retail 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 11,697,469 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 254,291 deaths and 7,089,085 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 56,031,555 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,345,577 fatalities and 39,035,898 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  The Wall Street Journal reports the breaking news this morning that final results from an experimental vaccine study done by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE was 95 percent effective "and is showing signs of being safe, key pieces of data as the companies prepare to ask health regulators to authorize use.

"Pfizer plans to seek authorization for the vaccine within days, the companies said Wednesday, leaving the shot on track to go into distribution by the end of the year if health regulators permit."

The story says that the "95% effectiveness rate puts the shot’s performance on par with shingles and measles vaccines," with no serious side effects.

The Journal points out that "upon authorization, Pfizer plans to produce up to 50 million doses by the end of year, about half of which would be destined for the U.S. The supplies would be enough to inoculate only 12.5 million Americans because each person needs to take two doses three weeks apart … The vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, equivalent to minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which prompted Pfizer to create a special container to keep the shots cold during distribution and set up its own supply chain to ferry them around the globe.

"The need for ultracold storage has also sent some health authorities and hospitals racing to find special freezers."

The New York Times quotes Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as saying, "I had been saying I would be satisfied with a 75 percent effective vaccine. Aspirationally, you would like to see 90, 95 percent, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought we’d be good, but 94.5 percent is very impressive."

Somebody asked me yesterday if I trusted the vaccine development enough to be willing to take one.  My response was this:  Absolutely.  If Dr. Fauci says I can trust it, then I'll trust it.

From the Boston Globe:

"The nation’s top infectious disease expert on Tuesday described the need for a uniform, national response to the United States’s accelerating COVID-19 crisis, saying there are a number of fundamental things the country can do to mitigate the spread of the virus, instead of a 'disjointed' state-by-state approach."

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "The thing we need to get people to understand is that when you’re dealing with an infectious disease outbreak, the infectious disease, the virus in this case, doesn’t know the difference between the border of Louisiana and Mississippi or North and South Carolina.  It’s the country that’s involved, so we need to respond as a nation, not in a fragmented way.”

•  The Associated Press reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing "emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes … the test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use."

According to the story, ":The company’s test allows users to swab themselves to collect a nasal sample. The sample is then swirled in a vial of laboratory solution that plugs into a portable device. Results are displayed as lights labeled positive or negative."

•  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that yesterday "the number of newly reported Covid-19 cases rose again, and hospitalizations hit another record, as states and municipalities imposed new restrictions … With cases on the rise, more states are implementing new restrictions on people’s activity. Ohio imposed on Tuesday a statewide curfew, requiring residents to stay at home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Journal writes that as "hospitalizations continue to surge … there were 76,823 people admitted as of Tuesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a record and the eighth consecutive day above 60,000. Before Nov. 10, hospitalizations had stayed below that level."

•  From The Hill:

"North Dakota’s coronavirus mortality rate is the highest of any U.S. state or country, according to an analysis of data from last week conducted by the Federation of American Scientists.

"The analysis … shows that North Dakota has a rate of 18.2 deaths per 1 million people. South Dakota, meanwhile, has 17.4 deaths per million, the third-worst rate in the world. The states have a total population of under 2 million."

•  From the Los Angeles Times:

"In an effort to battle a dangerous surge in COVID-19 cases, Los Angeles County officials announced Tuesday evening new limits on hours of operation for some businesses, while also limiting the size of outdoor gatherings.

"Officials also warned that if cases and hospitalizations continue to surge, more extreme measures would be taken in the coming weeks, including limiting restaurants to pick-up orders and some type of return to the 'safer at home' order that would 'only allow essential workers and those securing essential services to leave their homes.'

"Starting Friday, restaurants, breweries, bars, wineries and nonessential retail establishments must close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.  Additionally, outdoor social gatherings - the only type allowed - will be limited to three households, with a maximum of 15 people."

The Times goes on:

"Across California, coronavirus cases are surging at an unprecedented pace, even worse than the second surge of the year, in the summer. Weekly coronavirus infections across California are now nearly 150% worse than they were a month ago, according to a Times analysis, rising from about 22,600 to 56,000 for the seven-day period that ended Sunday.

"Hospitalizations statewide are up 51% over the same period. And the statewide rate at which coronavirus tests are coming back positive is now 5%, nearly double that of a month ago, when it was 2.6%. Deaths are expected to climb."

•  From the New York Post:

"The pandemic-plagued city of El Paso is teaming up with Walmart to deliver COVID-19 test kits to residents via drone as the Texas city searches for ways to contain the deadly virus.

"El Paso Mayor Dee Margo helped launch the pilot program Tuesday, teaming up with the mega-retailer and DroneUp to make the city one of only a handful to go airborne in its fight to contain a new surge in the coronavirus … The initial plan calls for the drones to deliver the kits to homes within 1 1/2 miles of a Walmart Supercenter on Zaragoza Road, with residents then mailing the tests to a nearby Quest Diagnostics lab … Customers can apply to have one of the drones land on their lawn or driveway with the tests."

The story notes that "the announcement comes as El Paso finds itself overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases, prompting the city medical examiner to employ county jail inmates to load bodies into a line of refrigerated trucks in the parking lot of the coroner’s office.  The city has about 34,000 active cases of the pandemic and more than 1,100 in local hospitals — around 300 of them in intensive care units."

•  Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the oldest GOP member of the US Senate at age 87, said yesterday that he had tested positive for Covid-19, but felt well and would be working from home while isolating.

The Wall Street Journal writes that "Grassley’s quarantine raised doubts about the Senate’s continued operations for the week. It also forced the senator to miss a vote after he had participated in 8,927 consecutive votes, the longest streak in Senate history."

At the same time, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) said he had tested positive for Covid-19, was asymptomatic and would be working and isolating at home.

•  CNN reports that "shoppers are once again loading up on paper goods and cleaning supplies in areas of the United States hard hit by rising coronavirus infections, leading to empty shelves at some Walmart stores.

"Officials at Walmart, the largest retailer in the country, said Tuesday that supply chains have not kept up with rising demand, and these goods have been harder to stock consistently in locations with sharp spikes in new virus cases."

According to the story, "Walmart CEO Doug McMillon called it 'disappointing' to see 'as many out-of-stocks as we have in consumables right now generally,' although he said the situation had improved since the spring. He stressed that Walmart was better prepared to handle the demand than it was earlier in the year."  Walmart also said that the shortages seemed to be localized, and not system-wide, which is why store managers have been empowered to set limits on purchases of certain items depending on circumstances.

Just to address an issue that has come up here about these out-of-stock stories … this is Walmart saying it, and the media is reporting it.  Which is what the media is supposed to do.

•  From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

"Against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases, Wegmans Food Markets has updated its limited-purchases list, launched at the start of the pandemic to prevent product shortages in stores.

"Just added: facial tissue and paper napkins. Shoppers are now allowed to buy one package of the former and two of the latter per order."

The story says that "Wegmans also is installing video cameras near the entrances of its highest-traffic stores so customers can check live feeds to get an idea of how busy a store is before visiting."

•  From the Los Angeles Times:

"Desperately seeking to find a seemingly responsible way to hold dinner parties, some people have started to get tests for the coronavirus as a way to clear themselves to attend dinner parties without needing to wear masks or keep their distance.

"That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, according to Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health.

"Ferrer said on Monday that she has heard of groups of young adults going to get tested for the coronavirus on a Thursday in hopes of getting the negative results by Saturday morning, and then having a dinner party on Saturday night.

"But such tests provide a false sense of security — and engaging in this practice can still result in the dinner party becoming a super-spreading event that can transmit the highly contagious virus widely."

•  The New York Times this morning reports that "a survey by the American Alliance of Museums published Tuesday makes clear that nearly one in three museums in the United States remains closed because of the pandemic, and most of those have never reopened since the initial shutdown in March … Of the 850 museum directors who responded to the survey, which was conducted in the second half of October, just over half said their institutions had six months or less of their financial operating reserve remaining. Eighty-two percent said they had 12 months or less."

The story goes on:  "American museums, which receive smaller government subsidies than European institutions, have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. They rely on donations and ticket sales to keep their doors open, but those have decreased or dried up since March. Museum directors reported that, on average, they expected to lose about a third of their institution’s budgeted operating income in 2020.

"Nearly one in three museum directors said their institutions were at risk of permanent closure if they did not find additional funding in the next 12 months."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal writes this morning that theater professionals on Broadway and elsewhere expressed hope that vaccines may allow them to re-open, though there is a recognition that the close-quarters of most live theater experiences makes it likely that live theaters will be one of the last industries to reopen.

"Broadway theaters are closed through at least the end of May 2021," the Journal writes, and even that date is not written in stone.  However, professionals tells the paper that they feel "buoyed not only by the vaccines in progress, but also hope that a federal relief bill in the works, the Save Our Stages Act, could be passed to provide millions of dollars in support to the beleaguered industry."

It will be a tragedy if, even if we find a way to conquer this coronavirus, we lose our cultural souls in the process.