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 6,549,771 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 195,245 deaths and 3,846,659 reported recoveries.

Globally. there are a total of 28,050,253 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 908,434 fatalities and 20,117,616 reported recoveries.

•  From this morning's Washington Post:

"President Trump’s head popped up during his top-secret intelligence briefing in the Oval Office on Jan. 28 when the discussion turned to the coronavirus outbreak in China.

"'This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,' national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien told Trump, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. 'This is going to be the roughest thing you face'.

"Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, agreed. He told the president that after reaching contacts in China, it was evident that the world faced a health emergency on par with the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

"Ten days later, Trump called Woodward and revealed that he thought the situation was far more dire than what he had been saying publicly.

"'You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,' Trump said in a Feb. 7 call.  'And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.'

"'This is deadly stuff,' the president repeated for emphasis.'

"At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air."

The Post notes that "President Trump acknowledged Wednesday that he intentionally played down the deadly nature of the rapidly spreading coronavirus last winter as an attempt to avoid a 'frenzy'."

•  The Wall Street Journal writes that "the U.S. is catching its breath after a punishing six months of the coronavirus pandemic, with the daily death toll from Covid-19 declining in the wake of summertime outbreaks in Sunbelt states like Florida and Texas.

"Still, public health authorities and researchers are warning Americans not to let their guard down. The confluence of students mixing once again in classrooms, colder weather in places like the Northeast and fatigue from long-running pandemic isolation threatens to trigger more cases while driving the deaths back up, experts say.

"For now, though, some metrics are improving. The seven-day average of new daily Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. has remained below 1,000 for more than two weeks, according to data tracked and compiled by Johns Hopkins University, after the average topped 1,100 in late July and early August."

•  The New York Times reports that Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told a US Senate hearing that a vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus would not be made available "unless it was safe and effective," and that there would be no compromise on safety.

“Certainly, to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident they know what they are saying,” Dr. Collins told the Senate panel.

•  The New York Times has a story about how scientists are now saying that while the coronavirus has primarily been seen as respiratory in nature, there also seems to be some neurological impact.

Here's how the Times reports the news:

"The lungs are the coronavirus’s foremost target in the body, and it has been clear for some time that the virus can attack the kidneys, liver and blood vessels as well. About half of Covid-19 patients also report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium — suggesting that the virus might attack the brain.

"A new study offers the first clear evidence that in some people, it does just that, in two ways: The virus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself, and it appears to suck up all the oxygen near the host cells, starving other cells to death.

"It’s unclear exactly how the virus gets into the brain or how often it touches off this trail of destruction. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, because of a high viral load or for other reasons … The coronavirus is much stealthier than some other pathogens: It exploits the brain cells’ machinery to multiply, but doesn’t destroy the cells. Instead, it chokes off oxygen to adjacent cells, causing them to wither and die."

•  Albertsons Companies announced today that it "has partnered with Phosphorus to begin offering at-home COVID-19 test kits in select market areas, with plans to expand the offering throughout September and October.

"The saliva tests typically return results in 72 hours or less from the time the lab receives the test. Albertsons Cos. piloted the test kits in the Houston, Austin, and Boise markets and saw rapid adoption from patients … In October, Albertsons Cos. expects to have rolled out the offering to all the market areas it serves. The test has received Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA for the detection of COVID-19.

"The process for obtaining a test is simple. From their home, patients complete a short online questionnaire at that is reviewed by a local Albertsons Companies pharmacist. The patient is then contacted by the pharmacy to schedule a pickup or delivery. Patients showing symptoms should not pick up their own test; they must send a representative or choose delivery.

The patient completes the saliva sample collection and sends it to the lab via the kit’s prepaid next-day shipping envelope. The results are delivered by email or text, typically within 72 hours or less from the time the lab receives the test."

Patients have to pay for the test out of pocket and then send the bill to their insurance companies themselves.

•  From the New York Times:

"Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that the ban on indoor dining in New York City would be lifted on Sept. 30, a boost to the city’s recovery from the pandemic that would end its status as one of the few places in the nation with a complete ban.

"The governor’s announcement, which would allow restaurants to open indoor tables at 25 percent capacity, could be a major milestone in the coronavirus crisis in New York City, where restaurants form a critical part of the city’s economy and its currently moribund tourist trade, and are a vital part of its usually vibrant social fabric.

"The announcement came more than two months after the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio halted a plan to reopen indoor dining at restaurants, citing ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, which has killed more than 30,000 people in New York. But the infection rate in the state has been kept below 1 percent for weeks, allowing for the easing of some restrictions. Indoor dining resumed in neighboring New Jersey at 25 percent capacity last week."

Just in time, by some measures.  There have been a number of stories that I've seen over the past few days about mounting concerns that as the weather gets colder, restaurants using outdoor dining as a lifeline for the past few months will find themselves facing new troubles.  At the same time, though, it is critical not to let down our guard, lest we see the virus ravage the country yet again.

•  The Los Angeles Times reports that LA County public health officials are walking back an earlier announcement that Halloween trick-or-treating would be banned this year because of the coronavirus.  Instead, they are saying, it simply will be "not recommended."

The shift apparently was because of some negative reactions to an outright ban.

The Times writes that "the latest guidelines also prevent carnivals, festivals and haunted house attractions, and instead encourage online parties, car parades that comply with vehicle parade protocols and Halloween movie nights at drive-in theaters that meet health and safety standards.

"Annual Halloween events such as Knott’s Scary Farm and the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland have already been canceled because of the pandemic."

My opinion? This eventually will end up going back to being a ban, as it will in many communities. We're in a severe public health crisis, and a traditional Halloween makes no sense ... though I'm sure there will be folks in denial and will send their kids off regardless of the risks.