up the hiring process as those workers will have had background checks and met other requirements that employers seek."
In addition, the Washington Post notes, CVS "will distribute one-time payouts of $150 to $500 to pharmacists, 'front line' health-care workers, store managers and associates, and 'other site-based hourly employees,' according to the release.
• USA Today reports that "Amazon announced Monday that it has removed more than 3,900 selling accounts in its U.S. store for 'violating our fair pricing policies.'
"As coronavirus fears began to spread in early March, the company said it was investigating. On Monday, the retail giant also said in a blog post it has removed more than half a million items from its stores because of 'coronavirus-based price gouging,' about half the amount it had previously said it removed in response to price gouging or misleading claims."
The story goes on: "The company reinforced its claim that it 'has proactively reached out to every state attorney general in the country' to ensure bad actors were being held accountable.
"Although the post did not mention Amazon's own pricing changes, it added its platform 'strictly prohibits sellers from exploiting an emergency by charging excessively high prices on products and shipping' and that it is 'issuing regular reminders to our sellers about these longstanding policies'."
• From MediaPost:
"A coalition of national and regional eateries is backing a new campaign called the Great American Takeout--set for Tuesday March 24--in a bid to support the struggling restaurant industry, which has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Many states and cities nationwide have ordered all dine-in restaurant operations closed to help stop the spread of the virus, but posing great economic harm to the restaurant sector, which employs an estimated 15 million workers.
"Many restaurants can still offer takeout service, though. The coalition is asking Americans to order at least one delivery or pick-up meal on Tuesday to show support for the industry.
"The group cites conclusions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration that there is little evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or packaging."
• In the New York Times, chef/restaurateur/humanitarian José Andrés has an op-ed piece that is worth reading. An excerpt:
"The coronavirus pandemic threatens to create both a public health and economic catastrophe. But we cannot afford to ignore the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding out of sight.
"Our fate as a nation depends on how we feed our most vulnerable citizens through this crisis. If our leaders step up now with federal aid, food can be the solution — supporting millions of jobs while also feeding millions of people in desperate need.
"There is historical precedent for spending federal dollars to preserve jobs and serve the public: the Works Progress Administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Over eight years, the W.P.A. put more than eight million Americans to work, building schools, hospitals and vital infrastructure. Today we need a W.P.A. to feed America. In honor of one of its food programs, I suggest calling this new emergency relief America Eats Now."
You can read the entire piece here.
• The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Washington State Governor Jay Inslee "issued a 'stay home, stay healthy order' Monday evening, closing most businesses effective immediately … The order bans all gatherings and will last for two weeks. It is enforceable by law, but Inslee hopes Washingtonians will abide by it voluntarily. Any non-essential businesses still operating must close within 48 hours, he said."
“The rapid growth in the number of cases has put our state in a race against time,” Inslee said. “We need to grow hospital capacity or else face an even greater public health emergency, and the more of us who stay home, the fewer of us who will be infected by COVID-19 and the more lives will be saved.”
• The Boston Globe reports that "in the sharpest restriction on daily life yet, Governor Charlie Baker ordered all nonessential businesses in Massachusetts to close their doors by midday Tuesday and urged the state’s nearly 7 million people to stay home in the face of the novel coronavirus’s rapidly growing, and increasingly deadly, spread.
"At least nine people in the state have died due to COVID-19 as of Monday, four more than previously reported, according to state figures. The number of confirmed cases in Massachusetts spiked by 20 percent in a single day to 777 Monday … Massachusetts joins at least 12 other states with formal orders or advisories urging citizens to stay inside amid the pandemic. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered people to remain in their homes aside from getting food or medicine."
• ABC News reports that "Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses and urging people to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 virus that has killed five people in the state and infected more than 400 … The order from Evers, which he is calling 'safer at home,' comes after he already ordered K-12 schools and a host of other businesses closed, including bars, restaurants and hair salons, and limited gatherings to no more than 10 people. But the newer, tighter restriction mirrors what other states have done, including neighboring Illinois, to try and force people not to leave their homes or interact with others unless absolutely necessary."
• USA Today reports that "Costco Wholesale Club is starting a twice-weekly senior shopping hour amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 9 a.m., beginning this week, Costco 'will temporarily implement special operating hours for members who are 60 and older' … Costco said on its Facebook page that only members meeting the criteria 'will be allowed to enter the warehouse and guests will not be admitted'."
• Motley Fool has a story about how Instacart "plans to add 300,000 more shoppers in the next three months. The company has been experiencing increased demand as people look to stock up on staples. For some of its retail partners, Instacart is the only delivery service that consumers can use to get same-day delivery from those chains (though same-day has been hard to come by in some markets due to increased demand)."
Those retail partners include, depending on the market, Kroger, Target, Costco, CVS, and Sam's Club.
"Given the continued customer demand we expect over the coming months, we'll be bringing on an additional 300,000 full-service shoppers to support cities nationwide," CEO Apoorva Mehta wrote in a letter to employees.
I'm certain that none of these partner chains are going to make any significant chains at this moment in history, but they need to understand that every such move that Instacart makes gives it even more weapons in its quest to eventually compete against the retail partners it currently serves. Those 300,000 new hires are going to be soldiers as Instacart looks to be the market of choice for consumers, disintermediating traditional stores.
• Hy-Vee yesterday said that "it will be temporarily suspending its return, refund and rain check policy until further notice … Hy-Vee stores across its eight-state region will not accept returns or issue rain checks for its products. If customers find that any fresh product, such as produce, meat, seafood or deli items, do not meet Hy-Vee’s standards for freshness, then those products can be exchanged for a new product. Non-perishable products, however, will not be accepted."
“The health and well-being of our customers and employees remain our highest priority,” Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee chairman/CEO/president, said. “Because we can’t trace where our products go after they leave our store, we can no longer accept certain products for return. With this change, our customers can feel safe knowing that all products they purchase at their local Hy-Vee have been in our stores the entire time."
• Hy-Vee also announced that "it has set a goal to raise $1 million to help local food banks restock their shelves during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak … Hy-Vee will launch a campaign to raise money and awareness for food banks across its eight-state region. When customers check out, they will be asked if they would like to donate $1 or more to assist local food banks.
"For every dollar raised, Hy-Vee will match it dollar for dollar, up to $500,000. Customers can also make a donation in a pre-set increment during their Hy-Vee Aisles Online purchase. All funds will then be collected at the store level on a weekly basis and provided to local food banks to help replenish their stock every week."
• The Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes that "Giant Eagle is taking some additional steps to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and promote social distancing among shoppers and workers.
"One step is to pause its program to end the use of single-use plastic grocery bags at its Market District stores and ask customers to not bring reusable bags into the store. The pilot program launched on Jan. 15.
"The other is to install Plexiglas dividers to checkout and customer service areas within Giant Eagle, Market District, Pharmacy and GetGo locations. The O’Hara-based grocer also will install floor indicators and signage at checkout lanes to indicate the appropriate social distance between shoppers."
• The Hill reports that "Walmart will raise the hourly wage for its e-Commerce warehouse center employees temporarily as the retail giant struggles to keep stores stocked amid the coronavirus outbreak.
"Walmart said on Monday that starting wages for workers in its e-commerce warehouses will immediately be raised by $2, to between $15 and $19 an hour, through Memorial Day."
• To show their appreciation to the employees working during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, Wegmans said it will temporarily increase pay for their workers $2.00/per hour, during March and April, according to WIVB.
• Convenience store chain Sheetz yesterday said that in response to the pandemic, it is suspending the sale of all self-serve beverages and bakery items, while simultaneously heightening its cleaning procedures around its stores.
"These changes are in the best interest of our customers and employees as we remain a vital resource for our communities," said Travis Sheetz, president/COO.
• Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) announced "appreciation pay for all hourly retail and logistics employees in recognition for the tireless dedication and selfless service to their respective communities. Employees will receive a temporary pay increase of $1 per hour effective March 24 – May 1, 2020."
• The New York Times reports that Amazon "is teaming up with a research program funded by Bill Gates to pick up and deliver coronavirus test kits in Seattle, the e-commerce giant said on Monday.
"The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, a group of medical, public health and research organizations, is collecting nasal swabs from a sample of people across King County and Seattle to learn how the infection is spreading in the areas.
"King County, part of Washington state, is one of the worst hit places by the outbreak in the United States."
• The New York Times reports that as states go into various iterations of lock down, officials are having to make decisions about what qualifies as "essential" and what does not.
In many cases, the Times writes, marijuana is making the cut:
"Over the past week, more than a dozen states have agreed that while 'nonessential' stores had to close, pot shops and medical marijuana dispensaries could remain open — official recognition that for some Americans, cannabis is as necessary as milk and bread.
"In most cases, the marijuana businesses must, like restaurants, limit themselves to taking orders for delivery or curbside pickup."
From the Times story: "When the mayor of Denver ordered all nonessential businesses to close on Tuesday for the next three weeks, he said that the order included recreational marijuana retailers, prompting long lines to form outside some stores. Medical marijuana dispensaries, however, are exempt.
"Denver also ordered its liquor stores to close; so did Pennsylvania. But many states, including New York, have decided that liquor stores are essential businesses, too, and could remain open. Alabama issued an emergency order allowing curbside sales of alcoholic beverages at licensed stores.
"Over the last week, marijuana sales have soared in many states, including California, Colorado, Washington and Pennsylvania."
It is a measure of how much marijuana has gone mainstream that dispensaries, like a lot of retailers, are creating 'senior hours' for older folks to have dedicated shopping times.
I suspect that in a lot of homes where spouses are now spending a lot of time with each other, pot may indeed be an essential ingredient … a certainly a lot less expensive than a divorce lawyer.
By the way, I wonder if the current scenario will lead to people no longer using "I want to spend more time with my family" as a rationale when they leave jobs under less than optimum circumstances.
• From CNN:
"More states are extending the time their schools will remain closed, some even through the rest of the school year, as the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to rapidly rise.
"Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday he will close schools in the state for the rest of the academic year, and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools to remain closed through May 15 … As of Sunday, schools were closed in 46 states, according to Education Week, affecting at least 54.5 million students.
"Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly last week was the first in the United States to close a state's schools for the rest of the school year.
"California schools are closed indefinitely, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has said it's likely they won't open for the rest of the academic year. Los Angeles United School District on Monday said its schools will remain closed until May 1."
CNN reports that "the orders come as states step up measures to fight the spread of the virus. Millions of people are under state orders aimed at keeping them home, and by Wednesday, when all measures go into effect that have been announced, 39% of the US population will be under such orders in 12 states."
"Closed" does not mean that teachers are not teaching and students are not learning. Mrs. Content Guy is a third grade public school teacher, and she may be working harder now via e-learning than she does when she's in the classroom … and she works really hard in the classroom.
I've been watching and listening to her, and I would have two observations about this. One is that I hope that the focus on communicating ideas and concepts to students and figuring out new ways to interact with them - which by definition leaves almost no time for the excess of assessments and testing that in some many ways dominate America's classrooms - gives the educational establishment a sense of new priorities. I also hope that it gives people - teachers, administrators, parents and kids - new respect and enthusiasm for the magic that can happen in a classroom at all levels. E-learning is no replacement for human interactions.
• The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that "Kroger Co. set a record for pizza chain Donatos when it ordered enough pizza Saturday to feed 12,000 employees at 68 grocery stores in its central Ohio area as a thank you for their hard work. Donatos, based near Columbus, filled the order through 62 company and franchise restaurants, it said in an Instagram post. It’s the largest order in Donatos’ nearly 57-year history."
• From Variety:
"With millions of kids cooped up at home, Amazon is opening up free streaming access to more than 40 children’s shows — including its original series — to all customers worldwide.
"The content, previously available only to Prime Video customers, includes Amazon original series 'Just Add Magic,' 'Pete the Cat' and 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' and select seasons of PBS Kids shows including 'Arthur,' 'Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,' 'Odd Squad' and 'Wild Kratts' … The shows are available to the company’s customers worldwide, with availability of titles varying depending on location."
An act of kindness to help parents locked down at home with their kids. But also a savvy move … because some of those people may find Prime shows to be addictive, which will lead to more Prime memberships.
• Variety reports that "more than 500 cinema screens have reopened in China, where the coronavirus outbreak is seen to be receding, though box office takings remain minimal as the public is mostly staying away."
The story notes that "on Monday, China reported no new local cases of the virus, but confirmed 39 infections brought in from overseas, and nine more deaths, all in Wuhan, where the virus had its epicenter. Wuhan has not registered any new cases of Covid-19 for five consecutive days."
• As awareness of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic grew just a few weeks ago, there were reports that some people were using Tito's vodka to sanitize their hands when commercial products such as Purell were unavailable. This was not a good idea, since sanitizer has to be at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective, and Tito's is just 40 percent alcohol.
Now, ABC News reports that Tito's has decided "to make the hand-cleaning product with its distillery.
"While we advise that you cannot use our vodka as a hand sanitizer, our distillery has been working hard to get all of the pieces in place to begin production on 24 tons of hand sanitizer that adheres to industry and governmental guidance," the company said. Tito's said it plans to give the new sanitizer away to local communities.
I still don't understand why anyone would waste Tito's on their hands. Use soap and hot water to wash, and then pour yourself a drink.