Published on: May 12, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the United States, there are 1,385,850 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 81,795 deaths and 262,225 reported recoveries.
Globally, there are 4,272,725 coronavirus cases, 287,615 fatalities and 1,536,168 reported recoveries.
• In testimony to be delivered remotely to the US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, plans to say that Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up prematurely.
The New York Times quotes Fauci as saying that "the major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely. If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Fauci will be appearing remotely before the committee because he is in modified quarantine because of exposure to Covid-19.
• Axios has results from its newest Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus survey, which says that "just half of Americans would participate in voluntary virus contact tracing tracked with cellphones."
Why does this matter? "A strong contact tracing program - identifying people who have the virus and isolating those who've had contact with them - is the key to letting other people get back to their lives, according to public health experts." However, the story says, "the poll underscores deep resistance to turning over sensitive health information.
"The only way to get even half of Americans to participate would be for public health officials to run the program, not the White House or tech or phone companies."
The breakdown also reveals a partisan split: "68% of Democrats said they'd participate if the CDC were in charge, compared with 58% of independents and 32% of Republicans."
• Some other results from the Axios-Ipsos poll: Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed say that "returning to their pre-coronavirus lives would be a large or moderate risk. Just 30% say that's worth the risk right now." In addition, "About a third of those polled know someone who has tested positive."
One intriguing result: More than nine out of 10 sad they have not updated their wills or living wills since the pandemic began.
• The Washington Post reports on how "there is widespread recognition the novel coronavirus is far more unpredictable than a simple respiratory virus. Often it attacks the lungs, but it can also strike anywhere from the brain to the toes. Many doctors are focused on treating the inflammatory reactions it triggers and its capacity to cause blood clots, even as they struggle to help patients breathe."
According to the story, it is the multiplicity of symptoms that has created real nightmares for the scientists trying to craft a response.
"It attacks the heart, weakening its muscles and disrupting its critical rhythm," the Post writes. "It savages kidneys so badly some hospitals have run short of dialysis equipment. It crawls along the nervous system, destroying taste and smell and occasionally reaching the brain. It creates blood clots that can kill with sudden efficiency and inflames blood vessels throughout the body.
"It can begin with a few symptoms or none at all, then days later, squeeze the air out of the lungs without warning. It picks on the elderly, people weakened by previous disease, and, disproportionately, the obese. It harms men more than women, but there are also signs it complicates pregnancies."
We got word yesterday of a 28-year-old young man who one of my kids knew, and who died over the weekend of a heart attack that seems to have been related to the coronavirus. This is scary stuff … and I'm sorry if this annoys some of my readers, but these lives seem so much moire important than whether malls or bars are allowed to open. Solve the medical problem, and the economy will come back.
• From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen and other food executives took off their masks before the start of a Friday food industry event featuring Vice President Mike Pence – just hours after a Pence staffer was revealed to have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
"Kroger officials said McMullen had planned to remove his mask for the event, which was not attended by Pence's afflicted press secretary Katie Miller who stayed in Washington.
"Kroger officials said the executives were spaced apart from each other to maintain social distancing.
"As previously planned, McMullen and other participants avoided close proximity with one another, the vice president and other participants. The event also followed other White House medical protocols, including temperature checks at the door."
• Fast Company has a story about a "smart thermometer company called Kinsa. Through Kinsa’s FLUency program, each family is sent a thermometer for use at home. If a child is feeling sick, a parent can check their temperature, as they normally might, before they make a decision about sending their child into school.
"Temperatures are sent from the thermometer over to a corresponding app, where parents can add symptoms and communicate with school nurses.
"A dashboard, available to both parents and school nurses … reveals illness trends at their school. The data is anonymized so the adults only see the number of students with symptoms and fevers for each grade. A parent can also voluntarily identify that their child is sick to a school nurse. The data allows parents to make more informed decisions about whether or not their kid should stay home from school even if they don’t have a fever. If they see their child has a bad cough and other students in the grade have sore throats, they might opt to keep their kid home."
The relevance is clear: "As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., public health experts have been debating the merits of reopening schools. A recent study shows that children, who often only exhibit mild to no symptoms when infected with COVID-19, have lots of opportunity to transmit the virus at school. As a result, some epidemiologists think that it’s too early to bring students back into schools. But experts on childhood education think that keeping kids home is also damaging, since kids could be falling behind on learning and missing out on critical social experiences.
"So far, suggestions for how to welcome students back into school include strict social distancing rules and allowing teachers and students with preexisting health conditions to continue working from home. But the early success of Kinsa’s FLUency program suggests that health surveillance could also play a vital role."
• CNBC reports that Simon Property Group, the nation's largest mall owner, says that "it plans to have roughly 50% of its properties reopened again within the next week, as states begin to loosen their lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic … Simon owns roughly 200 malls and outlet centers in the U.S., including Copley Place in Boston and Northgate Mall in Seattle."
The story says that "as of Monday, the company said it has reopened 77 of its properties in the U.S., where local lockdown restrictions have been eased. It said a dozen of its premium outlets have reopened."
“We are now leading the effort for these local economies to get back to business,” says CEO David Simon. “We want to help these local communities ... because frankly they depend on our sales taxes.”
• ABC News reports that " Steak 'n Shake permanently closed 57 of its restaurants nationwide during the first quarter of 2020 as its parent company attributed major financial losses to the COVID-19 pandemic … The closings decreased the number of Steak 'n Shake locations to 553 from 624 at this time last year."
"The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our operations and financial results," the company says. "The COVID-19 pandemic could cause disruptions to our supply chain. Moreover, we cannot predict how the outbreak of COVID-19 will alter the future demand of our products."
• From the Washington Post:
"Add food habits to a list of societal and economic changes wrought by the coronavirus lockdowns.
"Packaged grocery brands that had run up against Americans’ growing preference for fresh and private-label foods are seeing a resurgence as iconic brands like Goldfish, Oreos, Campbell Soup and Doritos fill the pantries of homebound consumers in search of small pleasures.
"Major processed food companies such as General Mills, Conagra, Kellogg and Campbell’s are among suppliers whose snacks, canned goods and frozen food have taken off, often sending their stock prices along for the ride."
It seems likely that the move toward packaged products that provide us succor when the world has been thrown into turmoil will continue as long as masks and gloves and the whiff of Lysol in the air - not to mention closed restaurants and bars - remind us that the world is a different place. But I also suspect that the move away from private label to national brands won't be long-lived, especially if the nation's economic problems persists for more than a quarter or two. Look for own-label to make a quick comeback.
• The Wall Street Journal has a story about the impact the coronavirus is having on food deserts, defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as "areas where people live more than 1 mile from a supermarket," and places were millions of Americans live and work.
"To shop for fresh food in such places, the story says, most people "rely on often-crowded public transportation, something people are told to avoid during the pandemic. Many families share small homes and don’t have the space or means to stock up for long stretches of time as authorities recommend."
During the pandemic, the Journal writes, these people "are often forced to lean on fast food or local takeout if they want to avoid public transportation to the supermarket." However, "to fill the gap during the coronavirus crisis, small institutions like Growing Home are experimenting with contactless delivery and pickup options in neighborhoods that haven’t historically had such options."
Have to wonder what the long-term implications for poor food choices may end up being. Think about the impact on the health care system alone.
• At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Times reports on how "among those who are privileged enough to afford buying in volume, the pandemic has suddenly spawned a new population of bulk shoppers.
"They’re stocking up on foods they never thought they’d need in large amounts.
"They’re experiencing the simultaneous bouts of stress and satisfaction that come with buying and storing so much food, and trying not to waste any. They’re changing how they cook, diligently planning meals to use up all those ingredients — like, say, 50 pounds of potatoes."
The Times writes that "hoarding and panic-buying have certainly played a role, most recently as news of potential meat shortages has spread and some stores have limited purchases. But many shoppers say they are simply responding to the demands of the moment: more mouths to feed and more meals at home, despite the need to make fewer shopping excursions or delivery orders."
• The Los Angeles Times has a story about how, "thrust into the role of front-line soldiers amid a war against the coronavirus, employees have had to manage panic attacks, cursing, near-fights and counseling sessions at the checkout stand. They’ve been threatened by customers who are angry about having to wear masks.
"Some workers have received an hourly bump in appreciation pay. A growing number across the U.S. have become ill. Dozens have died.
The story - appropriately titled "Cleanup on aisle everywhere: A day in the life of supermarket workers during coronavirus" - cab be read here.
• The New York Times has a piece about the reopening of the nation's department stores, which seem to be happening at the forefront of cities' and states' efforts to reopen their economies even as the pandemic persists.
"New and unfamiliar sights await," the Times writes. "Hand-sanitizer dispensers scattered on every surface, employees smiling through their face masks, signs displaying checklists of 'what we’re doing to keep you safe' … So far their plans are similar: Employees will wear face masks and submit to health screenings; some store layouts will be reconfigured to create more space and promote one-way traffic flows; customer capacity will be limited; stores will be cleaned more often; hours will be reduced; hand sanitizer will be liberally available; in-store events or any services requiring close contact (beauty tutorials, bra fittings) will be suspended or adapted."
But what remains unknown is whether customers will come back en masse, and how they will react to the changes they find: "Consumers may turn to shopping, as they have in the past, to deal with the emotional stress of this moment. Yet how can they escape that stress when they’re surrounded by reminders of it?"
One of the things that a number of department stores will have to do is pivot away from a recent trend - opening restaurants and bars on their premises as a way to attract new customers into formats that in many cases may have seemed like they were growing less relevant with every passing day. File this one in the "best laid plans" file - these installations either will have to be minimized or remain closed for the time being.
• USA Today reports that "Hertz has sent out yet another red flag about its troubled finances," saying in a regulatory filing that it may be hard for it to survive the year.
The story says that "in a 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the publicly traded company said it may not be able to repay or refinance its hefty debt and 'may not have sufficient cash flows from operations or liquidity to sustain its operating needs or to meet the company's obligations as they become due' over the next 12 months.
"'As such, management has concluded there is substantial doubt regarding the company's ability to continue as a going concern' within a year of the filing, Hertz Global stated."