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 now have been 4,973,741 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 161,608 fatalities and 2,540,880 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 19,005,285 confirmed coronavirus cases, 711,853 fatalities, and 12,192,387 reported recoveries.

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"The U.S. reported more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as parts of the country took further measures to curb the spread.

"New cases topped 52,000, bringing the U.S. total to more than 4.8 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The national death toll from the pandemic surpassed 158,000.

"Florida’s total cases passed 500,000 as the state added 5,495, according to the state Department of Health. The rate of new cases there has eased somewhat after surging in July."

•  From the New York Times this morning:

"For months, the call for coronavirus testing has been led by one resounding refrain: To keep outbreaks under control, doctors and researchers need to deploy the most accurate tests available — ones reliable enough to root out as many infections as possible, even in the absence of symptoms.

"That’s long been the dogma of infectious disease diagnostics, experts say, since it helps ensure that cases won’t be missed. During this pandemic, that has meant relying heavily on PCR testing, an extremely accurate but time- and labor-intensive method that requires samples to be processed at laboratories.

"But as the virus continues its rampage across the country and tests remain in short supply in many regions, researchers and public health experts have grown increasingly vocal about revising this long-held credo. The best chance to rein in the sprawling outbreaks in the United States now, experts say, requires widespread adoption of less accurate tests, as long as they’re administered quickly and often enough."

The Times goes on:  "This quantity-over-quality strategy has its downsides, and is contingent on an enormous supply of testing kits. But many experts believe more rapid, frequent testing would identify those who need immediate medical care — and perhaps even pinpoint those at greatest risk of spreading the disease."

•  The Gothamist reports that "in an aggressive attempt to prevent new coronavirus infections, New York City will begin sending law enforcement officers to check for travelers at Penn Station as well as major bridge and tunnel crossings who are driving in from states with high levels of confirmed cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday … the mayor said that all air travelers would now be required to fill out the state health form when they purchase their ticket online."

People who fail to quarantine could get hit with a $10,000 fine.

The story goes on:  "One in five confirmed infections in New York City have been linked to an individual from outside the state, according to Dr. Ted Long, the head of the city's Test and Trace Corps.

"The mayor announced the new policy during his morning press briefing, calling it a necessary step as New York increasingly becomes an island among a sea of states with high infection rates. The state's positivity rate has been below 1.5% for more than a month. New York City has been below 3% since June 10, a period of 8 weeks."

•  In Washington State, Gov. Jay Inslee announced recommendations for the criteria that should be used by local school districts when deciding whether to reopen their physical classrooms this fall or adopt an e-learning model, or some sort of hybrid.

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, "For counties where there are more than 75 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents, state health and education officials strongly recommend keeping classrooms closed and keeping students learning from home. The recommendations leave open the option for 'limited in-person instruction in small groups' for high-need students, such as those with disabilities, Inslee said.

"Counties with 25 to 75 cases per 100,000 residents should keep high school and middle school classrooms closed. Elementary schools could open in those counties, according to the recommendations. Students with special needs could also attend classes."

At this point, the story notes, "Inslee pointed out that 25 counties - 'the vast majority of the population of Washington' - currently have at least 25 cases per 100,000 residents."

Inslee pointed out that "Covid-19 is still spreading at an alarming rate in the state and pointed out that schools in other states and countries that have reopened during the summer have seen infection numbers surge.  'If every school district brought all of their students back for in-person instruction today, I believe we will see an increase in Covid activity,' Inslee said."

For those who wonder why I do these education-related pandemic stories, it is simple.  A world in which kids are doing e-learning for any period of time will impact consumer behavior.  And a world in which they're not, resulting in lots of people getting sick, also affects consumer behavior.  These stories have to be seen in the broader context of how they affect the economy and the retailers trying to figure out what to do next.

•  The Boston Globe reports that "Boston public school officials have decided against taking a one-size-fits-all strategy in reopening classrooms this fall — if they choose a hybrid model — which could result in some schools opening with only remote learning while many others would alternate between in-person and remote learning, school officials announced Wednesday.

"The variation reflects the inherent difficulties of crafting a reopening plan in a district with 125 schools. Some middle and high schools are woefully under-enrolled, while many elementary schools and the city’s three exam schools don’t have much space to spare, which could make it difficult to guarantee 6 feet of social distancing if they split classes in half for alternating days of in-person instruction."

•  From the Washington Post:

"Last week, schools in Corinth, Miss., welcomed back hundreds of students. By Friday, one high-schooler tested positive. By early this week, the count rose to six students and one staffer infected. Now, 116 students have been sent home to quarantine."

That doesn't mean any change in plans for the school district,  Superintendent Lee Childress said in a FaceBook posting, "Just because you begin to have positive cases, that is not a reason for closing school."

If I were a teacher in that district with any sort of high risk, I might have some questions about how valued I am by the superintendent and the board of education.

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Chicago officials said they would begin the school year with online-only classes, as coronavirus cases rise in the city. Chicago health officials said the seven-day rolling average had reached 277 a day, up from under 200 four to five weeks ago. The rate of positive tests has risen to 4.8%, from 3.8% less than a month ago.

"Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the schools decision was based on the evolving public-health situation and feedback from parents."

•  Also from the Washington Post:

"After photos of crowded waterfront bars and pool parties in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks went viral over Memorial Day weekend, scorn and condemnation poured in from all over the world.

"But the publicity actually ended up boosting tourism, Gerry Murawski, the mayor of the town of Lake Ozark, claimed this week as yet another jam-packed gathering made headlines.  'You just think about what this has done for our economy and you just go, ‘Thank you folks,’ ” Murawski told WDAF, adding that Lake Ozark has seen more out-of-town visitors this summer than in the past two years combined. 'I look at that and go, ‘Well, maybe we’ve done something right,’ he said."

Maybe.  I wonder how he'll feel about it if there is a surge in infections.  I wonder how he'll feel about it if this surge affects him or his family.

This clown reminds me of another mayor - Larry Vaughn, who once refused to close the beaches of Amity, Massachusetts, because it was the tourist season and he didn't want to hurt business.  Of course, there was this shark that also was open for business.

I keep thinking of the line uttered by Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper:  "I think I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass.”

•  Reuters reports that " Virginia on Wednesday launched the first contact tracing app for the novel coronavirus in the United States that uses new technology from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

"The state is betting that the app, COVIDWISE, can help it catch new cases faster, though long delays in getting test results must be overcome in order for it to be effective.

"Phones with the app exchange Bluetooth signals to keep an anonymous list of close encounters. The app then allows people who catch the virus to notify those contacts without anyone revealing their identity."

The story notes that "the United States remains far behind Europe, where millions of people across 11 territories over the last two months have downloaded smartphone tracker apps using the specialized Apple-Google Bluetooth technology."

•  Forbes reports that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airlines has filed for bankruptcy protection, laying off thousands of people and following the path taken by sister airline Virgin Australia.   The blame was laid squarely at the feet of the coronavirus, which caused people to stop traveling because of concerns they would contract the disease.

•  From the New York Times:

"Federal health authorities issued a formal warning on Wednesday about the dangers of drinking hand sanitizer and alerted poison control centers across the nation to be on the lookout for cases of methanol toxicity after four people died and nearly a dozen became ill.

"From May 1 to June 30, 15 people in Arizona and New Mexico were treated for poisoning after they swallowed alcohol-based hand sanitizer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said … Health officials warned that drinking hand sanitizer made with either methanol or ethanol could cause a headache, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and decreased level of consciousness. Methanol poisoning can additionally result in metabolic acidosis, seizures, blindness and death, they said."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the University of Connecticut announced Wednesday that it will not play football in 2020, becoming the first major Division I program to forgo competition due to health concerns related to the coronavirus.

"The move comes as Connecticut, which is an independent, was also having trouble shoring up its schedule. The Huskies have had three games canceled and two others were in jeopardy because major conferences have called off non-conference games."