Published on: April 8, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US, there are 400,549 Covid-19 coronavirus cases as of this morning, with 12,857 deaths and 21,711 reported recoveries.
Globally, there are 1,447,513 reported, coronavirus cases, 83,109 deaths and 308,712 recoveries.
• From the Dallas Morning News:
"Albertsons and the nation’s largest food employees union are working together to try to get grocery workers classified as first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the grocery chain, one of the nation’s largest, said Tuesday that the designation would assure that supermarket workers get access to testing and personal protective equipment.
"Albertsons Cos. chief executive Vivek Sankaran and UFCW president Marc Perrone released a joint statement saying grocery employees have been 'working tirelessly to make sure that America’s families have the food and groceries they need'."
• From CNBC:
"The family of a Walmart employee in Illinois who died from complications of COVID-19 filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday, alleging the retailer knew about the man’s symptoms and disregarded them.
"Wando Evans, 51, died March 25. He was a 15-year employee of Walmart who worked as an overnight stock and maintenance associate in Evergreen Park, about 16 miles southwest of Chicago, according to the lawsuit.
"Evans told store managers about his symptoms, but was ignored, the lawsuit, which was filed in Cook County said. The store sent him home from work on March 23 and he was found dead in his home two days later, the lawsuit said."
In a statement, Walmart said that it is “heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families" … The retailer said it deep-cleaned the store, even though the two employees had not been there in more than a week. It said it also hired a company to clean the store and had a third-party and a health department inspect it."
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"First, the store doors shut. Now, the walls are closing in.
"Retailers have furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers, cut executive pay and stopped paying rent, all to conserve cash. For the most indebted retailers, particularly those already struggling before the crisis began, those measures may not be enough.
"Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., both of which have looming debt payments, have been reaching out to creditors in the hopes of buying more time, according to people familiar with the situation. Representatives for Neiman Marcus and Penney declined to comment."
The story goes on: "The retail industry was going through a shakeout before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As shoppers migrated away from malls and bought more online, specialty-apparel retailers and department stores were among the hardest hit. A record number of chains have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, and others have closed hundreds of stores. As the virus keeps American businesses temporarily closed, the weak will only get weaker, analysts said."
The Journal notes that "companies with debt payments coming due this year are the most vulnerable. They include Neiman Marcus, with $120 million due next week; J.Crew Group Inc., which has a $4 million payment due at the end of the month; and, J.C. Penney, with $147 million due in June, according to Fitch and company filings."
Here's a question that may not make me popular in some circles. If a company was weak and/or failing before the pandemic, should we be using public money to bolster their abilities to survive when they might not have been able to otherwise?
• WCVB-TV in Boston reports that the state of Massachusetts is imposing guidelines on supermarkets, requiring them "to limit the number of people they allow inside.
Many stores have already made similar changes, but the state now says all supermarkets should only be 40 percent full at any given time. Local boards of health will oversee the new requirement."
I suspect that many if not most retailers are doing this already, but maybe it will be able to convince recalcitrant customers if there are regulations, not recommendations, in place.
• Add Shipt workers to the list of those who are dissatisfied with how the company is treating them during the pandemic, as yesterday some - it was difficult to ascertain how many - walked off the job to draw attention to their situation.
As the walkout took place, Target-owned Shipt announced that "it was handing out $100 bonuses to shoppers who completed between 50 and 100 orders last month and $200 bonuses to shoppers who handled more than 100 orders." However, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, "the bonuses added up to less than the $5 per order in hazard pay asked for by a loosely organized group of Shipt workers. The group — which is calling for workers to not take additional deliveries until their demands are met — also wants more immediate access to face masks and other protective gear, among other requests."
• Fast feeder Subway has turned more than 100 of its Southern California units into de facto grocery stores, selling not just sandwiches but sandwich makings - bread, meat, cheese and condiments - to customers having trouble finding such items in supermarkets. Curbside pickup and delivery both are available.
The company has not decided whether to roll the program out beyond Southern California.
Yet another example of how restaurants are rethinking their traditional boundaries. They've been forced to by circumstances, but may find that these new business segments will serve them well - by serving their customers well - once the pandemic has receded.
• Variety reports that Walt Disney Co. executive chairman Bob Iger has floated the notion that when the company's various theme parks eventually reopen, it is possible that staffers will take guests' temperatures before allowing them to enter - one way, Disney execs hope, to address concerns about a further spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
"One of the things that we’re discussing already is that in order to return to some semblance of normal, people will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe,” Iger says. “Some of that could come in the form ultimately of a vaccine, but in the absence of that it could come from basically, more scrutiny, more restrictions. Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures, as a for-instance … “Let’s prepare for a world where our customers demand that we scrutinize everybody. Even if it creates a little bit of hardship, like it takes a little bit longer for people to get in.”
• From Fast Company, an article about how consumers should think about ordering grocery for delivery:
"If you don’t feel safe going to a supermarket to shop and wait in long lines with other shoppers who may be sick, it’s reasonable to question whether it’s ethical to ask a low-wage worker to do the same thing on your behalf. The answer isn’t simple; if a gig worker relies on orders to make a living, not ordering could affect their ability to pay their bills. But the sheer volume of deliveries now makes that unlikely … If you don’t face particular risk from shopping yourself, you may want to rethink using delivery.
"In many places, delivery services have been so overwhelmed with orders that some of the people who need it most, including disabled people who relied on grocery delivery prior to the coronavirus crisis and those who are most at risk if they get COVID-19, say that they are struggling to find available delivery slots. Going to the store yourself is not a full pass from ethical questions, however, as grocery store workers are starting to get sick and die, as well. Ideally, you can shop at stores that provide their workers with proper protection, and try to shop as little as possible."
It is hard enough to find a delivery window to place an order … now people have to worry about the ethical implications of online ordering?
Well, if course they do … just as people should consider the ethical implications of everything they do, all the time. As Albert Einstein once said, ""Relativity applies to physics, not ethics."
There is an excellent piece in the New York Times today about how "the continuing risk to the restaurant industry’s millions of workers — many of whom are already underpaid and undervalued, uninsured and unemployed — is high, and only getting higher."
But while "takeout seems, on some days, like an entirely superfluous luxury that’s putting restaurant workers, whose choices are more limited than mine, at risk," there are other days that it seems like "even if takeout isn’t quite enough to keep restaurants afloat, it’s crucial — the only way to sustain the precarious businesses fighting to stay open through the pandemic."
The writer goes on: "The word 'restaurant' comes from the Latin 'restaurare,' to renew, and even without dining rooms, without regular menus and service, without consistent customers, even in the midst of a global pandemic, mass unemployment and deep uncertainty, restaurants are tapping into their extraordinary power to make people feel safe, nourished and restored."
But it is critical never to ignore or underestimate the importance of the people on whose backs this restoration will be built.
• The BBC reports that Tesco is telling customers that if they want to shop for food, it makes more sense to come to the store than have it delivered.
The reason: ""Between 85% and 90% of all food bought will require a visit to a store and here significant changes to the store environment have been implemented to maximise safety for colleagues and customers," CEO Dave Lewis says.
Plus, the BBC notes, the demand for delivery has been so high that Tesco has not been able to meet it.
• The Associated Press reports that REI is saying that it will "keep its 162 retail locations closed and furlough some of its roughly 14,000 employees without pay for 90 days as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to halt much of the retail industry."
CEO Eric Artz says that he and the board of directors will not take any compensation for six months, and that "senior executives will take a 20% pay cut and forgo any 2020 bonuses while other corporate staff will see their pay cut 25%. Furloughed employees will continue to receive health benefits during the 90-day period."
• The New York Times reports that the pandemic has claimed another victim - the healthy eating habits practiced by many Americans, who find themselves now irresistibly drawn to processed foods - canned soup, mac and cheese, potato chips, ice cream - that give them at least temporary, sometimes illusory, succor.
"As the coronavirus shutdowns continue across the United States, two growing trends involving how people eat — the rising amount of money spent on meals outside the home and the increased purchase of fresh or organic foods in grocery stores — have been reversed," the Times writes. "Many restaurants have closed, and shoppers are reaching for frozen pizza and boxes of cereal instead of organic greens and whole grains.
"That’s good news for big food companies like Kraft Heinz and J.M. Smucker, which have struggled in recent years to adapt as Americans shied away in great numbers from highly processed foods. Now, in a moment of crisis, shoppers are turning to old standbys that they may not have had in years or even decades."
It's true. "Essential" takes on a whole new meaning in this environment. Grilled cheese sandwiches never have tasted so good. Graeter's ice cream is a kind of nirvana. And Tito's - though not mentioned in the Times story - has become a staff of life.