business news in context, analysis with attitude

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

•  In the US, we now have had 6,175,008 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 187,227 deaths and 3,425,814 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 25,410,278 confirmed coronavirus cases, 850,914 fatalities, and 17,720,172 reported recoveries.

•  From the Washington Post:

"The rolling average for new daily cases trended slightly downward nationwide over the past week, and hospitalizations fell by about 9 percent. But the country is still consistently reporting more than 40,000 new infections per day — nearly double the number reported daily in May and June — and states across the Midwest and the South continued to report spikes … The country has reported at least 1,000 deaths per day for most of the past six weeks, pushing the U.S. death toll far beyond what officials optimistically predicted in the early stages of the pandemic. California, Florida and Texas still regularly tally more than 100 deaths daily, even as those states have reported progress in slowing the spread of new cases. Some smaller states, including Georgia, Arizona and Louisiana, have added several dozen deaths per day on average over the past month."

•  From The Hill:

"Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a new interview that he is willing to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine before clinical trials are complete if it is determined to be 'appropriate'."

The story quotes Hahn as saying, "“It is up to the sponsor [vaccine developer] to apply for authorization or approval, and we make an adjudication of their application.  If they do that before the end of Phase Three, we may find that appropriate. We may find that inappropriate, we will make a determination."

The Hill notes that "the comments came as drug manufacturers around the world work to develop a vaccine to protect people from the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 6 million people in the U.S and accounted for more than 182,000 deaths.  Firms including Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer have developed candidates that are now in phase three clinical trials. Novavax, a firm based in Maryland, began phase two tests earlier this month after early trials showed positive signs."

•  From CNN:

"When a coronavirus vaccine comes on the market, people will likely need two doses, not just one -- and that could cause real problems.

"Some of the potential problems are logistical. Difficulties procuring test kits and protective gear throughout the pandemic point to supply chain issues that could also plague distributing double doses of vaccines for an entire country.

"Other potential concerns are more human. Convincing people to show up to get a vaccine not once, but twice, could be a formidable undertaking."

•  From the Washington Post:

"The toll the coronavirus has taken on the long-standing flow of days of the weeks, weeks of the month, is like tectonic plates pushing together to alter topography. New traditions emerge … 

"Gone, for now, are taco Tuesdays, wine Wednesdays and even non-alliterative traditions such as girls’ night out and date night. But Friday night takeout and delivery is gaining steam, the rhythm of weeks syncopated by the arrival of plastic-wrapped cutlery and plastic foam clamshells.

"Market research firm Technomic confirms a spike in off-premises dining in the second quarter of this year, essentially doubling for Friday and Saturday night, says David Henkes, Technomic’s advisory group senior principal. Based on data collected quarterly from 27,000 chain restaurants, off-premises meals on Friday and Saturday nights accounted for 24 percent of overall sales in the second quarter of this year, about double the second quarter last year."

•  The Boston Globe this morning has a story about how "the coronavirus pandemic, a rapid shift to working from home, and mass confusion at the colleges and universities that drive so much of the city’s housing demand have combined to give tenants a rare upper hand over landlords.  Rents are down by more than 3 percent, compared with this time in 2019, according to one report."

The Globe goes on:  "Concessions granted to renters are up, with landlords and brokers sweetening deals with a month or more’s rent, no broker fees, and even a window air conditioner if it will land a tenant. But despite the perks, more than 13,000 apartments in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville remain available in advance of the traditional Sept. 1 move-in frenzy.  Even in a market with roughly 250,000 rental apartments, that’s a huge number of vacancies…"

While there seems to be general agreement that eventually the housing market will be revived, the debate is over what "eventually" means.

•  From the Brevard Times:

"Florida shoppers will notice that the next time they are in a Publix supermarket, the one-way directional arrows have been quietly removed from the aisles.

"Publix implemented the one-way aisles in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Too soon?  Personally, I think so … I hope I'm wrong, but I think so.

•  Here's a stark reminder of the costly impact that the pandemic has had on one business sector.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Pinterest has decided to cancel its already contracted lease on 490,000 square feet of new office space in San Francisco that was to be constructed near its headquarters, citing the shift to at-home working that has made the new space unnecessary.

The cost of terminating the contract:   $89.5 million.


One interesting note from the Chronicle story points to the broader impact that current trends could have on the Bay Area's economy:  "The change in working life may also trigger a change in Bay Area demographics. In an anonymous survey of 4,400 tech workers, two-thirds of respondents said they would consider leaving the region permanently if allowed to work from home."

Like I said.  Yikes.  

•  From the Associated Press:

"Telehealth is a bit of American ingenuity that seems to have paid off in the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare temporarily waived restrictions predating the smartphone era and now there’s a push to make telemedicine widely available in the future.

"Consultations via tablets, laptops and phones linked patients and doctors when society shut down in early spring. Telehealth visits dropped with the reopening, but they’re still far more common than before.

"Permanently expanding access will involve striking a balance between costs and quality, dealing with privacy concerns and potential fraud, and figuring out how telehealth can reach marginalized patients, including people with mental health problems."

And more:

"In the depths of the coronavirus shutdown, telehealth accounted for more than 40% of primary care visits for patients with traditional Medicare, up from a tiny 0.1% sliver before the public health emergency. As the government’s flagship health care program, Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including those age 65 and older, and younger disabled people.

"A recent poll of older adults by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation found that more than 7 in 10 are interested in using telehealth for follow-ups with their doctor, and nearly 2 out of 3 feel comfortable with video conferences."

•  Axios reports that "colleges are attempting to control partying by taking steep disciplinary measures against students who gather … Northeastern sent warnings to 115 freshmen who said in an Instagram poll that they plan to party. The university went as far as to threaten to rescind admissions.

"Purdue and Syracuse have both suspended students who have been caught partying, and UConn has evicted them."

Some experts say that "universities that are reopening without substantive testing and tracing strategies can't just point fingers at the students," the story points out, and I agree.  I'm getting really tired of people in positions of responsibility - you know, the people who are supposed to be the adults in the room - who refuse to act like it.

•  United Airlines announced over the weekend that "it will permanently scrap fees to change domestic flights, a big bet that more flexible policies will win over much-needed customers as the pain from the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on air travel continue to mount," CNBC reports, adding, "United’s announcement that it will no longer charge travelers the $200 fee comes as airlines are scrambling to find ways to revitalize their businesses, which have been battered by the pandemic."

“Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” said United CEO Scott Kirby in a news release. “United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach – and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.”

It is called taking friction out of the experience … which ought to be every business's goal.

•  From the Associated Press:

"The 124th running of the Boston Marathon finally gets underway next month, but virtually — meaning real runners will do the hard work, and an interactive mobile app will help augment their not-quite-authentic experience.

"Rather than lining up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and making the long trek to Boston, athletes will run this year’s marathon solo because of the coronavirus pandemic. A weeklong TV special and the new mobile app will showcase their stories as they go the distance on their own."

The story notes that "the marathon normally is run on a Monday in April, on Massachusetts’ unique Patriots Day holiday, but was postponed to mid-September because of the pandemic. Then, at the end of May, it was canceled altogether — the first time in its 124-year history that the storied race in its traditional format was scrapped.  Instead, registered runners are being encouraged to complete the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) distance by themselves - wherever they are in the world - and share accounts of their preparation, motivation and execution."