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, there now have been 13,751,337 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 273,101 deaths and 8,108,383 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 63,152,981 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,466,743 resulting fatalities, and 43,626,122 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  Some good news from the Wall Street Journal:

"Moderna Inc. said it will on Monday ask U.S. and European health regulators to authorize use of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine, after it was shown to be 94.1% effective in a full analysis of a pivotal study.

"The timing keeps the vaccine on track to become possibly the second to go into use in the U.S. by year’s end - after one already under regulatory review from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE - with inoculation available to the general public likely in spring or summer."

The story goes on :  "Moderna also said the vaccine appeared to be generally safe, though some subjects developed headaches and other mild to moderate reactions."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations nationwide again hit a record high, according to the Covid Tracking Project, with more than 93,000 admitted as of Sunday.

"The nation reported 138,903 new cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That is down from 155,596 a day before and the record-high 205,557 reported on Friday. Sunday’s figure was also a week-over-week decline, down from 142,734 on Nov. 22."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "almost 50 million people were expected to have made a journey during the Thanksgiving holidays, AAA said, despite tightening local clampdowns and warnings from federal health officials. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 19 recommended people not travel over Thanksgiving."

•  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “This Week” that the level of infection in the U.S. would not “all of a sudden turn around … clearly in the next few weeks, we’re going to have the same sort of thing. And perhaps even two or three weeks down the line ... we may see a surge upon a surge."

•  The Washington Post reports that the US Supreme Court last week ruled 5-4 n favor of "religious organizations in New York that said they were illegally targeted by pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to combat spiking coronavirus cases."

The Post writes:  "'Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,' said the unsigned opinion granting a stay of the state’s orders. 'The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.'

"The limits were severe, at times capping worship services at only 10 people. But the state said they were necessary to deal with 'hot spots' of virus outbreaks."

I do think that there has been some degree of inconsistency in how regulations have been developed - if people believe that governments are making it more acceptable to keep a bar open than a church or school, then they have a legitimate complaint.  I think some of this may be a communications issue - somehow, even a governor who was not shy about getting in front of TV cameras managed not to make his case in this regard.

I also must confess that I am a little less interested in what the Supreme Court said than in what churches seemingly unconcerned about spreading the virus through in-person contact are saying.  They must have a different definition of "minister to my flock" than I do.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports on how "neighborhood grocery stores are aiming to become major providers of Covid-19 vaccinations.

"Supermarkets are rushing to secure freezers, thermometers and other medical gear for administering shots. They are also training staff and establishing online services for scheduling appointments. With a vaccine approval potentially weeks away, it isn’t yet known how federal and state authorities will distribute shots to the public, and grocers say they are unsure how many customers will seek immunization when it becomes available."

The Journal writes that "the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has signed on dozens of grocery and pharmacy chains to provide Covid-19 vaccines once the inoculations are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the retailers are Kroger Co. , Albertsons Cos. and CVS Health Corp. These businesses are part of 'Operation Warp Speed,' which also includes drugmakers, medical distributors and federal agencies.

"Grocers have emerged as providers of Covid-19 testing for employees and consumers during the pandemic. Many supermarkets have offered customers flu shots for years, but vaccine distribution will require more coordination with state and federal agencies … Grocers say they are well-positioned to provide Covid-19 vaccines because a large share of the population lives near one of their stores and their pharmacies regularly offer shots for flu, shingles and other illnesses. For supermarkets, pharmacy operations have historically been a way to bring in more shoppers. Many already have freezers and other tools in stores, as well as pharmacists trained to perform immunizations."

•  NBC News reports that "the family of a Publix employee who died after contracting the coronavirus alleges in a lawsuit that the supermarket company banned workers from wearing face masks at the start of the pandemic.

"Gerardo Gutierrez, who worked in the deli department of the Miami Beach grocery store, died on April 28 from COVID-19 complications, according to a suit filed Monday. The suit says the 70-year-old became ill after an employee he worked with tested positive for the virus … The lawsuit claims that at the start of the pandemic, Publix prohibited employees from wearing face masks and gloves despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging people to social distance."

Publix has not yet commented on the suit, according to the story.

•  CBS News reported that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock last week was urging his city's residents to stay home on Thanksgiving - and then he flew to Mississippi for the holiday to see his daughter.

Once confronted, Hancock said his decision was "unwise and hypocritical … I recognize that my job as mayor, my job is not only to come up with safe practices for the entire city, but also to lead by an example, and I think by that measure, I failed. It’s a mistake I deeply regret and deeply apologize for."

I wonder if he's sorry for having gone, or more sorry for having been caught.

I have to admit that I'm really tired of politicians who say one thing and do another.  Hancock flies to Mississippi.  California Gov. Gavin Newsom goes to Napa for a fancy dinner with lots of politicos and donors.  I worry that their moral barometer may be no better than their political judgement … and I certainly think these decisions would influence my decision-making if I were one of their constituents.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that United Airlines "on Friday began operating charter flights to position doses of Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine for quick distribution if the shots are approved by regulators, according to people familiar with the matter.

"The initial flights are one link in a global supply chain being assembled to tackle the logistical challenge of distributing Covid-19 vaccines. Pfizer has been laying the groundwork to move quickly if it gets approval from the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators world-wide."

The Journal writes that "other cargo and passenger airlines are also preparing for the global push to get vaccines to the public quickly. American Airlines Group Inc. said it has been conducting trial flights from Miami to South America to test the thermal packaging and operational processes for shipping vaccines.

"FedEx Corp. and DHL International GmBH have introduced temperature-monitoring systems to track future vaccine shipments. United Parcel Service Inc. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are building 'freezer farms' combining many refrigerators at their airport hubs to store vaccines in transit."

I hope that someone thinks to talk to Amazon and Jeff Bezos about how it can lend a hand in the logistical challenges involved in getting the vaccine out there and everywhere.

•  From the New York Times, a story about the season's must-have product in a pandemic world:

"The must-have accessory for many businesses this winter is basic, but lately it has been hard to find: the humble space heater.

"As coronavirus cases surge, and as people shun or are even barred from gathering in indoor spaces, restaurants, hotels and office buildings are installing outdoor heaters on sidewalks and terraces in a bid to retain customers and tenants.

"The effort can seem like an existential quest. A rise in demand has left some products back-ordered for months, possibly jeopardizing the prospect of some businesses getting through the pandemic intact."

•  Axios Sports reports on how the pandemic "has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with all Denver Broncos quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground, and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable."

Denver's situation meant that it had to start Kendall Hinton, a practice-squad wide receiver, at quarterback yesterday.

"In San Francisco," Axios Sports writes, "the Santa Clara County Public Health Department announced new measures to combat a surge in coronavirus cases in the area — including prohibiting starting Monday contact sports from holding games and practices for three weeks."

Baltimore's problems meant that "the Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game originally scheduled for Thanksgiving Day has been rescheduled for a second time, from Sunday to Tuesday, after three Baltimore players tested positive for the virus."