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, we now have had more than 160,000 deaths attributable to the Covid-19 coronavirus, and we are rapidly approaching the five million mark in terms of confirmed cases.  The exact numbers:  4,918,789 cases, 160,326 deaths, and 2,482,899 reported recoveries.

Globally, it works out to 18,727,238 confirmed coronavirus cases, 704,791 fatalities, and 11,940,707 reported recoveries.

•  From the Associated Press:

"Figures showing California has slowed the rate of coronavirus infections may be in doubt because a technical problem has delayed reporting of test results, the state’s top health official said.

"For days, California hasn’t received full counts on the number of tests conducted nor the number that come back positive for COVID-19, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday.

"He blamed an unspecified technical problem affecting the state’s database that provides test results to local health departments. Ghaly said it’s unclear when the issue would be fixed, adding that the state is relaying information manually to county health officials.

"The announcement came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his most optimistic report on the state’s virus efforts since a second surge of cases in early June."

•  Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced yesterday that he is adding Rhode Island to the list of states from which people have to quarantine for 14 days when arriving in the Nutmeg State or be subject to fines.

At the same time, Lamont took Delaware and Washington, DC, off the list.

Rhode Island now is on a quarantine list with 33 states and Puerto Rico.  The Connecticut Post reports that "the announcement comes as the neighboring state of a little over 1 million people has seen a slight bump in COVID-19 cases since mid-July, according to data published by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

"Hospitalizations in the state have also slowly risen during the same time period."

The story also notes that "the announcement comes several weeks after Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management asked Connecticut and Massachusetts visitors to stay away from the state’s beaches amid overcrowding.

"Rhode Island drew criticism from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the American Civil Liberties Union early on in the pandemic after state troopers began pulling over New York motorists and questioning them on where they intended to stay."

•  The New York Times reports this morning that the governors of six states - Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia - are banding together "to reduce the turnaround time for coronavirus test results to minutes from days."

The governors - three Republicans and three Democrats - "agreed to work with the Rockefeller Foundation and two U.S. manufacturers of rapid tests to buy 3 million tests."

The agreement is designed to address a specific problem with the current state of testing in the US:  "The United States is testing about 755,000 people a day, up from about 640,000 per day a month ago, and far more than in April and May, according to the Covid Tracking Project. But numbers alone do not tell the whole story. With testing chemicals in short supply, and an increase in cases nationwide leading to skyrocketing demands, many people still have to wait many days for results, effectively rendering those tests useless.

"Most who are tested for the virus do not receive results within the 24 to 48 hours recommended by public health experts to effectively stall the virus’s spread and quickly conduct contact tracing, according to a new national survey by researchers from Harvard University, Northeastern University, Northwestern University and Rutgers University."

•  National Public Radio (NPR) reports on a new NPR/Ipsos poll showing that "more than three-quarters of respondents support enacting state laws to require mask wearing in public at all times. And nearly 60% said they would support a nationwide order making it mandatory to shelter at home for two weeks … Other measures that enjoy broad backing include government funding to expand testing for the coronavirus and make it free of charge, making any future vaccine available to all Americans, and a push to produce more personal protective equipment."

•  From the Washington Post:

"The cost of groceries has been rising at the fastest pace in decades since the coronavirus pandemic seized the U.S. economy, leading to sticker shock for basic staples such as beef and eggs and forcing struggling households to rethink how to put enough food on the table.

"Long-standing supply chains for everyday grocery items have been upended as the pandemic sickened scores of workers, forced factory closures and punctured the carefully calibrated networks that brought food from farms to store shelves."

Generally speaking, the story says, inflation "has not been a pressing concern since the recession touched down in February. Last week, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said consumer prices have been kept in check due to weak demand, especially in sectors such as travel and hospitality that have been most affected by the pandemic. But food prices are the exception."

•  Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) announced yesterday that it "is extending its discount programs through Sept. 8, 2020 for senior citizens and critical and emergency service providers in all four of its banners – Brookshire’s, Super 1 Foods, Spring Market and FRESH by Brookshire’s."

The program offers a five percent discount to anyone who qualifies.

“BGC is committed to doing our part to lessen the impact and spread of COVID-19,” said Brad Brookshire, the company's chairman-CEO.  “As long as this pandemic continues to affect our customers and neighbors, BGC is here for them and implementing precautions and practices to help keep everyone safe. We will continue to give back to our customers and communities while making safety our top priority in our stores.”

•  Travel & Leisure reports that "as flights increase, Southwest Airlines is reducing its COVID-focused cleaning protocol.  Effective this month, the airline is now only disinfecting high-touch areas like lavatories and tray tables between flights. Armrests and seat belts will not be disinfected between flights."

“Since flight schedules have increased, other areas of the aircraft will be disinfected during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces,” a Southwest spokesperson told T+L. “Additionally, our electrostatic spraying process applies a disinfectant and spray that forms an anti-microbial coating that kills viruses on contact for 30 days.”

Passengers can request disinfectant wipes when boarding the plane so they can clean their own seats, seatbelts and armrests, the story says.

Hard to imagine that it takes so much more time to clean armrests if crews already are lowering the tray tables to clean those.  Unfortunately, this is just one more reason not to get on a plane anytime soon…

•  From CBS Sports:

"The number of COVID-19 cases among Rutgers football players is up to 28, a figure that does not count 'multiple' staff members who have tested positive," an outbreak that apparently has the Big Ten reconsidering plans for college football this fall.

The story notes that " Big Ten football programs continue grappling with the effects of the virus. Michigan State and Ohio State each paused workouts last month due to COVID-19 outbreaks, while Northwestern recently paused team activities after a player tested positive for the virus. Rutgers players are scheduled to remain in isolation through Saturday."

•  US Open defending champion Rafael Nadal said yesterday that he will not play in the annual tournament this year because of concerns about the pandemic.

In a tweet Nadal wrote, "After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it."

NPR reports that had he played in the US Open this year, Nadal "would have attempted to tie Roger Federer for most Grand Slam titles — 20.

"Nadal is the second player to pull out of the tournament in recent days. Ashleigh Barty, the world's No. 1 women's singles player, announced last week that because of the pandemic, she would not compete in the tournament, which starts Aug. 31.

"As cases of the coronavirus continue to surge, U.S. sport franchises have had to assess how to safely allow players to compete in an industry that typically relies on throngs of cheering fans and close interactions between players."

•  The Rockettes, for the first time in 87 years, have cancelled their annual "Christmas Spectacular" at Radio City Music Hall in New York because of “uncertainty associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The New York Times writes that "more than 75 million people have seen the dancers perform since the Christmas show began in 1933. During a typical busy season, each of the 80 Rockettes may perform up to four shows a day, with each one kicking up to 650 times."

"Christmas Spectacular" tickets now are being sold for the 2021 holiday season.

•  The Walt Disney Co. announced that Mulan - its much anticipated live-action version of the animated film that it was counting on to be a summer blockbuster before the pandemic closed virtually every movie theater in the country and pretty much cancelled the summer movie season - now will go directly to home streaming via Disney+.

Mulan, the company said, will debut as a "premiere access" offering on Disney+ on September 4.  The rental fee will be $29.99;  unlike with the film version of Hamilton, which debuted on July 4 weekend, Mulan will not be included in the regular monthly Disney+ subscription price.

Disney made the announcement at the same time as it revealed that it now has more than 60.5 million paying Disney+ subscribers.  While management was clear that this is a "one-off" rather than a reflection of a permanently changed business model, Disney CEO Bob Chapek also said that the company would closely examine the financial results for clues as to how to behave in the future.

Disney needed good news - it has a Q3 in which revenue was down 40 percent because of the closure of its theme parks and the fact that movie theaters were shuttered.

If all 60 million Disney+ subscribers were to pay to watch Mulan, it would generate $1.8 billion in revenue.  Not everybody will, but a lot are going to, and so it'll be interesting to see the degree to which this is a financial success.  I'm betting it will be a big one, both in terms of rental fees and new subscribers.

This won't necessarily work for every film.  I suspect that the new Bond film and the Top Gun sequel, as well as the new Christopher Nolan film, will still be targeted as traditional cinema releases.  But if the pandemic doesn't subside and/or people still feel uncomfortable about going to theaters, some of these folks may start thinking differently.  in fact, I'd bet that there are folks at all three film companies that are starting to crunch the numbers, just in case.

As I suggested in my FaceTime this morning, it is no longer about what is "supposed" to happen.  It is about what is "supposable" which is an entirely different thing.

•  And as if we don't have enough problems…

Axios reports that "the CDC on Tuesday warned of an expected uptick in cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like illness that can disable and sometimes kill children … The agency cautioned parents to overcome any reluctance driven by the coronavirus pandemic and urgently bring their kids to the hospital should they suspect a case - especially if they exhibit a telltale symptom like limb weakness."