Published on: April 15, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US, there have been 614,246 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 26.064 deaths and 38,820 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 2,013,935 confirmed coronavirus cases, 127,587 deaths and 491,765 reported recoveries.
• National Public Radio (NPR) reports that "New York City has drastically increased its estimate of the number of people killed by COVID-19 to include probable victims who were not tested. The new number is 10,367.
"For weeks, firefighters and paramedics have been recording a massive spike in deaths at home around New York City. The deceased were presumed to be victims of the coronavirus but were never tested. Now city officials have recalculated the toll that the virus has taken and reached a staggering number — adding nearly 4,000 to the total."
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that "newly published figures show deaths linked to the new coronavirus in the U.K. have far exceeded preliminary estimates, adding to a growing body of evidence across Europe that closely watched daily death tallies don’t reveal the virus’s true toll.
Behind the discrepancy are lags in recording some deaths that can stretch to a week or more, as well as deaths in nursing homes and other non-hospital settings that aren’t normally captured by rapid-fire estimates used to track the pandemic.
"Similar issues have complicated efforts to get an accurate read in France, Spain and Italy. The fog risks clouding tricky judgments facing officials about when the outbreak has peaked and restrictions on work and travel can be eased, while also fueling some suspicion that governments are lowballing the death count."
Great. The pandemic actually is worse than previously believed. The problem is, would any of us really be surprised to find out that it is even worse than is being recalculated now?
• Politico reports on a new Harris Poll posing the following question: "When do you think Americans should start returning to work and life as normal?"
9% … 1-2 weeks from now
23% … 3-4 weeks from now
51% … More than a month
18% … More than six months from now
• The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that "Kroger wants federal and state officials to classify its nearly 460,000 workers nationwide as 'extended first responders' or 'emergency personnel' as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic … Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen on Tuesday joined the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) in calling for the temporary official 'first responder' designation that would improve supermarket workers' access to still-scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks.
"'Given the significant daily risk these workers face, we are calling on all of our federal and state leaders to take immediate action,' McMullen said in a joint statement with the UFCW president Marc Perrone. 'Make no mistake, this designation is absolutely critical as it will ensure these front-line workers have priority access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves'."
The call is similar to one made last week by the UFCW and Albertsons.
• The Cincinnati Enquirer also reports that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has announced a partnership with Kroger "to increase COVID-19 drive-thru testing … The goal is to test up to 20,000 people statewide over the next five weeks, Beshear said. The state had tested 25,866 people through Saturday, so their goal is to nearly double their testing."
According to the story, "Kroger will provide the medical staff, the PPE and the signup portal. The state is contracting UPS and Gravity Diagnostics, a small medical lab based in Covington. Gravity Diagnostics is working with the state to provide a 48-hour turnaround on COVID-19 tests."
The Enquirer quotes Beshear as emphasizing that "Kroger is not charging the state one penny for this. I don't know anywhere else in the country that people are doing that. They might be, but that's really incredible that they are providing the people and the PPE to do it. They did this portal on their own dime. Now, we as a state are paying for the kits and the shipping, but we really, really appreciate that. It's going to help us scale up."
• California Gov. Gavin Newsom yesterday laid out the parameters that the state will reopen its economy - which is the largest in the US and, if it were a sovereign nation, would be the fifth largest on the planet - as officials there look to slowly move into a post-pandemic world.
CNBC writes that Newsom outlined "six key indicators that will guide the state’s decision as it considers lifting the stay-at-home order: The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed … The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19 … The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges … The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand … The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing … and the ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.”
The story notes that California was the first US state "to issue a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19," which experts say has helped the state minimize spread and avoid the devastating numbers that have been seen in New York State. (While New York has had more than 203,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths related to the pandemic, California has had fewer than 26,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths.) Newsom said yesterday that "even once the stay-at-home order is lifted … society won’t snap back to normal. For example, he said restaurants will likely have to limit capacity and face coverings in public will likely be common. 'There’s no light switch here. It’s more like a dimmer,' he said at a news briefing."
Newsom also established no timeline for the lifting of its stay-at-home order.
California gets a lot of grief for its policies and politics - some of it deserved - but it is important to remember that the government there is managing what is virtually a country, not just a state. Which lays bare problems as well as creating opportunities.
By any standard, it is impressive the degree to which California's actions have managed to inhibit the virus's spread. They seem to have accepted the notion that short-term pain will be compensated for by long-term advantages. Living as I do in the shadow of New York State, this strikes me as a persuasive argument.
By the way, there was an interesting note from Reuters yesterday about how the 10 states that have begun coordinating their plans for slowly reopening their economies - California, Oregon and Washington State working together in the west, and New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the east - together "generated 38.3% of the total U.S. economic output in the fourth quarter of 2019." I hadn't thought of it in those terms…
• Axios reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting that "the coronavirus pandemic will bring about the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression … The organization expects a recession 'far worse' than the 2008 financial crisis. In a revision to its earlier forecast, the IMF said global GDP growth will fall to -3% this year, a drastic downgrade from its forecast of +6.3% in January."
The IMF believes that "global GDP will face a cumulative loss of about $9 trillion — larger than the economies of Japan and Germany combined … The United States is projected to experience -5.9% growth, while the eurozone will see -7.5%. Italy, the country in Europe hit the hardest by the pandemic, is projected to experience -9.1% growth."
But there is potential good news, according to Axios: "The IMF projects growth will partially rebound to +5.8% in 2021 if the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and if 'policy actions taken around the world are effective in preventing widespread firm bankruptcies, extended job losses, and system-wide financial strains,' according to the report … The IMF urged policymakers around the world to keep using lockdown policies to stop the virus from spreading, noting that they're the best way to eventually be able to resume normal economic activities."
• The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that "Los Angeles County leaders on Tuesday passed new rules aimed at protecting the health of food delivery workers, who are playing a key role in getting meals and groceries to housebound residents." The new ordinance - aimed directly at the likes of Instacart, Doordash and Shipt - "requires food delivery platforms to provide access to face coverings and gloves or hand sanitizer to workers, either by supplying workers directly or by making sufficient funds available to workers to purchase this personal protective equipment.
"Companies are also required to provide a 'no contact' option, so that workers can make deliveries without being physically close to customers. Grocery and pharmacy stores will be required to allow delivery workers to use their restrooms to wash their hands."
The new rules come following accusations from various quarters that some delivery workers are being put at risk because of insufficient protections.
The story quotes John Grant, president of the LA-area local of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), as saying that “UFCW members serve as frontline workers in grocery and drug stores throughout Los Angeles County. They are putting their health and safety on the line during this pandemic. The requirements to provide PPE and regular hand washing, among other measures, will promote public safety and health throughout Los Angeles County and flatten the curve of the pandemic.”
• From Cleveland.com:
"Giant Eagle will expand its curbside-pickup-delivery center format to Garfield Heights in a week, the store announced Thursday," converting an existing store into a warehouse to serve online shoppers.
"The company sees last week's conversion of the Howe Avenue store in Cuyahoga Falls as a pilot-program success because of the volume of orders it can handle during the social-distancing measures that are in place to fight coronavirus … The Garfield Heights store will finish in-store-customer business Friday, April 17. It will be converted Saturday, April 18, into a clearinghouse to allow employees to do the shopping and loading, and be ready to handle orders Sunday, Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan said.
The story says that "Northeast Ohio remains a grocery guinea pig of sorts for the company's use of dedicated pickup-delivery centers. Whether the new approach remains and for how long will be determined by the marketplace…"
Yet another example, I think, of what Tom Furphy talked about in last week's Innovation Conversation - the pandemic has created a kind of rip in the space-time continuum that has propelled e-grocery several years into the future. There's no going back … there is likely to be some moderation as we move into a post-pandemic era, but there is no way that things go back to the way things were in 2019. (Remember 2019? It seems like a decade ago…)
• From USA Today:
"Grocery store workers are on the front lines of the spreading coronavirus epidemic, and thousands have taken off work and some have died after being exposed to the respiratory illness in the U.S., according to a new report.
"At least 30 supermarket employees have died as a result of COVID-19, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said in a release on Monday. Another 3,000 have called out of work after showing signs of illness or other possible coronavirus-related complications.
"To make matters worse, most supermarket workers say customers aren't adhering to safety precautions, the union says."
This latter situation in part exists because there remains some confusion among consumers about what "responsible behavior" entails, and in part because some people continue not to take the pandemic seriously. I get the first one, but cannot for the life of me understand the second.
• MarketWatch reports this morning that Walmart announced yesterday that it "will reserve the hour between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. for order pickup for groups most at risk for becoming ill with Covid-19, including those 60 years old and up, first responders and customers with disabilities. The order pickup process follows social distancing guidelines and can be contactless."
• USA Today reports on the retailers that were in trouble before the pandemic, and may not survive the current crisis.
"While some retailers are flourishing – namely chains with major grocery sales like Walmart, Target, Kroger and Costco – others are trying to stave off doom. In many cases, these retailers were already in trouble already as Americans shopped increasingly online.
"Forever 21 and J.C. Penny were hanging by a thread, while Sears and Kmart have been waiting for the final shoe to drop for years. Now these and other chains, including Neiman Marcus, David's Bridal and Ascena Retail Group, are losing cash rapidly while they await the chance to reopen their doors. But there’s no guarantee that customers will come flocking back to shop amid serious concerns about their finances and getting exposed to the still lingering virus." In addition, the story says, " chains like GNC, J. Crew and Rite Aid are fighting for their lives."
For the record, "U.S. retailers have already announced 2,184 permanent closures this year, most of which were announced before the pandemic began, according to retail analytics firm Coresight Research."
• The BBC this morning reports that the French government has ordered Amazon there to only deliver essential goods - meaning "food, hygiene and medical products in the country."
The government says that the limitations have been placed on Amazon "amid claims it is failing to protect its workers from coronavirus," and will allow regulators to assess the accuracy of those charges.
However, Reuters reports that Amazon plans to appeal the order, saying, "We're puzzled by the court ruling given the hard evidence brought forward regarding security measures put in place to protect our employees … We're assessing the consequences of this decision and our options and we think we will appeal."
• From the Charlotte Observer:
"Bi-Lo and its parent company surprised frontline workers of the novel coronavirus crisis this week with free groceries in all of its stores.
"Southeastern Grocers, parent company of Bi-Lo, Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, paid the grocery bills for thousands of health care professionals and first responders Monday night."
The story notes that the retailer "took the lead from filmmaker and actor Tyler Perry, who last Wednesday during the senior and high-risk shopping hour paid for the groceries in 29 Louisiana Winn-Dixie stores, according to a company statement … 'We were inspired to pay it forward and hope to inspire others so we can continue to lift spirits during this difficult time,' said Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers."
One of the ways that a retailer proves itself to be "essential." It is not a matter of just serving a community, or selling to a community. It is about being of a community.
• The Puget Sound Business Journal reports on an interview with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in which he said that "the federal government’s stimulus package falls woefully short and is largely aimed at securing the future of big business." He said that "it is a crucial time for small businesses and in particular, the restaurant industry, due to business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."
“It is one thing for elected officials to constantly say that the engine of economic growth is small business, and it is another to ignore what small business and its employees definitely need to survive. ... That is not being discussed,” Schultz said, adding, “If we wait another month or two," he said, "we will have lost the opportunity to save them.”
The story notes that "Schultz and his wife Sheri recently created ThePlateFund, which is disbursing one-time $500 payments to thousands of laid-off restaurant workers in King County."
• Finally … even in a pandemic … perhaps especially in a pandemic … it doesn't do to have too much distance from barbecue.
And so, according to the Kansas City Business Journal, Jones Bar-B-Q there has created a "barbecue vending machine. And don't think it's just stocked with bottles of barbecue sauce. This temperature-controlled vending machine is accessible 24/7 and offers myriad options, including signature sides, chicken wings and sandwiches, such as beef, turkey and burnt ends. It's stocked daily … Only debit and credit cards are accepted.