Published on: August 19, 2020
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 5,656,204 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 175,087 deaths and 3,011,577 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 22,325,623 confirmed coronavirus cases, 784,765 fatalities, 15,066,323 reported recoveries.
• From the Wall Street Journal this morning:
"New coronavirus cases in the U.S. climbed higher, but remained below 50,000 for the fourth day in a row, as some universities and schools move classes online to avoid campus outbreaks.
The U.S. reported more than 44,000 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, up sharply from the previous day’s 35,112, but lower than recent peaks this month and in July, according to data from Johns Hopkins University."
• Before the pandemic, food halls were all the rage, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the coronavirus "has upended the business, with restaurant-industry professionals questioning if it can ever return to its once-bustling state. Others see a path forward, but say it could take months, if not years for the industry to fully recover.
"Food halls closed for indoor dining in mid-March, as mandated by New York state, and many halls or their tenants didn’t embrace takeout or delivery as an alternative during the early stage of the shutdown.
"In recent weeks, the halls, which typically feature an array of vendors and restaurants serving everything from tacos to sushi, have started to come back to life. Such prominent ones as the Chelsea Market and Gotham West Market in Manhattan and the Time Out Market New York in Brooklyn have opened outdoor dining spaces, as currently allowed by the state. To-go options are also being promoted."
To a great extent, food halls' customer base are limited because office workers who once patronized them now are working from home, and tourism has been virtually eliminated from the equation.
But, the Journal writes, "Coming out of the pandemic, halls may be better able to woo tenants versus bricks-and-mortar locations, industry professionals say. That is because they are a lower-cost option in terms of rent and startup expenses, which will likely resonate with culinary entrepreneurs in what could be a challenging post-pandemic economic environment."
I think there could be an opportunity here … food retailers can find a way to open their spaces to restaurant and food hall tenants that can bring some culinary innovation and might be looking for partnerships that could reshape both their business models going forward.
• Axios this morning writes that "the pandemic is striking directly at the heart of what has historically made America stronger than almost any other global economy - our awesome productivity."
The problem, the story says, is that many businesses have had to shift priorities: "Working from home has damaged companies that invested in sparking creativity and innovation by bringing employees together in thoughtfully-designed offices." Business leaders, Axios writes, "are being urged to put significant new resources into social distancing, ventilation, temperature checks, health attestations, contact-tracing databases, ubiquitous hand sanitizer stations, and myriad other COVID-related expenses." That hits their ability to produce and innovate at previous levels.
"The recession is bad enough — deeper and faster than anything we've experienced in living memory. The hit to productivity comes on top of that … For some service-industry sectors, the decline in productivity means thousands of businesses have to shut down entirely, since they can no longer make a profit."
Modern recessions, Axios writes, "even the Great Recession, have tended to have little to no effect on how efficiently America produces goods and services." But in this case, "the virus continues to act as a deadweight on the economy."
• The Boston Globe reports that "Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at nearly 2 ½ times the rate of white people nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and despite representing roughly 13 percent of the population, they’ve accounted for 22 percent of coronavirus deaths in cases in which race and ethnicity are known. And yet, in a sign of deep-seated and well-earned distrust in the US medical establishment, surveys have shown consistently that Black Americans are less willing than other racial and ethnic groups to accept a coronavirus vaccine."
The story goes on: "A nationwide poll released earlier this month from researchers at Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern, and Northwestern universities found that 52 percent of Black respondents are likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 67 percent of white people, 71 percent of Latinos, and 77 percent of Asian Americans.
"The Pew Research Center, which reported similar findings in June, found Black Americans are generally more wary of medical researchers and doctors, in addition to being more skeptical of experimental treatments. Fifty-three percent of Black adults surveyed by Pew had a mostly positive view of medical research scientists, compared with 68 percent of white and 67 percent of Hispanic respondents. An even smaller proportion of Black adults, 35 percent, expressed a 'great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public'."
“The African American community has very, very significant and historic reasons, including racism, segregation and experimentation, to be very mistrustful,” Dr. Joseph Betancourt, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells the Globe. “This is compounded by the fact that African Americans are significantly underrepresented among doctors and researchers, so these communities don’t have trusted messengers.”
• The Wall Street Journal writes that "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said it was adding Alaska and Delaware to the state’s travel-advisory list, which now includes 34 states and Puerto Rico. Travelers from those states must quarantine for 14 days when visiting New York."
• Axios reports that "Harvard, which is going fully remote, says 20% of the students in its incoming freshman class are deferring.
"That's apparently a trend. As the pandemic pushes more universities to remote learning, 22% of college students across all four years are planning not to enroll this fall … Of those not returning, most — 73% — are working full time. Around 4% are taking classes at a different university, and 2% are doing volunteer work.
"Freshmen appear to be a big chunk of those planning not to enroll."
• The Wall Street Journal reports that "the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University on Tuesday both announced moves designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus on their campuses.
"Notre Dame is canceling in-person classes and moving them online for at least two weeks after seeing a surge in coronavirus cases. On Monday, one week after classes began, 80 students tested positive out of 418, or 19% of students tested.
"The rash of cases has been linked to at least two off-campus parties, and the majority of students testing positive are senior undergraduates, mostly male, said school spokesman Paul Browne."
The story goes on: "Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley asked students who were planning to move into school’s dormitories to stay home.
“'Given the current status of the virus in our country—particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities—it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,' President Stanley wrote."
• The New York Times writes about how the state of Alabama, in concert with the medical center at the University of Alabama, is engaged in a "sweeping endeavor" that "focuses on testing more than 160,000 students for the virus before they arrive at 59 local colleges and universities. The students must also wear masks and follow social-distancing guidelines, and many will be required to use a daily symptom-checking app developed by U.A.B. On Monday, the university released a second app, which can alert students to possible virus exposures … If the statewide experiment succeeds, it could help answer one of the most pressing questions about reopening colleges — and the country: Can a combination of aggressive testing, virus safety apps, mandatory mask-wearing and reduced classroom occupancy make it safe enough for on-campus learning?"
"We can’t remove all risk," Dr. Selwyn M. Vickers, dean of the U.A.B. School of Medicine, tells the Times, "but what we do want to do is mitigate risk in a major way."
The story says that "U.A.B. football players, who began returning to campus in June, were among the first cohort of more than 3,000 students on campus who have used the app. This semester, all students will be required to use it daily. If a student answers yes to any question, it alerts staff at student health services, who may offer virus tests. U.A.B. has made the Healthcheck app free to educational institutions in Alabama and is marketing it to employers."
The Times notes that "critics say the U.A.B. model has serious weaknesses. For one thing, they note, apps like Healthcheck can catch only people who have symptoms and are willing to disclose them. And as many as 40 percent of people with virus infections have no symptoms.
As for Alabama’s two-week window for student testing, they warn that many college students who test negative a week or two before their semester starts may develop the virus a few days later."
• The Washington Post reports that "spurred by growing evidence that being overweight increases the risk of serious illness with an infection by the coronavirus, a number of Mexican states are moving to ban the sale of junk food to children. On Monday, legislators in Tabasco voted to prohibit the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods to anyone under 18, just 12 days after Oaxaca took similar action."
• Another retail segment that is taking it on the chin from the pandemic:
"An audience that is both captive and often affluent has made airport commercial square footage some of the most lucrative in the world. But the pandemic has crushed the commercial calculus at airports, and no one is sure what comes next.
"The leading airport for concession and retail sales in the United States is Los Angeles International, with revenue of $3,036 a square foot, according to a 2018 report from Airport Experience News. Chicago O’Hare clocks in second with $2,718 in sales a square foot. By comparison, the average mall retailer is around $325 per square foot, according to 2017 data from CoStar.
"But that’s all gone now, said Alan Gluck, a senior aviation consultant at ICF … The very amenities that once made airports a standout for profit are the same things that are proving to be challenging."
• A few weeks ago, we reported on the fact that Bermuda was offering special one-year, renewable residency certificates for remote workers, hoping that it can attract folks to come live on the island nation and use it as s refuge from the pandemic - and it the process, boost its economy.
Now, the New York Times reports, other countries are making the same pitch - countries that range from Barbados to Estonia to Georgia are offering special or expanded visa programs that encourage remote workers to move there at least temporarily. There are some caveats: "While all countries require proof of health insurance and negative virus tests (either pre-arrival, upon arrival, or both), some require an application fee and proof of a monthly salary, complete with bank statements."
It actually is a trend that predates the coronavirus. "Even before the pandemic, the number of remote workers worldwide was growing: Research from the consulting firm MBO Partners found that the number of independent workers in the United States, which includes consultants, freelancers and temporary workers, was around 41 million in 2019. More than 7.3 million workers in the United States described themselves in 2019 as 'digital nomads': those who chose to embrace a location-independent lifestyle that allowed them to travel and work remotely."
As I said when we ran the original story about Bermuda, I could totally go for moving MNB world headquarters there. I did a quick check, though, and am pretty sure that it is way beyond my means. I've never been to Barbados, but I'd certainly be willing to do a little investigation…
• From Bloomberg:
"Alamo Drafthouse, the quirky cinema chain that serves guests meals at their seats, will reopen about half of its locations this weekend -- part of the theater industry’s attempt to recover from the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Its theaters will offer a free showing of MGM’s Bill & Ted Face the Music on Aug. 26, two days before it’s widely released in other theaters and on demand. The chain will also show older movies, like Back to the Future and Inception, as it waits for Hollywood studios to start debuting blockbusters again."
The story says that another chain, AMC, "is offering movie tickets for 15 cents for its first day back, while other chains are offering discounts to loyalty members. And all the chains are touting their strict safety protocols, meant to ease customer concerns about sitting in an enclosed space with other people for hours."