retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the US as of this morning, there have been 1,188,826 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 68,606 deaths and 178,594 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 3,582,889 coronavirus cases, with 248,567 deaths and 1,160,131 reported recoveries.

•  The New York Times this morning reports that President Trump "predicted on Sunday night that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country might reach as high as 100,000 in the United States, far higher than he had forecast just weeks ago, even as he pressed states to begin reopening the shuttered economy.

"Mr. Trump, who last month forecast that 60,000 lives would be lost, acknowledged that the virus had proved more devastating than he had expected but said he believed parks and beaches should begin reopening and schools should resume classes in person by this fall."

•  The New York Post reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given "emergency approval to a COVID-19 antibody test that boasts near-perfect accuracy …Swiss drugmaker Roche said the new test, which determines whether someone had a past infection, has proven 100% accurate at detecting antibodies in the blood and 99.8% accurate at ruling out the presence of them.

"The company said the test requires intravenous blood draws, with higher accuracy than finger-prick tests."

•  From the Washington Post:

"Americans began trickling back into shopping malls Friday, wearing masks and facing new rules … Malls, restaurants and movie theaters in Texas and roughly a dozen other states emerged Friday from the coronavirus lockdowns that have fueled six weeks of economic paralysis, leaving business owners, workers and consumers to make calculations about what normal should look like amid an ongoing public health crisis … More than half of America’s governors have relaxed restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. But the reopenings are largely piecemeal and vary in scope."

The story notes that "the landscape is even more muddled within states, with many large cities extending stay-at-home orders even as they are lifted in more rural areas. Officials in Nashville, Denver, St. Louis and other cities have told residents to stay home even as their states have moved to reopen. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has insisted the entire state follow his plans to reopen, even though mayors in cities such as Austin and Dallas have balked."

But, the Post points out, public health experts "have warned that premature openings could lead to a resurgence of the virus, which has killed more than 64,000 Americans."

•  The Seattle Times reports that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said last Friday that "he would extend Washington’s stay-home order through May 31, but is seeking ways for some businesses to open before then, as he and state officials try to keep the new coronavirus from roaring back."

The story says that "the governor has cited a slew of models and metrics that inform his decision-making, including the daily number of new confirmed cases, as well as COVID-19 fatalities, hospital data and projections for how the virus may spread. But Inslee has not given specific numbers he’s looking for before easing restrictions. He said he wants a combination of favorable numbers across the data.

"In the plan issued Friday, Washington’s economy and social life would reopen in four phases, with some types of businesses ideally beginning to reopen in mid-May as the first phase even as the stay-home order remains until the end of the month.

Those businesses include retail stores able to offer curbside pickup. Automobile sales and car washes would reopen, with some restrictions. The governor also intends to allow drive-in spiritual services with one household per vehicle."

Each phase for reopening, the story says, "will take at least three weeks, an amount of time long enough, the governor said, to let officials see if the approach is working."

The Times story notes that "demonstrators, among them Republican lawmakers, have rallied against the governor’s stay-at-home order. Protesters on Friday gathered at the state Capitol. One carried a sign that read: 'FEAR IS THE REAL VIRUS.'

And, "GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman along with some others Friday filed a lawsuit against the governor in federal court, alleging that Inslee’s stay-home order has imposed 'unacceptable tyranny'."

•  The Boston Globe reports that under a statewide order issued Friday by Massachusetts Charlie Baker, "Millions of Massachusetts residents will be required to cover their faces when they shop for groceries, take public transportation, or even go for a jog if they can’t distance themselves from others … The mandate takes effect Wednesday, and adds to the raft of directives the Republican governor has issued, including shuttering thousands of businesses through May 18, as part of his bid to slow the still-proliferating COVID-19 disease."

Baker closed all of Massachusetts' schools for the rest of the academic year two weeks ago.

•  Also from the Boston Globe:

"Don’t iron those business clothes or reactivate that monthly T pass just yet.

Safely resuscitating an economy laid low by the coronavirus likely will be painfully slow and require a gradual return to the workplace supported by mandatory face masks, social distancing, and an expansion of state testing that could cost $720 million a year.

"That is the sobering assessment of a high-powered Massachusetts business group - backed by research from top medical academics and professionals - that has the ear of the advisers who Governor Charlie Baker will rely on as he weighs how and when to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions … As states such as Georgia and Texas push to reopen quickly, the council’s report said a cautious and methodical approach is needed in Massachusetts absent universal testing or a COVID-19 vaccine, which is at least 18 months off. There is no guarantee that Baker would follow any or all of the recommendations, but the report does echo his generally cautious approach to managing the crisis."

•  The New York Times reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday that all schools in the state will remain closed for the remainder of this academic year, with decisions about summer school and the fall semester to be made down the road.

I live in Connecticut, and it is a matter of continuing frustration that our governor, ned Lamont, has not made a similar declaration.  Frankly, I don't know what the hell he is waiting for - New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, all of which border Connecticut, have all decided to keep their schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

Bringing kids into the schools between now and mid-June would be a pointless exercise, with it being almost impossible to practice necessary physical distancing - it would not only put the students at risk, but would definitely put the teachers at risk.  As the husband of one public school teacher and the father of another, I find this to be an unacceptable gamble.

•  The Los Angeles Times reports that "the coronavirus pandemic has left Washington’s farmers with at least a billion pounds of potatoes they can’t sell, a new crop growing without any buyers and millions of dollars in debt they have no way to pay.

"The state’s fertile Columbia Basin produces nearly a quarter of the potatoes grown in the United States, 10 billion pounds in 2019. The vast majority — 90% — were turned into frozen French fries and shipped to restaurants, some in the United States but mostly to Asia."

The Times writes that "as it turns out, getting rid of a billion pounds of spuds isn’t easy — or cheap. It usually takes Washington farmers a year to sell that quantity to grocery stores … Washington potato farmers hope the U.S. Department of Agriculture will step in and buy their billion-pound glut, then donate the potatoes to food banks or even cattle ranchers as supplemental livestock feed."

But even if someone is willing to take all those potatoes, moving them "would require filling at least 20,000 tractor-trailers - and paying for fuel."

In reporting on a potato glut in Belgium, MNB last week called folks to eat more french fries in solidarity with our Belgian brothers and sisters.  Now, it appears that a similar crisis is happening closer to home.  So let us band together…

"So comrades, come rally

And the last fight let us face…"

•  The Seattle Times reports that "Amazon told its corporate employees working from home since early March that they 'are welcome to do so until at least October 2,' raising the prospect that one of Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods could be largely deserted for another five months.  The extension of the work-from-home guidance applies to 'employees who work in a role that can effectively be done from home,' according to a message the company sent employees Thursday."

The Times goes on to note that "Amazon’s decision to let engineers and other office staff keep working from home through at least Oct. 2 was another blow for struggling merchants in downtown Seattle and Bellevue, which have been virtual ghost towns since the coronavirus crisis emptied the cubicle farms in March."  It also "could signal a broader trend toward extending work-from-home practices. Other white-collar employers are realizing that returning to the workplaces is likely to require extensive precautions — and pose heightened health risks — even after business gets the all-clear from Gov. Jay Inslee."

The story notes that "Amazon has taken steps to support small businesses surrounding its South Lake Union and Bellevue offices, providing $10 million in grants and rent relief to more than 800 small businesses, it said as part of its quarterly earnings announcement Thursday. A company spokesperson had no updates on the disposition of these programs going forward.

"The company had also pledged to continue paying contracting companies who employ some 10,000 people to clean, secure and staff reception desks at its corporate offices during the work-from-home period. The spokesperson said Thursday it will continue paying for that work."

•  CNN reports that Uber "plans to require drivers and riders to wear face masks or face coverings when using the platform in certain countries, including the United States … Executives approved the new policy in a meeting this past week, according to a person familiar with the matter, and the requirement is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks.

"As part of the policy, Uber is in the process of developing technology to detect if drivers are wearing masks or face coverings before they go online and start accepting trips, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy decision was just made recently and has not yet been introduced."

•  The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about how "the coronavirus shutdowns are giving scientists an opportunity they never thought they would have: to see what would happen to the planet if the world’s economy went on hiatus.

"The result has been drops in air pollutants to levels not seen in at least 70 years, easier breathing for people with respiratory ailments and consistently clear views of landmarks often obscured by smog, such as the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and the Manhattan skyline."

You can read the piece here.

I know we can't shut off the economy forever.  I don't want to.  But it seems to me that as a culture we all have to learn from this experience, and have a sense of where the world needs to go if we are to make a fragile planet more sustainable, not less so.  We need to examine every facet of our lives in the context of what we have learned, and we ignore these lessons at our own risk.

•  Little League International has decided to cancel its World Series and various regional tournaments for first time in the organization's history.

2021 was originally supposed to be the playing of the 75th Little League Baseball World Series, but the organization says that the celebration will now take place in 2022.

•  Lovely story in the Wall Street Journal about Gio Gelati in San Francisco, where owner Guido Mastropaolo has embraced a mission - to cheer up the aging Italian population that lives in the city by delivering free gelato to residents isolated by the pandemic.  (Also to local first responders, it should be pointed out.)

"For these 'old generation' immigrants - many of whom live alone, speak little English and have helplessly watched deaths from Covid-19 in their homeland soar above 25,000 - free gelato can provide some solace.  'In Italy we have two antidepressants: espresso and gelato,' says the 59-year-old Mr. Mastropaolo, who opened Gio Gelati 2½ years ago."

Molto bene.