Published on: May 15, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and recovery efforts, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US, there have been 1,458,126 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 86,937 fatalities and 318,027 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 4,546,961 coronavirus cases, with 303,895 deaths and 1,716,271 reported recoveries.
• From the Los Angeles Times:
"While parts of the United States rush to open restaurants, stores and public places, Canada — fearful of the high coronavirus contamination rates to the south — is rushing to keep the 5,525-mile border closed for nearly six more weeks.
"Under a likely agreement between the two countries, Canada and the U.S. will continue to permit a portion of the trade that ordinarily accounts for more than $1 million a minute and supports nearly 1.2 million jobs in California. But since border restrictions were put in place, the traffic that in normal times accounts for 200,000 border crossings a day has ground to a virtual halt; 24 of the top 25 border gateways to Canada, for example, had no wait times for automobiles Wednesday."
The Trudeau government, the story says, remains "concerned that virus cells in states bordering Canada, especially Washington, Michigan and New York, pose a danger to its citizens."
Build that wall, eh?
• Kroger said yesterday that "it has hired more than 100,000 workers in the past eight weeks, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food
service distributors." The company says that prior to the crisis, its workforce "topped 460,000 associates and recent hiring efforts have helped the retailer to provide continuous access to fresh, affordable food and essential products to communities during the pandemic."
The retailer says that it has "invested $700 million since March to reward associates and safeguard associates, customers and communities, and in a statement, CEO Rodney McMullen said, “In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change, and our commitment is that we will continue to listen, be responsive and make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business."
The statement about people hired and money invested comes as Kroger looks to back off some of the hourly bonuses it gave to employees as hazard pay during the height of the pandemic crisis. I get this - this was seen by Kroger as being a temporary solution to a temporary problem. But the optics don't look great, especially if we discover in coming months that these employees' exposure to health hazards persist because the virus is a foe unwilling to be vanquished.
• The BBC reports that "Amazon says it will produce hundreds of thousands of face shields for medics and sell them at cost price in the US.
"The internet giant said engineers from its drone and hardware divisions had been tasked with developing the product.
"At first, it will sell them to healthcare professionals, before making them available to all Amazon customers."
The story says that "Amazon said that it had donated 10,000 face shields in the US and was "on track" to deliver a further 20,000. But its plan to sell them at low prices on its website will make them available to the general public, something other firms have not done."
• From the Washington Post:
"Covid-19 screening guidelines in Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania suggest that workers with temperatures of at least 100.4 degrees should be sent home because they could be infected with the novel coronavirus.
"But the cutoff is 100 degrees in Texas. And even lower in Minnesota and Delaware: 99.5 degrees.
"Some states don’t suggest temperature screenings at all.
"As states slowly start to reopen after weeks of coronavirus shutdowns, companies and workers face a patchwork of safety guidelines about what temperature should be a covid-19 warning sign."
The potential here is that the differences between states' and companies' standards will create holes through which the virus can travel … and infect and kill. How is this not a national standard?
• The Wall Street Journal reports that "Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will partly reopen to the public next week … part of a federal push to end several of the closings caused by the coronavirus … The parks are two of the most iconic and popular sites in the national-park system and will both start gradual reopenings on Monday, according to the Interior Department. Many of their services will remain closed, but visitors will get access to some of Yellowstone’s most popular spots, including Old Faithful, and recreation sites across Grand Teton, Interior said."
Smokey the Bear and Yogi Bear reportedly have laid in a large supply of masks, gloves and paw sanitizer.
• The New York Times reports that "in summer resort towns across the United States, livelihoods for the year are built in the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is during those 15 weeks that tourists from around the country and the world arrive to bask on the beach and gather for festivals and weddings. And it is during those three months that tour operators, hoteliers, innkeepers, restaurant employees and others earn the bulk of their income.
"But this year, with Memorial Day — the kickoff for summer — approaching, there will be fewer guests to welcome and likely no sizable weddings or festivals to host. Business owners in resort areas, from Cape Cod, Mass., to Lake Chelan, Wash., say that as the start of summer approaches, they are having to face the difficult reality that little money will be made this year … Between canceled trips and uncertainty about how willing and financially able people will be to travel once shelter-in-place rules are lifted, business owners say that even if summer travel starts late, it won’t make up for losses that have already been incurred."
• QSR reports that McDonald's "is implementing initiatives to accelerate franchise recovery and enforcing new safety guidelines in preparation of dining rooms reopening across the country." In addition to spending "one month’s worth of marketing support," McDonald's is "enforcing new standards for dining rooms as states begin to lift mandates … Those new guidelines include closing some seating to accommodate social distancing, increasing the frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces, continuing to mandate that employees wear masks and gloves and providing masks to customers where it’s required … If customers are dining in, food will be delivered to the table in a double-folded bag. Restaurants may post signage to let customers know which tables have been cleaned.
"The new requirements come after McDonald’s implemented nearly 50 process changes in its restaurants, like providing hand sanitizer to customers, placing social distancing decals inside stores, closing the soda fountain, and installing protective panels at the front counter."
• Steve Hafner, CEO of Booking Holdings’ OpenTable and travel site Kayak, tells Bloomberg that he believes one out of every four restaurants won't come back … With most restaurants being closed or open for takeout only, reservations on OpenTable's services were down 95% on May 13 from the same day a year ago, said the report.
"The National Restaurant Association says some $30 billion was lost by its members in March, and $50 billion in April."
• USA Today reports that "with millions working from home or unemployed due to the coronavirus, quarantine wardrobes opt for comfort versus restricted clothes, be it shape wear or even simply jeans.
"And new data supports the claims that have already been memorialized both in memes on social media and the butt of many coronavirus jokes.
"According to Adobe Analytics, April was a record month for apparel, with prices decreasing 12% from March. The cuts helped apparel gain a 34% increase in sales.
"But consumers shifted their apparel purchases toward comfortable home clothes. Adobe found pants sales dropped 13%, bras 12% and jackets 33% while online pajama sales increased a whopping 143%."
• A couple of stories indicate how major cities are rethinking their urban infrastructure in the wake of the enormous impact of the pandemic.
In New York, WNYC reports, "The city had already opened up nine miles of street space for pedestrians and cyclists to move about while social distancing.
Today, that number increases to 21, moving the city closer to the mayor's goal of opening 40 miles of streets by the start of summer.
The 12 newest miles added to the open streets initiative include 2.8 miles adjacent to city parks; 7.6 miles opened with the cooperation of local precincts; and 1.3 miles in Business Improvement Districts.
"As the weather gets warmer, people are gravitating to parks," says Mayor Bill de Blasio. "[We] want to make sure there's space so there isn't crowding."
But, he added, ""We need to see this as a transformational moment. Even with all the pain, even with all the challenges, we are not going to bring New York City back the way it was. We're going to bring it back in some ways that are different and better. I want to see ideas on how we maximize mass transit, minimize use of automobiles, think about this in terms of fighting global warming and pollution, think about it in terms of fighting congestions, and think about it in terms of equity for communities."
And, from the Boston Globe:
"More commuters biking to work downtown. Pedestrians giving one another a wide berth on city sidewalks. More travel lanes dedicated exclusively to buses. Restaurant tables spilling out past the sidewalks and into the streets.
"To accommodate social distancing as the economy lurches back, business districts are going to need a lot more room outside, while city planners see an opportunity to make biking, walking, and riding the bus safer before Boston’s soul-crushing traffic returns.
"Mayor Martin J. Walsh is hinting at just such a makeover for parts of the city, largely by taking some street space away from car traffic and redeploying it."
The Globe continues: "Boston’s chief of streets, Chris Osgood, said taking street space could serve several objectives: accommodating lines of people outside businesses with capacity limits, creating outdoor seating for restaurants, adding more bus-only lanes to help the MBTA improve service and cut down on crowding, and making more room for walking and cycling."
One of the challenges in this approach is that it pretty much requires people to use more mass transit - which doesn't seem particularly desirable at the moment because of the crowding inherent in using a bus or subway. But … these have to be viewed as long-term goals that will make our cities more livable and, in turn, the fragile planet more sustainable.