business news in context, analysis with attitude

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

•  In the United States, there have been 1,768,608 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, 103,344 deaths, and 498,762 reported recoveries.

Globally, the number of coronavirus cases is closing in on six million - it stands this morning at 5,925,659, with 362,555 fatalities and 2,593,676 reported recoveries.

•  From the New York Times this morning:

"As new hot spots emerge, the pandemic may be entering another phase.

The simplest way to track the progress of any outbreak is by seeing how many new cases and deaths are reported in a given area each day. And in the United States, falling numbers in some of the hardest-hit places have offered glimmers of hope. Totals for the country have been on a downward curve, and in former hot spots like New York and New Jersey, the counts appear to have peaked.

"But infections and deaths are rising in more than a dozen states, as they are in countries around the world, an ominous sign that the pandemic may be entering a new phase.

"Wisconsin saw its highest single-day increase in confirmed cases and deaths this week, two weeks after the state’s highest court overturned a stay-at-home order. Cases are also on the rise in Alabama, Arkansas, California and North Carolina, which on Thursday reported some of the state’s highest numbers of hospitalizations and reported deaths since the crisis began.

"In metropolitan areas like Fayetteville, Ark.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Roanoke and Charlottesville, Va., data show new highs may be only days or weeks away."

•  Interesting piece in the Financial Times about how the pandemic could bring about a new - and perhaps legitimized - ageism.

An excerpt:

"Covid-19 has reinforced the idea of older people as frail and vulnerable. Some previous pandemics have largely affected the young - the polio outbreaks of the 1950s mainly hit children under five; the devastating 1918-19 flu killed millions of young adults - but Covid-19 mostly kills older sufferers. In the US, 80 per cent of those who have died of Covid-19 have been over 65, with the most severe rates for those aged over 85, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same pattern has been repeated throughout the world."

The question is whether concerns about old people's susceptibility to the coronavirus will allow society in general and business in particular to marginalize people of a certain age.

The FT piece also makes the point - and I'm glad it does - that it isn't like the pandemic is going to wipe out everybody over 60 (thank goodness!).  Society, it says, will has to grapple with the economic and infrastructural challenges of an aging society in which greater longevity is the rule, not the exception.

But we should not ignore the possibility that some companies won't want to hire older people - you know, the ones with the experience and accumulated wisdom - just because of their age.  That would not be right, and it would deprive companies of an important natural resource.

•  The Wall Street Journal writes:  "The coronavirus crisis has brought massive shifts in how Americans buy and consume food. For America’s major packaged-food companies, which have struggled in recent years, that meant an unexpected upswing in sales. Now the question is which changes will last."

The story says that "surges in demand put pressure on supply lines. Grocery stores responded by allocating more shelf space to big, widely known brands, at the expense of upstart competitors who had gained ground in recent years. It all added up to a golden opportunity for America’s corporate food giants that had been struggling with shifting tastes and stagnating sales.

"But these trends are unlikely to prove permanent. Already, the initial surge in sales of pantry and comfort foods is fading. In the week ending May 16, canned-soup sales were up a more modest 22% from a year earlier and potato chips by just 15%. This suggests Campbell, which specializes in both soup and snacks, may see less enduring benefit from the crisis than others."

•  Bloomberg report that Costco plans to reopen all its food courts and once again offer samples, albeit on a smaller scale, by mid-June.  It had eliminated sampling and reduced the number of food courts that were open in a response to the pandemic and concerns about Covid-19 spread.

According to the story, "Costco said yesterday that 'it will start a 'slow rollout' of some form of sampling in mid-June, but it won’t be stuff on open trays, picked up with fingers. 'I can’t say anymore,' Galanti said cryptically'."

•  The New York Times reports on "sweeping new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the safest way for American employers to reopen their offices and, at the same time, prevent the spread of the coronavirus among their employees."

If followed, the Times writes, "the guidelines would lead to a far-reaching remaking of the corporate work experience. They even upend years of advice on commuting, urging people to drive to work by themselves, instead of taking mass transportation or car-pooling, to avoid potential exposure to the virus.

"The recommendations run from technical advice on ventilation systems (more open windows are most desirable) to a suggested abolition of communal perks like latte makers and snack bins."

The guidelines call not just for attitudinal changes, but also infrastructural challenges - how many new buildings don't have windows that open, for example?

How will this work in buildings with elevators?  Will these elevators take just a few people at a time?  How will that work?

It may end up being a lot easier and more productive for offices to just let people continue working from home, which then will decimate the commercial real estate market.


•  WGN-TV reports that "Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday that Chicago will advance to the next phase of reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, June 3 … Under 'Phase 3' of reopening, a wide range of businesses can open their doors with capacity restrictions and other preventative measures in place. This includes office-based jobs, hotels, childcare facilities and in-home daycares … Restaurants and coffee shops can allow outdoor dining, and personal services like barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors can also reopen with certain measures in place."

•  CNN reports that Las Vegas is scheduled to reopen to tourists on June 3, but it will be a different place:  "Half-empty casinos. Reservations-only dining. No shows, nightclubs or sporting events."

"Like much of the country," the story says, "the city effectively has been shut down to visitors since mid-March, an effort on the part of casino companies and local officials to slow the spread of Covid-19.

"Now, after more than 70 days of locked resorts, shuttered restaurants, lap-less lap dances and a deserted Las Vegas Boulevard, Sin City is gearing up to lean into sin again — at least, as much debauchery as one can experience wearing a face mask, sanitizing hands regularly and standing or sitting six feet from everyone else."

The story goes on to say that "most hotels will reopen with pool access; some will have pool decks operating on reduced schedules. Though the raucous pool parties that Vegas is known for are probably not coming back anytime soon.

"Two other pluses: Many hotels will roll out keyless entry programs to minimize queues at the check-in desk, and most will reopen with free parking — a longtime Vegas amenity that gradually disappeared over the course of the last two years."

The well-know "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" ad campaign also is changing, to the more benign and reassuring, "The world has changed, and Vegas is changing with it."

I'd go back to Vegas for work, but I cannot imagine any circumstances that would compel me to go there by choice.  Not for a long time.

•  From the Boston Globe:

"For the first time in its 124-year history, the Boston Marathon has been canceled, dashing the dreams of thousands of runners and delivering an emotional and economic blow to a region hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic."

However, Marathon organizers have come up with a work-around:

"Thomas Grilk, chief executive of the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the world’s oldest annual marathon, said the group will instead offer a virtual marathon, in which participants will be required to complete the 26.2-mile distance within a six-hour period and show proof of their time.  They can run anytime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 14, and all those who complete the race will receive an official race program, T-shirt, medal, and runner’s bib."

•  Wine Spectator reports that "Caymus Vineyards, one of Napa Valley's best-known wineries, has filed a lawsuit against California's governor and public health officer, alleging that the state's reopening plan is treating winery tasting rooms inequitably. Chuck Wagner, the winery's proprietor, is calling on a federal court to strike down the measure that has allowed some tasting rooms to open while others remain closed.

"'The orders permit the reopening of winery tasting rooms if, and only if, they also provide 'sit-down, dine-in meals,' the complaint alleges. 'The orders provide no explanation for this requirement. Any winery that does not - or, under local ordinances, cannot - provide such meals may not reopen. The governor and the state public health officer have an obligation to promulgate orders that treat like businesses in a like manner'."

There is an irony to the suit - California Gov. Gavin Newsom is a co-owner of the PlumpJack Group, which has four Napa wineries.

•  The Washington Post reports on how, "as statewide coronavirus orders are easing, many stores and restaurants nationwide have taken the opposite route: They have made face coverings a requirement, kicking out those who fail to comply and even going to court to enforce their directives.

"Yet in the emergent culture war over masks, a handful of businesses … are fashioning themselves as fortresses for the resistance."

One example - the Liberty Tree Tavern in Elgin, Texas, where there is a sign on the door saying, "Sorry, no mask allowed.  Please bare with us thru the ridiculous fearful times."

The Post goes on:  "At one Kentucky gas station, no one is allowed inside the adjacent convenience store if they are wearing a mask. Near Los Angeles, a flooring store encourages hugs and handshakes while prohibiting face coverings. The owner of a campground in rural Wisconsin vowed to treat clients sporting them inside facilities as she would 'a robbery in progress'.

"Scientific and medical experts agree that people should cover their faces in public to stop coronavirus, which has now killed at least 100,000 people in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that masks serve as an especially important safeguard in crowded spaces, where social distancing is impossible."

I am gobsmacked.  Maybe I shouldn't be anymore, but I am.  These so-called protests strike me as the height of selfishness, since science tells us that masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect the people around him or her.  They're not perfect, they're not convenient, but they say, quite simply, "I care about you."  Why anyone would take the opposite position is something I do not understand.

Now, to be clear, I am not in favor of the wholesale demonization of people who do not wear masks.  That's what happened recently in a Staten Island, New York, ShopRite, where a woman who walked in without wearing a mask was treated to a uniquely New York reaction.

You can watch a snippet below … but be warned that the language is rough and is not suitable for playing if there are children present.  Use earphones!

This isn't appropriate, either.