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…

•  As the week comes to an end, the pandemic numbers are sobering, as the world has passed two million deaths, with the US rapidly approaching 400,000 fatalities.

Here are the pandemic numbers in the US:  23,848,410 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … 397,994 deaths … and 14,112,119 reported recoveries.

The global numbers:  93,621,712 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,004,585 fatalities … and 66,926,497 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

There is a piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning suggesting that the numbers actually are far worse - that perhaps as many as 2.8 million people around the world have died because of the pandemic.  "Public-health experts believe that many, if not most, of the additional deaths were directly linked to the disease, particularly early in the pandemic when testing was sparse," the Journal writes.  "Some of those excess deaths came from indirect fallout, from health-care disruptions, people avoiding the hospital and other issues."

•  CNN reports that "more than 38,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 in the first two weeks of the new year.

"Another 92,000 are projected to die from the virus over roughly the next three weeks, according to an ensemble forecast published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The numbers are scary and reflect what public health experts have repeatedly warned: While the end is in sight - with the help of ongoing Covid-19 vaccinations - the nation still faces challenging times ahead."

•  In an op-ed piece written for the Washington Post, Dr. Peter Hotez - professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development - offers this assessment of the vaccination challenges that lie in front of us:

"We face a daunting task: The nation must vaccinate an estimated three-fourths of Americans to interrupt coronavirus transmission and stop the spread. Reaching this target by Sept. 1 will require us to fully immunize about 240 million Americans over the next eight months, or 1 million people every day from now until then. Because the only two vaccines approved for use in the United States now require two doses to provide high levels of protection, we may have to double that number."

This can happen, Hotez writes, "only with extensive - and maybe costly - intervention from the federal government, both for logistics and financial support, to immunize on the order of 10,000 to 20,000 people per day in major metro areas. Setting up vaccination hubs won’t require only space; it also means hiring hundreds or thousands of vaccinators and support staff, and paying for security and parking attendants."

You can - and should - read his entire piece here.

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. remained above 200,000 for the ninth day in a row, while hospitals continued to see large numbers of Covid-19 patients.

"The U.S. reported more than 224,000 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s death toll grew by more than 3,800 Wednesday, lower than the record of more than 4,000 fatalities the previous day, but still higher than daily levels recorded last year … Hospitalizations due to the disease topped 130,000 Wednesday for the second consecutive day, while 23,877 patients required treatment in intensive-care units, according to the Covid Tracking Project."

•  The New York Times reports that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has chosen Dr. David Kessler, who ran the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the Bush and Clinton administrations, "to help lead Operation Warp Speed, the program to accelerate development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments."

Kessler - who was prominent during his FDA tenure for taking on the tobacco industry and promoting healthier dietary guidelines, as well as accelerating the approval of drugs that could be used in the treatment of people with AIDS - "will join Operation Warp Speed at a critical time," the Times writes.  "Although the program is widely credited with making possible the development of two highly effective coronavirus vaccines in record time, it has been much less successful at actually delivering the shots to the public — a complex task it shares with numerous federal, state and local authorities."

•  "Trader Joe's is the latest business to offer an incentive for workers getting the COVID-19 vaccine," USA Today reports.

"The Monrovia, California-based grocery chain said Thursday it will give employees two hours of pay per dose for getting the vaccine and will also shift around schedules to make sure employees have time to get vaccinated.

"Online grocery delivery company Instacart also announced Thursday it will begin paying its workers $25 to offset them taking time to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"The San Francisco-headquartered company, which has about 500,000 workers that shop to fill and deliver orders from more than 40,000 stores, said it will begin giving the vaccine support stipend Feb. 1 to eligible workers as the vaccination programs roll out across the U.S. and Canada."

•  The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has a letter to the Biden Administration transition team, CDC, HHS, NGA, Operation Warp Speed and the U.S. Conference of Mayors offering hotel properties as vaccine administration sites across the country.  

The letter, from Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA, pointed out that "with more than 50,000 hotels in every properties located in cities, suburbs, and rural communities, hotels have the geographic reach to support a wide distribution of the vaccine … Hotels have private rooms, meeting rooms, conference and ball rooms as well as outside areas, hotels are equipped for 24-hour operations to allow for round-the-clock vaccination administration. This will also ensure there is adequate space to maintain physical distancing, capacity limits and other safety protocols."

AHLA also pointed out that hotels have the infrastructure - parking, accessibility, and perhaps most importantly, refrigeration - to handle the demands of a vaccination system.

There's no question that there is an ulterior motive here - unless we eradicate the coronavirus, the hotel industry's future is murky at best.  Still, good for AHLA - everybody with these kinds of capabilities should be pitching in to facilitate a national vaccination program.

•  Bloomberg writes that "while the surge in the number of unemployed Americans has been a focus of economists throughout the pandemic, another problem in the labor market has been mostly overlooked: The people that do have jobs are calling out sick in record numbers or taking leaves of absence.

"Unlike the jobless rate, which has declined markedly from the peak in April, the rate of absenteeism has remained stubbornly high. More than 1.9 million people missed work in December because of illness, according to Labor Department data, almost matching the 2 million record set in April and underscoring the impact of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

"These lost days of work are sapping an economic recovery that’s been progressing in fits and starts for the past several months. Some indicators have improved significantly, but others such as retail sales and personal income have weakened as the pandemic rages and local governments impose fresh restrictions on businesses and travel."

•  The Wall Street Journal writes that while "Australia has relied on one of the world’s most aggressive quarantine programs to keep the coronavirus at bay," a new outbreak in Brisbane has prompted one leader to propose going further "by housing returned travelers in Outback camps far from cities as new Covid-19 variants threaten the country’s success.

"The premier of Queensland state wants to repurpose camps designed for resources workers as isolation hubs in remote scrubland where temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit … The idea of using remote camps illustrates how leaders in places that had crushed the virus are considering more extreme measures to protect people from new variants of the coronavirus, which emerged in the U.K. and South Africa and have since spread to more countries."

The story goes on: "Underpinning the logic of using workers’ camps to house returned travelers is the potential for health authorities to get on top of outbreaks quickly and limit their spread. Other positives include access to fresh air and exercise for those in isolation, officials say."

I'm all for being aggressive when dealing with the pandemic, but as legitimate as the motivation behind this proposal may be, the optics just seem … off.