Published on: March 31, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• As of this morning, in the US there have been 164,359 confirmed coronavirus cases, 3,173 deaths and 5.507 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 799,998 cases of the coronavirus, 38,748 deaths, and 169,995 confirmed recoveries.
• The Washington Post reports this morning that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering a change in guidance and may soon recommend that all people wear face masks of some kind while going outside during the coronavirus pandemic.
To this point, the story says, while "more people have taken to covering their faces … it remains a scattershot strategy driven by personal choice. The government does not recommend it."
The Post writes that "the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help 'flatten the curve,' the official noted.
"Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings."
Which would be helpful if we could actually get masks.
• From the New York Times:
"Macy’s and Gap said on Monday that they planned to furlough much of their work forces, a stark sign of how devastating the coronavirus will be for major retailers and their workers who sell clothing, accessories and other discretionary goods.
"Macy’s, which said the cuts would affect the 'majority' of its 125,000 workers, lost most of its sales after the pandemic forced it to close stores. Gap, which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, said it would furlough nearly 80,000 store employees in the United States and Canada. The announcements followed similar actions by other name-brand chains with products considered nonessential … Kohl’s, which employed an average of 122,000 associates in 2019, said on Monday that it would furlough about 85,000 of them."
The reason is simple - with virtually all bricks-and-mortar retailing closed down in the US, with the exception of supermarkets and drug stores, there is very little money coming in, and the retailers were fast approaching the breaking point.
The layoffs and furloughs are not restricted to the stores; a number of retailers also are making cuts in their corporate offices.
The Times writes that "the layoffs and furlough announcements are likely to continue, as many retailers owe rent payments on Wednesday. Many companies are desperately trying to conserve cash as they max out their credit lines and encounter landlords who are taking a hard line on payments."
I have a question. Weren't the various spending bills just passed by Congress and signed by President Trump supposed to help retailers avoid laying everybody off?
• Reuters reports that Amazon "is offering higher pay to recruit its own warehouse employees to pick and pack Whole Foods groceries amid rising demand and a worker shortage … This move, known as labor sharing, highlights how the ecommerce giant is reallocating some of its vast workforce to handle a spike in online sales of groceries, as millions of American are stuck at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Amazon offers online grocery services through Amazon Fresh from its own grocery warehouses, and Amazon Prime Now, which delivers from its Whole Foods stores."
The story says that "employees who are selected to make the switch can make $19 per hour, a $2 raise on top of the pay hike Amazon announced earlier this month. Amazon Fresh positions require working in a freezer environment, while a Prime Now shopper role entails picking and packing products for online orders in a Whole Foods store under tight time limits."
• Politico reports that "the governors of Maryland and Virginia on Monday directed their residents to stay home, escalating their response to the coronavirus as state officials warned that the outbreak in the region will soon look as dire as New York's."
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said it was an order, and no longer a suggestion.
The Virginia directive will be enforced until June 1.
• The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that "Publix says it is considering adding in-house curbside pickup and delivery services" independent of its deal with Instacart.
"Offering in-house curbside pickup and delivery service would be a major shift in direction for Publix, which has relied solely on Instacart since 2017," the story says.
And a good idea directionally, since Publix is a retailer with a strong brand identity that it should not be leaving in Instacart's hands … especially because Instacart could end up competing with it at some point down the road.
• The Los Angeles Times reports that in Culver City, California, a shopping center called Platform is working to find ways to keep its tenants viable through the pandemic, "offering drive-through pickup of select items from many of its independent boutiques and restaurants. Order online, and purchases will be waiting when you arrive, with all proceeds benefiting the vendors and not Platform."
The story says that "feel-good items include a DIY pizza kit from Roberta’s; wine, beer and alcohol from Flask and Field’s Miriam Yoo; Van Leeuwen ice cream; WFH supplies from Poketo; and Parachute bathrobes. There are also produce boxes from County Line Harvest." Customers "order and pay online at PlatformDriveThrough.com, wait 45 minutes, then pick up your goods from a sanitized table or have an attendant place them in your car."
Smart move. There are mall owners out there that are demanding rent checks even from retailers unable to do business … and there is this company, which is trying to keep its tenants viable.
• In Texas, KSAT-TV News reports that "Walgreen’s customers can now buy grocery items and household goods through its pharmacy drive-thru’s. The retailer said drivers can pull up to the window and ask for a menu of items, including groceries, medicine, baby formula, medical supplies and household goods.
"Customers do not have to preorder or leave their car."
• The Connecticut Post reports that supermarket chains in the Nutmeg State have agreed to implement tougher rules that will make it easier to assure physical distancing in their stores.
Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, tells the Post that all of his members - including Big Y, ShopRite and Stop & Shop - have agreed "to halve the maximum occupancy of their stores and ask families to send only one representative to do the household shopping … Pesce also emphasized he did not expect that would result in long lines. He said the so-called panic buying that resulted in packed supermarkets a few weeks ago has subsided."
• From Bloomberg:
"Visa is considering a reprieve for gas stations straining under an October deadline to upgrade their pumps, and, along with Mastercard Inc., delayed a set of fee changes that were to take effect next month … Visa and Mastercard will delay until July the planned changes to interchange fees, which are paid by retailers each time a consumer swipes their card at checkout."
The story says that "the moves are aimed at sending relief to merchants struggling to remain afloat as the coronavirus puts a virtual halt to global travel and governments order businesses to shut."
• The Associated Press reports that "older people remain most at risk of dying as the new coronavirus continues its rampage around the globe, but they’re far from the only ones vulnerable. One of many mysteries: Men seem to be faring worse than women … And as cases skyrocket in the U.S. and Europe, it’s becoming more clear that how healthy you were before the pandemic began plays a key role in how you fare regardless of how old you are."
The AP writes that there also is "the puzzle of children, who have made up a small fraction of the world’s case counts to date. But while most appear only mildly ill, in the journal Pediatrics researchers traced 2,100 infected children in China and noted one death, a 14-year-old, and that nearly 6% were seriously ill."
But if you put aside age, "underlying health plays a big role. In China, 40% of people who required critical care had other chronic health problems. And there, deaths were highest among people who had heart disease, diabetes or chronic lung diseases before they got COVID-19.
"Preexisting health problems also can increase risk of infection, such as people who have weak immune systems including from cancer treatment.
"Other countries now are seeing how pre-pandemic health plays a role, and more such threats are likely to be discovered. Italy reported that of the first nine people younger than 40 who died of COVID-19, seven were confirmed to have 'grave pathologies' such as heart disease.
"The more health problems, the worse they fare. Italy also reports about half of people who died with COVID-19 had three or more underlying conditions, while just 2% of deaths were in people with no preexisting ailments."
• Bloomberg reports that the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic may actually be a good thing for WW International, the brand that used to be known as Weight Watchers.
The reason? Analysts say that the current climate - "gyms are closed, people are trapped indoors and stress eating is on the rise" - may serve to make WW relevant again.
• Variety reports that the just-postponed 2020 Summer Olympics have been officially rescheduled, for July 23, 2021 to Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympic Games will run Aug. 24, 2021 to Sept. 5, 2021.
Reports are that they still will be called the 2020 Olympics, despite taking place in 2021.
• Add Wimbledon to the list of sporting events postponed by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Reports are that the cancellation will be officially announced tomorrow.
Tennis Now reports that "it will mark the first time in 75 years the grass-court Grand slam is not staged in a season. Wimbledon was not played from 1915 to 1918 during World War I. World War II forced the tournament’s cancelation from 1940 to 1945 when the nation withstood heavy Nazi bombing."
It is considered unlikely that the tournament will be rescheduled for later in the year.
The French Open already has been postponed until the fall, when it will take place one week after the end of the US Open in New York, though it hardly is a certainty that the US Open will take place in late August and early September.
If the US Open is cancelled, it is hard to imagine that baseball will be being played, and that the football season will begin on time.
• The Wall Street Journal says that while it is hard to find toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer these days, there is another commodity in short supply,
The story says that "the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to hunker down in their homes and find ways to entertain themselves. A lot of them are thinking the same thought: jigsaw puzzle."
Making things worse: Amazon "has stopped accepting puzzle shipments in favor of household staples and medical supplies. Amazon says it plans to expand its stock as capacity permits, given 'extensive health and safety measures' the company has adopted. But the company won’t say when it will start accepting jigsaw puzzles again."
My daughter bought a couple of jigsaw puzzles a few weeks ago, and she and Mrs. Content Guy started putting one - featuring Baby Yoda - together on the coffee table in the living room. Which was great, until Spenser - you know, that cute puppy I've been showing off here the last few weeks - decided it would be a good idea to eat Baby Yoda. Which he did.