Published on: May 7, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US this morning, there have been 1,263,243 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 74,809 deaths and 213,109 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 3,843,153 coronavirus cases, 265,657 deaths and 1,314,414 reported recoveries.
• From Bloomberg:
"The new coronavirus appears to linger in the air in crowded spaces or rooms that lack ventilation, researchers found in a study that buttresses the notion that Covid-19 can spread through tiny airborne particles known as aerosols.
"At two hospitals in Wuhan, China, researchers found bits of the virus’s genetic material floating in the air of hospital toilets, an indoor space housing large crowds, and rooms where medical staff take off protective gear. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Research, didn’t seek to establish whether the airborne particles could cause infections."
However, "The findings highlight the importance of ventilation, limiting crowds and careful sanitation efforts, the researchers said."
• Axios reports that a debate may be brewing about the mortality figures being used in relation to the Covid-19 coronavirus.
"President Trump has complained to advisers about the way coronavirus deaths are being calculated, suggesting the real numbers are actually lower — and a number of his senior aides share this view, according to sources with direct knowledge," the story says.
"The official said Trump has vented that the numbers seem inflated and has brought up New York's addition of more than 3,000 unconfirmed but suspected COVID-19 cases to its death toll.
Some members of the president's team believe the government has created a distorting financial incentive for hospitals to identify coronavirus cases, the official also said.
"A second senior official said they shared this concern.
"Medicare is giving hospitals a 20% bonus for their treatment of coronavirus patients, as a way to help them make up for the money they’re losing because they’ve had to postpone a lot of non-coronavirus care.
"Intentionally misdiagnosing patients with coronavirus would be fraud, and so far no one in the administration has publicly leveled such an accusation."
However, Axios also reports that "there is no evidence the death rate has been exaggerated, and experts believe coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are being undercounted — not over-counted."
• Business Insider has an interview with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in which he suggests that the changes taking place at retail, especially the move to more pick-up and delivery, were going to happen regardless of the pandemic.
"This is just speeding up the significant change the retail industry was already undergoing," McMillon said. "Before this crisis, we already saw a robust adoption of online pickup and delivery in our business."
McMillon also said that the pandemic has illustrated the importance of front line employees.
""We've come to expect them to be there in a way we never have before, and they have risen to the occasion," he said.
• CNBC has an interview with CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo, in which he says that shopping habits being adopted during the pandemic may "shape how customers shop and use health care — and influence how it operates its own business. Telemedicine instead of urgent care appointments. Prescription deliveries to the home. Diagnostic tests at the local pharmacy instead of the doctor’s office."
“We expect that elements of today’s new norm will become part of tomorrow’s everyday routines,” Merlo says.
The CNBC story goes on:
"The pandemic may inspire CVS to offer new and different kinds of testing, Merlo said.
"During the pandemic, the company has opened and staffed drive-thru testing sites for Covid-19. Patients must make an appointment and meet the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"CVS has administered nearly 90,000 tests, Merlo said. The sites use a device made by Abbott Laboratories that can provide results in minutes. Last week, it announced plans to have nearly 1,000 drive-thru testing sites in its store parking lots by the end of May, so long as it can get supplies and lab capacity.
"And, as researchers try to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, Merlo said CVS is ready to provide another service. He said its stores across the country 'are well-positioned to provide medication therapies and vaccines when they become available'."
• WWLP News reports that Big Y has instituted a two-month price freeze "on thousands of grocery products in its stores across New England."
“This is a critical time for our customers and we wanted to recognize that with more than just words of support,” says COO Michael D’Amour. “We have all been through a tough period, and there are certainly challenges ahead, but we felt it was time to do more to help.”
According to the story, "Items on the price freeze list includes specific popular brands of fresh chicken, butter, red and green seedless grapes, peanut butter, macaroni & cheese, breakfast cereal, English muffins, cheese, strawberries, Greek yogurt, pizza, orange juice, and spring water," with some items to be added later.
The freeze is scheduled to run from May 1 to July 1.
• The Seattle Times reports that as Nordstrom plans the gradual reopening of its bricks-and-mortar fleet, it has made the decision to permanently close 16 of its stores around the country.
According to the story, Nordstrom said "it will make changes to how its stores function in a “market-by-market” approach, and will move its big Anniversary Sale from July to August."
Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, tells the Times that "this coronavirus crisis is the catalyst rather than the cause. Not all of its full-line stores pull their weight. … Some have probability that is dwindling. They’re saying, ‘Look, we don’t see a future in these stores, let’s cut our losses.’”
I will be interested to see if the Nordstrom Local concept - a small store where people can try on clothing that they've picked out online and get alterations - gets greater traction as the company goes through this transition. My sense is that the format has a lot of potential if properly and aggressively promoted.
I'm also interested to see what they do with a Norwalk, Connecticut, store that Nordstrom opened just a few months ago and then had to close down almost immediately. I think it is in a mall with a lot more downside than upside, and suspect that Nordstrom only opened there because it had contractual obligations. This might be a good excuse to shut the thing down, open a Local store in nearby Greenwich or Westport, and make a statement about the future. (This was, by the way, possibly the worst time for Nordstrom to have opened its first New York City stores … they have to be an enormous burden on the bottom line that may not come back for years.)
• The New York Times this morning reports that "Gap Inc., the mall stalwart that owns its namesake brand, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, said it plans to reopen up to 800 stores in North America by the end of the month as retailers clamor to return to business after temporarily shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic."
CEO Sonia Syngal describes the approach as "responsibly aggressive" - the company wants to "open where we’re legally allowed to open as soon as we can.”
• Bloomberg reports that Brooks Brothers, which has seen its competitive struggles exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, "is seeking to sell itself."
According to the story, "The retailer has extended a sale process begun last year, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public. Depending on how many stores a buyer wanted, a transaction could ultimately be part of a bankruptcy filing, they said. The company has about $600 million in debt."
• Reuters reports that Lord & Taylor "plans to liquidate inventory in its 38 department stores once restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus are lifted as it braces for a bankruptcy process from which it does not expect to emerge, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday."
The story points out that this development offers "a window into the grim future of a high-profile retailer - a storied department store chain founded in 1826 and billed as the oldest in the United States - that does not expect to survive the pandemic’s economic fallout … Lord & Taylor has lined up liquidators to help it run the “going out of business” sales and is girding to permanently close all its stores once the merchandise is sold, some of the sources said. The retailer had been exploring filing for bankruptcy among other options, including trying to negotiate relief from creditors and finding additional financing."
Lord & Taylor currently is owned by e-commerce clothing rental business Le Tote, which acquired it to build a bricks-and-mortar portfolio to supplement its business model.
• A national coalition of 64 organizations representing specialty crop producers sent a letter to congressional leadership earlier this week highlighting the extraordinary measures agricultural employers are taking to protect their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic … The letter details the collaboration between the agriculture industry, public health experts and regulatory agency officials to develop best safety practices in the field and in packing, processing and cooling facilities.
“Given the strong food safety culture within the fresh produce industry, adapting and expanding our practices to protect workers happened quickly. The industry leveraged general recommendations offered by CDC, OSHA and various state public health agencies, tailoring them to the specialty crop industry as needed to put worker safety first,” stated United Fresh Produce Association President & CEO Tom Stenzel.
• Interesting - though perhaps unsurprising - story in the New York Times this morning about a new Morning Consult poll saying that close to half of men with children under 12 years of age say they are spending more time on the home schooling of their kids than their spouses during the pandemic.
Just three percent of women agree with that assessment.
The Times goes on:
"Under lockdown, with pleading children and piles of dishes more visible to men, more than half of men and a quarter of women say they and their partners are splitting the housework and child care equally — something that is notable and wasn’t true a generation ago, social scientists said. In some families, current circumstances have led men to take on more, particularly if they’ve been laid off or if they can work from home and their partners can’t.
"But over all, the crisis seems to be cementing traditional gender roles.
"Men and women have different perceptions of how much they do. When men say they split housework evenly, past research has shown, the data shows they do not: Mothers’ perceptions are supported by rigorous data collection in which people keep diaries of the ways they spend their time. The pattern has continued during lockdown. On housework, 21 percent of men in the survey say they are doing all or most of it during lockdown, and 3 percent of women say their spouses are. While 70 percent of women say they are doing all or most of it, 19 percent of men say their partners are."
I checked with Mrs. Content Guy - a public school third grade teacher who is doing it from home these days - and she told me that especially in families with multiple school-age children, she's encountered a lot of men who are engaged on a daily basis with their children's educations.