Published on: April 21, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US, we are closing in on 800,000 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus - the number stands this morning at 792,938, with 42,518 deaths and 72,389 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been just shy of 2.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with 171,334 deaths and 657,895 reported recoveries.
• From the New York Times:
"South Carolina allowed retail shops ranging from department stores to flea markets to reopen Monday afternoon, shortly after its governor, Henry McMaster, signed an executive order reversing some of the closings he ordered earlier this month.
"On Friday, residents of Georgia will be allowed to return to the gym and get haircuts, pedicures, massages and tattoos, Gov. Brian Kemp said. Next Monday, they can dine in restaurants and go to the movies. Tennessee’s stay-at-home order will expire April 30, allowing most businesses there to reopen on May 1, Gov. Bill Lee said.
"The moves by three Republican governors of Southern states to let some businesses reopen came as the outbreak continued to spread in parts of the nation, and as some other governors and public health experts have warned in recent days that testing remained inadequate to quickly identify and contain new outbreaks."
• From CNBC:
"Younger Americans are eager to eat and drink out in public again. They will, however, likely shy away in large numbers from festivals, sports venues and international trips for a while once coronavirus lockdowns are lifted across the U.S., perhaps preferring to shop online from home while waiting to see how vaccine trials pan out."
The story quotes a study from research firm TruePublic saying that there is "a greater willingness now among young people to consider gathering in smaller numbers closer to home once stay-at-home orders expire — and a definite reluctance to immediately resume former leisure activities that involve distance and large crowds.
"TruePublic found, for example, that 55% of those polled will return to restaurants 'as soon as isolation ends,' compared to 16% who wait for a few months more before eating out, 13% who will wait until a vaccine is developed and 16% who will wait until 'long after a vaccine is out' … Eating out was the only activity a majority of young Americans surveyed were willing to resume immediately, TruePublic found. Most said they’d wait months, or for a vaccine, before returning to movie theaters, travel, gyms, concerts, sporting events or gatherings such as Coachella, Comic-Con or Burning Man (postponed, canceled and going virtual, respectively, this year)."
I continue to believe that the so-called "re-opening" of the economy and the culture is going to depend a lot more on what businesses do and what consumers are willing to accept than on politicians' pronouncements and pontifications. For example, I'm more interested in when DisneyWord reopens than when Florida's beaches are opened.
• Variety reports that "Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will allow movie theaters to reopen starting April 27, but exhibition insiders stress that it would be nearly impossible for most major chains to start business back up by next week.
"Movie theater circuits believe that it reopening won’t just be like flicking a switch. AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas, Cinemark and other chains have furloughed or laid off almost all employees, and locations across the U.S. have been entirely shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. It would take longer than a week, insiders say, to re-hire staff and then train them in proper safety procedures."
The story notes that "even if employees were able to return to work swiftly and without the virus, there’s also a question of liability. Theater owners are still exploring legal issues they could face, should audiences get infected with COVID-19 from going to their movie theater. It’s uncertain whether the burden would fall on the exhibitor or the state."
I love movies as much as anyone, but it'll be a long time before I go back to a theater. It breaks my heart a little, but there it is.
• The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that UNFI-owned Cub Foods "is adding 24-hour service at 11 stores to expand social distancing options and provide flexibility to first responders and front-line medical staff who work varied shifts, The extended hour openings will be staggered, but once complete 24 Cub locations will be open all day and night."
"Consumers expect grocery stores to be there for them and in times of a natural disaster, we're the last to close and the first to open. That's a responsibility we take seriously and that's why our work is essential now," says Cub CEO Mike Stigers.
The story notes that "to facilitate the expansion Cub is hiring 1,000 employees by the end of April. Full and part-time position opportunities include assistant store directors, pharmacy technicians, staff for the deli, meat, and bakery departments, cashiers, stockers and clean team."
• WTOP News reports that "gasoline and convenience store chain Sheetz is providing free food to help children and families in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic at its locations around the D.C.-area. Its 'Kidz Meal Bagz' program is now available at all 600 of Sheetz locations," and includes a turkey sandwich, chips and a drink.
According to the story, "The meal can be requested at the register or drive-through. An adult does not need to be present. The meals are available daily, while supplies last."
WTOP says that "Sheetz estimated it will be giving away about 80,000 meals per week. The free meals will be available for the next two weeks; the program will be reevaluated at the end of that period."
• WTOP News also reports that "a Maryland chef is urging customers to call restaurants instead of using delivery apps that take a commission while local businesses struggle during the coronavirus outbreak.
"'Delete every food delivery app that you have on your phone whether it’s Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub, whatever it is, they’re killing restaurants,' said chef Ashish Alfred, owner of Duck Duck Goose and George’s Chophouse in Bethesda and Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore.
"“This is a huge way that you can help restaurants out right now. The tip goes directly to the restaurant. All of the money goes directly to the restaurant,' Alfred said."
• Yesterday, MNB took note of the fact that the owners of Shake Shack return a $10 million small-business loan it got to help weather the coronavirus crisis, saying that it had managed to find funding elsewhere and wanted the money to be available to smaller restaurant companies.
All of which was true.
But it was only the beginning of the story.
CNN reports on how "in fewer than two weeks, the funds in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $349 billion stimulus effort heralded as a means to help the nation's small businesses pay their workers and keep their operations running, were exhausted." But, "in recent days, it's been revealed how large chunks of the funds were gobbled up by chain restaurants, hoteliers and publicly traded corporations." Many smaller companies were shut out.
Fast Company reports that Shake Shack founder and chairman Danny Meyer and CEO Randy Garutti posted an open letter on LinkedIn saying that PPP requirements were “extremely confusing":
"The onus was placed on each business to figure out how, when, or even if to apply. The “PPP” came with no user manual and it was extremely confusing. Both Shake Shack (a company with 189 restaurants in the U.S., employing nearly 8,000 team members) and Union Square Hospitality Group (with over 2,000 employees) arrived at a similar conclusion. The best chance of keeping our teams working, off the unemployment line and hiring back our furloughed and laid off employees, would be to apply now and hope things would be clarified in time."
UPDATE, 10:16 AM EDT … The Associated Press this morning reports that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that "agreement has been reached on major elements of a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid package for small businesses, including additional help for hospitals and virus testing.
"Schumer said post-midnight talks among Democratic and Republican leaders, along with Trump administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, produced a breakthrough agreement on the package … Most of the funding, more than $300 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that ran out of money last week. Additional help would be given to hospitals, and billions more would be spent to boost testing for the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state economies."
• The Washington Post reports that "a Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that most Americans disagree with U.S. protesters who are demanding an end to stay-at-home orders. The poll showed that 71 percent of respondents were more concerned about lifting lockdowns too quickly."
• The Washington Post also writes that "the World Health Organization warned that even once a coronavirus vaccine is developed, distributing it to billions of people around the world will be a monumental task."
• The city of Munich reportedly has cancelled this year's Oktoberfest celebration, with traditionally brings in six million visitors.
• The Associated Press reports that European authorities "are pushing back against conspiracy theories linking new 5G mobile networks and the coronavirus pandemic are fueling arson attacks on cell towers … Some 50 fires targeting cell towers and other equipment have been reported in Britain this month, leading to three arrests. Telecom engineers have been abused on the job 80 times, according to trade group Mobile UK, making the U.K. the nucleus of the attacks. Photos and videos documenting the attacks are often overlaid with false commentary about COVID-19. Some 16 have been torched in the Netherlands, with attacks also reported in Ireland, Cyprus, and Belgium."
The story notes that "popular beliefs and conspiracy theories that wireless communications pose a threat have long been around, but the global spread of the virus at the same time that countries were rolling out fifth generation wireless technology has seen some of those false narratives amplified." Officials are concerned that rampant attacks could undermine global communications at a time when a pandemic makes them more necessary than ever.
It is not reassuring to know that there are as many morons on the other side of the Atlantic as there are here. It's just that here, they go to the beach and congregate in public parks. There, the idiots burn down cell towers … though it seems a fair assumption that European forms of asininity could easily be exported to the US.