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 as of this morning, there have been 2,504,676 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 126,785 deaths and 1,052,389 reported recoveries.

Globally, we are at 9,732,908 confirmed coronavirus cases, 492,244 fatalities, and 5,265,734 reported recoveries.

•  From Axios, a report saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "now thinks the realistic estimate of cases could be as high as 23 million — 10x the current tally — because of asymptomatic carriers."

While the use of face masks is seen as one concrete way to prevent or slow down the spread of Covid-19, the story notes that this message was subverted by "a failure by public health experts. CDC guidance has flip-flopped on wearing masks during the pandemic, and white lies meant to preserve PPE for health workers has backfired big time."

In addition, Axios writes, "conservatives who prize individual autonomy over social responsibility experience 'a massive pushback of psychological resistance' when presented with mask mandates."

All of which has given the virus a license to spread extensively throughout the US, even into places that may have felt a false sense of complacency when the pandemic was mostly being felt on the two coasts.

But, Axios writes, "Unlike the mass confusion of mid-March, Americans now have a reasonable sense of what to do in a pandemic.

"If you're at risk, stay home.

"If you're not at risk and won't stay at home, put on a mask and wash your hands, don't socialize indoors and stay 6 feet apart."

I agree with the Axios assessment, and was arguing here in early April that retailers ought to make mask-wearing in stores - both by employees and customers - mandatory.  It'd be easier if the federal government would just mandate it nationally, but I don't think this is going to happen.

I would, however, resist one characterization.  I don't think that resistance to mask wearing is a conservative trait, nor is it necessarily conservative to "prize individual autonomy over social responsibility."  That is to give short shrift to how strongly many conservatives feel about social responsibility and morality - and is there anything more moral than to care about our fellow human beings?

•  In a call with reporters, the New York Times writes, the CDC clarified "some of its previous reports on who is at increased risk of getting severely ill from Covid-19. Older people do have a higher risk of severe cases, the agency said, but that is in part because they are more likely to have other underlying medical problems, such as chronic kidney disease, lung disease, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity."

But the agency stressed that young people, especially but not limited to those with these conditions, are also at risk for severe illness and death.

•  Thursday's CDC guidance "also categorizes medical conditions that can affect the severity of illness," Axios writes.

Conditions that definitely increase risk include "chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obesity; weakened immune system from solid organ transplant; serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; sickle cell disease; Type 2 diabetes."

Conditions that may increase risk include "chronic lung diseases, including moderate to severe asthma and cystic fibrosis; high blood pressure; a weakened immune system; neurologic conditions, such as dementia or history of stroke; liver disease; pregnancy."

•  Axios reports that confirmed cases of the coronavirus "are soaring to the point where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pausing the state's reopening and canceling elective surgeries to stockpile PPE … The state still has plenty of hospital beds, but hospital officials are rushing to add more capacity and shift patients around."

•  At the same time, the New York Times writes that "Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said Thursday that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

"'We never anticipated necessarily doing anything different in terms of the next phase at this point anyways,' he said in Tampa. 'We are where we are.'

"Over the past two days, Florida has reported more than 10,000 new cases, bringing its total to more than 114,000. Orange County, home to Orlando, is averaging 353 new cases a day, compared with 73 two weeks ago. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand."

"We are where we are."  Think they'll put that on his tombstone?

•  Fast Company writes about how "politics has muddled the national conversation about coronavirus. Many state governors, eager to reopen their economies, seized on declining cases in May to justify loosening restrictions at the end of last month. Some have been encouraged by studies that underscore the disinfecting power of sunlight. Others have effectively given up on the idea of containment altogether.

Public health officials appreciate that countries cannot remain locked down forever. An alternative strategy proposes alternating periods of virus suppression and relaxation until a vaccine is available, keeping transmission at manageable levels without strangling local economies. One study, backed by the European Union, suggests countries impose strict rules for 50 days, followed by 30 days of less intense mitigation tactics that allow people to shop, dine, and work. If and when cases begin to rise again, restrictions could be put back in place."

•  CNBC reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is calling on the government to "require companies to enforce the use of masks in public places."

According to the story, "Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said the pandemic hasn’t ended — and neither have health risks for workers. In fact, he said, in many states, their odds of getting sick are rising along with coronavirus cases.  'Contrary to some of what employers - and I think even some of our government leaders - want us to believe, Covid-19 still is very real,' he said."

•  CNBC reports that "Apple will re-close 14 stores in Florida as Covid-19 cases rise in the state, the company said on Thursday. The stores will re-close on Friday.  The shutdowns come after Apple re-closed seven retail stores in Texas on Wednesday, and 11 stores across Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arizona last week. Apple has now announced the re-closing of 32 stores in the United States."

The story notes that "Apple stores tend to be in important shopping centers and malls, and can be seen as an indicator of how smoothly and where retail operations can re-open in the United States."

Which is to say, things are not going as smoothly as some would like.

•  Axios writes that "microbrews are providing macro clues about the state of the U.S. economy — and how confident Americans actually feel about reopening amid the pandemic."

Here's the deal:  "More watering holes are opening up, with 85% of locations open and pouring beer last weekend. And if the bars are open, it's a good sign that those communities have opened up, too.

"But the mug is half full: In open establishments, only 49% taps are open, compared to 96% last June."

•  In yet another reflection of how the pandemic continues to take a toll on traditional business models, Warner Bros. has decided to postpone the release of its highly anticipated summer movie, Tenet, yet again.

Variety reports that the new Christopher Nolan movie, which cost $200 to make and was expected to be one of the summer's big blockbusters, originally was scheduled to premiere on July 17, then was moved to July 31, and now has been slated to open on August 12 - unless, as the story says, "the virus continues to rapidly spread and the studio no longer deems it safe to unveil a major movie at that time."

Nolan, who has been responsible for such critically acclaimed and popular movies such as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, and Dunkirk, has been insistent that Tenet be seen in theatres, and has resisted any suggestion that it could be released this summer for home streaming.  At the same time, movie studio and theater owners have been counting on Tenet being one of those must-see films that will entice people back into theaters.

In the end, what we are learning … but should have known all along … is that how this plays out isn't up to Nolan or Warner Bros. or the movie theaters.  It is going to be up to the virus, which doesn't give a damn about box office receipts or day-date windows.  And that's the thing that every retailer has to understand … prepare for what the enemy can do, not what you think the enemy will do.

•  Traditional movie theaters may be a problematic venture at the moment, but such moments also create opportunities.

Los Angeles Magazine reports that "Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film is hosting pop-up drive-ins in New York, Texas, and at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl schedule runs from July 2 through 26 and is stacked with classic movies (Jaws, The Goonies), kids movies (Spy Kids, Inside Out), new indies (Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs), new documentaries (Tangled Roots), and even stand-up comedy nights.

What makes this unique is that "movies screen both at night and during the day, as early as 12:30 in the afternoon. The site’s FAQ section explains that they’ll use 'bright, high resolution LED screens, which are visible during daylight hours.'  The screenings cost $26 per carload."

I know it isn't possible for a whole bunch of reasons, but I'd give a lot to be able to drive my Mustang, top down, to the Rose Bowl and watch "Jaws" on a warm summer evening.