Published on: April 24, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and its impact on commerce, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the United States, we have crossed a line - there now have been 50,243 deaths attributed to the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 886,709 confirmed cases and 85,922 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 2,736,173 confirmed coronavirus cases, 191,422 deaths, and 751,799 reported recoveries.
• The New York Times reports this morning that new studies are suggesting that "many more New Yorkers may have been infected than was previously believed."
The Times writes that "more than 21 percent of around 1,300 people in New York City who were tested for coronavirus antibodies this week were found to have them, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday.
"The results were from a state program that tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State. Nearly 14 percent of the tests came back positive, Mr. Cuomo said."
Now, these results are not conclusive - there remain a lot of questions about the veracity of the testing process. But, "if the state’s numbers indicated the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.6 million people statewide, have already been infected.
"That is far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus itself that the state has recorded."
The good news about that would be that the fatality rate - 0.5 percent - would be far less than is currently calculated."
• In Texas, KRIS-TV News reports that H-E-B-owned delivery service Favor is adding a new component - Express Delivery, "which promises customers H-E-B grocery essentials delivered to their doorsteps within two hours … customers can choose up to 25 items from a list of groceries and essentials which includes dairy, meat, produce, beer and wine."
• From the Washington Post:
Manufacturers of household cleaning products such as Lysol, as well as assorted medical professionals, yesterday issued statements warning people not to ingest disinfectants into their bodies as a way of killing the coronavirus. Those warnings about the toxicity of such products came after President Trump mused during a White House briefing that this might be effective, though he also said that he was just throwing out ideas, not making prescriptions.
In a statement, Reckitt Benckiser, the UK-based owner of Lysol, said, "As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)," said a spokesperson for Reckitt Benckiser, the United Kingdom-based owner of Lysol. "As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information."
• The Los Angeles Times reports that "Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.
"Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries … The governor’s executive order also approves a 60-day pause in redemption of beverage containers in stores and a mandate for recycling centers to operate a minimum number of hours."
• From CNN:
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued more than 100 recommendations to the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant on Thursday, as the facility works to reopen following a coronavirus outbreak.
"The facility, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, became one of the nation's largest Covid-19 hotspots before it closed earlier this month, with more than 783 employee cases and 206 cases stemming from employee contact, according to state health officials … Smithfield's managers told the CDC it has a number of changes planned, including requiring face masks for all employees, increasing the number of hand sanitizers and adding plexiglass barriers where workers can't be spaced out."
However, CNN writes, " 11 of the 15 pages in the CDC report include recommendations for further improvement, such as staggering shifts, more flexibility in break times and physical spacing."
One note: the CDC recommendations are exactly that. Not mandates. Not requirements. Which, under the circumstances, I don't completely understand.
• Hy-Vee announced yesterday that because it "is seeing a significant increase in the purchase of hair and beauty products across its more than 265 stores following the temporary closure of many salons, barbershops and spas," it will be "offering a 15% off beauty product sale this Friday, April 24, and Saturday, April 25."
Darren Baty, Hy-Vee’s executive vice president, chief merchandising officer, said, “At Hy-Vee, our goal has always been to be a convenient one-stop shop for our customers. That mission has never been more important than now, especially as we serve those who don’t want to travel to multiple stores to pick up their essentials.”
• The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Trader Joe's used its podcast this week to explain why, unlike many of its brethren, it is not offering delivery or curbside pickup.
Matt Sloan, TJ’s Vice President of Marketing, put it this way: "Creating an online shopping system for curbside pickup or the infrastructure for delivery, it's a massive undertaking … It's something that takes months or years to plan, build and implement and it requires tremendous resources. Well, at Trader Joe's, the reality is that over the last couple of decades we've invested those resources in our people rather than build an infrastructure that eliminates the need for people."
Tara Miller, Trader Joe's Marketing Director, added that such initiatives "don't always translate into positive results."
I am reluctant to criticize Trader Joe's for this approach to business, and I'd guess that to this point it is happy with how it has played out. But I'd also bet that there are sales that it is leaving on the table because of it. TJ's clearly is fine with that.
• CNN reports that delivery service Instacart, which has hired " 300,000 workers in recent weeks to meet surging demand for grocery deliveries spurred by the pandemic," now is saying it needs "to hire another 250,000 workers over the next two months … Before the hiring spree, Instacart had about 200,000 full-service shoppers."
The story says that Instacart plans to "reintroduce a waitlist for applicants in areas where it has enough workers to satisfy demand to ensure it is 'thoughtfully balancing' how many workers it brings on."
• Forbes reports that Gap Inc. "is running out of money, isn’t paying rent and warned it likely needs to find more cash within the next 12 months in order to fund operations—joining other large apparel retailers experiencing dire financial uncertainty as stores across the country remain closed."
The situation is so serious that Gap (which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic), which already has furloughed 80,000 employees, has stopped paying rent for its more than 2,700 North American stores.
In an SEC filing, Forbes writes, "Gap warned that if it doesn’t find more money within the next 12 months, it won’t be able to fund its operations; steps the company expects to take include taking on new debt, laying off employees and reducing orders for merchandise."
• The Wall Street Journal reports that, as has been much speculated about in recent days, JC Penney " is in advanced talks for bankruptcy funding with a group of lenders, a sign the troubled retailer is about to succumb to the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic."
Penney is seeking "a so-called debtor-in-possession loan that would keep the department-store chain’s operations funded during a court-supervised bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the matter." It is expected that a bankruptcy filing could come in a matter of weeks.
• Vice reports that "Best Buy will direct staff willing to do so to resume work inside customers' homes as soon as Tuesday … This latest move is a sign that some businesses are trying to resume services and emerges as protests around the country try to have states reopen. This comes despite health experts saying it would likely contribute to the spread of the virus if done too quickly."
• The town of Westport, Connecticut, has bailed out of a pilot program that was using specialized police drones to enforce physical distancing rules.
The Verge reports that the goal of the program was to use the drones, which were equipped with speakers, to yell at people who were standing too close together in public areas.
"However, shortly after announcing the program, the Westport Police Department scrapped the plan to use drones to try to enforce social distancing, following condemnation by the ACLU of Connecticut, who called the plan an example of 'privacy-invading companies using COVID-19 as a chance to market their products and create future business opportunities'."
The story notes that "the company behind the drones, Draganfly, is making some pretty big claims about what it can do, saying that the “pandemic drone” uses 'specialized sensor and computer vision systems” in order to track people with fevers or high temperatures, heart and respiratory rates, people sneezing and coughing in crowds, and large groups of people gathering together. Draganfly also claims that its drone can detect 'infectious conditions from a distance of 190 feet'."
Yeah. Too much. Too soon. And it is just mildly distressing that Westport is only about eight miles east of where I am sitting right now.
• Donald Reed Herring, the oldest brother of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who until recently was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, died Tuesday night in Norman, Okla., about three weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Boston Globe writes that "Warren, who has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s halting response to the pandemic for months, has not previously revealed that her family was waging its own personal battle against the virus."
In a statement, she said, "“I’m grateful to the nurses and other front-line staff who took care of my brother, but it is hard to know that there was no family to hold his hand or to say ‘I love you’ one more time. And now there’s no funeral for those of us who loved him to hold each other close. I will miss my brother.”
Herring, the Globe writes, was an US Air Force veteran who "flew B-47 and B-52 bombers. He flew 288 combat missions in Vietnam, eventually becoming a B-52 squadron pilot and a squadron aircraft commander. He earned numerous decorations before retiring in 1973 as a lieutenant colonel."
Warren is not the only former Democratic candidate with a family member affected by the pandemic. The husband of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) also was stricken by the coronavirus, but has recovered.