business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, there have been 2,208,486 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, with 119,133 deaths and 903,136 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 8,282,689 confirmed coronavirus cases, 446,519 fatalities and 4,337,963 reported recoveries.

•  From the New York Post:

"Coronavirus deaths in the US could climb past 200,000 by October, according to the latest projections — as new cases reached record highs in several states Tuesday.

"An influential model from the University of Washington now predicts the death toll from the virus to now reach 201,129 by Oct. 1 — 18 percent higher than earlier forecasts — as states reopen and relax social-distancing measures."

Projections are just that.  Projections.  By October 1, the actual number could be lower.  Or higher.

But let me suggest that we have a choice.  As citizens, we can behave responsibly, and help achieve a lower number.  Or, we can go the other way, and the number could be higher.  We are not at the service of these numbers.  The numbers will be determined, to a great degree, by us.

A friend of mine told me yesterday that one of the state associations is telling its members that "the relaxation of isolation rules doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. It means they currently have room for additional patients in the ICU."

Well put.

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, warned the nation risks a resurgence of coronavirus infections should states fail to remain vigilant as they reopen their economies.

“'When I look at the TV and I see pictures of people congregating at bars when the location they are indicates they shouldn’t be doing that, that’s very risky,' Dr. Fauci said in an interview Tuesday. 'People keep talking about a second wave,' he added. 'We’re still in a first wave'."

More from the story:

"While more testing does result in more cases, Dr. Fauci said, higher percentages of positive tests in many states 'cannot be explained by increased testing.'

"With coronavirus infections increasing rapidly in a number of states, Dr. Fauci said a relaxed approach to public-health measures that reduce risk and spread poses significant hurdles to state and federal efforts. Throngs of people have gathered in many parts of the country, often without social distancing or mask wearing, prompting new warnings from state leaders of a return to shutdowns or possible punitive actions."

•  The Daily Beast reports that "doctors behind a COVID-modeling study used by the president’s coronavirus task force are now warning that virus hot spots are beginning to converge and jump from county to county as people increase their travel for work and summer vacation.

"According to doctors working on a study put together by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the virus is moving along major highways and interstates - such I-10 in California, I-85 in the south and I-95 on the East Coast - as states continue to reopen their economies. With an uptick of coronavirus cases taking place in states in the south and southwestern parts of the country, this new finding has raised fears that new outbreaks may soon move north to major metropolitan regions, reversing the progress already made in flattening the curve."

•  From CNN:

"Loosening restrictions and increasing public gatherings may make it seem as though the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is over, but just this week Florida, Texas and Arizona set daily records for new cases.

"The states are among 18 across the nation seeing increasing trends in new cases from one week to the next … Health experts are warning that more infections and deaths are in store as states continue their reopening plans.

"Florida recorded almost 2,800 new coronavirus cases on Monday -- the highest number of new and confirmed cases in a single day the state has seen, according to the Florida Department of Health."

•  CNN also reports that "18 states are seeing upward trends in newly reported cases from one week to the next: West Virginia, California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Hawaii."

There are "10 states are seeing steady numbers of newly reported cases: Washington, Utah, South Dakota, Mississippi, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Alaska, Maine and Delaware."

The rest of the states are seeing a downward trend, with only Michigan seeing "a decrease of at least 50%."

•  The Wall Street Journal also writes that "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said some areas could face new shutdowns and bars could lose liquor licenses if regulations on reopening weren’t followed. He said the state had received 25,000 reports of reopening violations, predominantly in Manhattan and the Hamptons on Long Island.

"In Texas, the alcohol and beverage commission is warning restaurants and bars they can be closed for not following social-distancing measures such as reduced seating capacity."

•  The Independent reports that "three months after the Covid-19 pandemic forced bars and restaurants to close in Florida, some businesses have shut within one week of reopening as coronavirus cases spike in the state.

"At least six bars in northern and central Florida have now announced their closures amid new Covid-19 cases, which peaked on Sunday.

"The state’s health department has since confirmed two consecutive days with more than 2,000 new cases, breaking records set when the pandemic began in March."

•  Gallup is out with a survey saying that only one-third of Americans who have left the house during the past week wore a mask while in public.

•   From Engadget:

"Amazon has created a new AI called the Distance Assistant to help its fulfillment facility employees keep a safe distance from one another during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Using a time-of-flight sensor similar to the depth-sensing cameras you'll find on modern smartphones like the Galaxy S20, the assistant measures the distance between employees. The AI component is there to help it differentiate people from the background. What the AI sees is then displayed on a 50-inch screen for workers to glance at as they pass high-traffic areas."

And then, "in a kind of magic-mirror like way, employees will see a green or red circle around them on the display. As you might have guessed, green means they're at least six feet apart from one of their co-workers, while red means they're too close. The entire system runs on a local computer and doesn't need assistance from the cloud."

The story correctly makes the point that this is a tech solution to a persistent policy issue, as Amazon continues to deal with lawsuits, regulatory probes and the perception in some quarters that its warehouses are unsafe.

•  The Richmond Standard reports that Save-Mart Companies, which hired about 1,000 temporary employees to "meet overwhelming customer demand" during the early days of the pandemic, has transitioned about 70 percent of those people to full-time positions with its Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx grocery stores.

That's impressive … and speaks well of how Save-Mart will be positioned to serve consumers during the economic tough times we are about to endure.

•  The New York Times has a story about how the pandemic has done wonders for cookie and cracker sales, as people who were sheltering at home turned to traditional brands and processed foods for a kind of comfort.

Research done by Mondelez International, the story says, "revealed that sheltering in our homes — where many of us will continue to work — turns our kitchens into one huge vending machine … many of us are finding ourselves drawn toward products that never attracted us before — a marketer’s dream. More than 40 percent of the soaring sales in Fig Newtons and Nutter Butter cookies came from first-time buyers."

The Times goes on:  "Data from the research firm Nielsen that tracked Americans’ grocery buying from March to May bore this out. Campbell’s reaped a 93 percent increase in sales of its canned soup before settling back to a still-amazing 32 percent growth. At General Mills, breakfast cereal jumped 29 percent in late March, and jumped again to 37 percent in the third week of April. Deep into the pandemic, we were still buying 51 percent more frozen waffles, pancakes and French toast from Kellogg’s. And so on."

The pandemic may end.  (Hopefully.)  But the Times story makes the point that we can expect these CPG companies to try to continue to press their new advantage, using technology to stay top-of-mind, fighting for shelf space, and even disintermediating traditional retailers in some cases by going consumer-direct.

One thing that will work in the CPG companies' favor, in all likelihood, will be the fact that we'll be sliding from pandemic to recession - attractively priced processed foods that appeal to our need for comfort and continuity can look very good to people under economic stress.

•  Ice cream sales are expected to melt away this summer.  Blame the pandemic.

Slate reports that "like many goods, the summer staple has had a rough start to the season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While grocery sales for the frosty dessert have largely remained consistent, with even modest gains in some cases, ice cream shops are still floundering under the new strictures that COVID-19 has placed on the food industry, even as Americans spend more time out in the ice cream-beckoning heat. The overall effect is an economic slump for the industry."

No question that  long lines  at ice cream shops often have during the summer months will seem distinctly unattractive in the new reality - they're going to have to figure out a new business model, which will include not just plexiglass inside, but also things like drive-throughs and new take-out packaging and products.

One of the things that I think we will see is more aggressive partnering and promotions by ice cream companies with supermarkets, as they look to compensate.  I saw a picture of an impressive display for Graeter's - an MNB fave - at Jungle Jim's in Ohio, and think that we may see more of this kind of thing.

One big advantage that ice cream does have, at least from my perspective - it is the best kind of comfort food.

•  The Los Angeles Times tells the cautionary tale of pandemic-related public policy that can lead to new outbreaks.  Here's how it frames the story:

"When American Airlines flight 341 to Los Angeles lifted off the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on a cloudy Thursday in mid-March, much of the country was already on coronavirus lockdown. The flight was far from full, but the 49 passengers and eight crew shared restrooms, cabin air and a narrow aisle for the six-hour trip.

"Though no one knew it then, a man in first class, a retired Manhattan surgeon, was infected with the virus. The day after the flight, he was rushed by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with a high fever and phlegmy cough. The virus spread quickly among those he had come in contact with in the hours after leaving LAX, including at a Westside assisted living facility where a 32-year-old nurse and a dozen others later died.

L.A. was still in an early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic when the surgeon’s flight touched down, with fewer than 250 confirmed cases. Local health officials regularly assured the public then that the county was investigating each case and engaging in aggressive contact tracing to control the spread of the virus.

"Despite these pledges, no one in public health informed any of the passengers and crew who had flown cross country with the surgeon that they were at risk. The airline only recently learned of the case from The Times.

"It was one of two long-haul flights into LAX in March identified by The Times in which public health officials failed to alert passengers and crew who had flown with a person who later tested COVID-positive. In the other, a March 8 flight from Seoul, the stricken passenger reported running a fever days before boarding the aircraft and went into cardiac arrest the morning after she landed, becoming the first confirmed COVID-19 death in L.A. County.

"Without instructions to self-quarantine or seek testing, more than 200 people on these flights returned to their families and communities ignorant of their exposure, potentially seeding new outbreaks."

Yikes.  In this case, what we don't know can kill us.