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 29,370,705 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 529,214 deaths, and 19,905,322 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 115,403,435 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,562,694 resultant fatalities, and 91,197,842 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  The White House yesterday announced that "ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of May," two months earlier than originally predicted.

Availability, of course, is not the same as shots administered.  But you can't administer doses you don't have.  So this is good news.

•  The White House also said that states should "give priority to educators, school staffers and child-care workers for vaccinations, calling on states to provide at least one shot to those workers by the end of March."

•  The Washington Post reports that "at least 51.8 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 26.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 102.4 million doses have been distributed."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. were down from a day earlier, but deaths ticked higher again … While both new cases and deaths are down from January’s highs, deaths have begun to trend upward in the past week. The seven-day moving average of daily reported deaths, which smooths out irregularities in the data, was 2,046 as of Monday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data."

•  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that as of next Wednesday, March 10, he is ending a statewide mask mandate and decreeing that all of the state's businesses can operate without any capacity limits - including sporting events, concerts and conventions.

The Texas Tribune reports that Abbott made the announcement even as "the spread of the virus remains substantial across the state, with Texas averaging over 200 reported deaths a day over the last week. And while Abbott has voiced optimism that vaccinations will accelerate soon, less than 7% of Texans had been fully vaccinated as of this weekend.

"Texans and Americans of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. More than half of the deaths due to COVID-19 have been Black or Hispanic people, and advocates have reported that these communities have fallen behind in the vaccination efforts in Texas. More than 40,000 people have died in from the virus in Texas since the pandemic began."

The New York Times reports that Abbott "said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them."

The Houston Chronicle reports that Houston is the first American city that has detected within its borders every major coronavirus variant, "many of which are more contagious than the original strain."

"The numbers of the major variants we have identified in our large sequencing study are disquieting," Dr. James Musser, who leads the team of experts at Houston Methodist Hospital behind the new finding, tells the Chronicle.  "The genome data indicate that these important variants are now geographically widely distributed in the Houston metropolitan region."

The Wall Street Journal writes that "Abbott’s move, affecting some 29 million residents of the second-largest state, comes after some smaller states, such as Iowa, Montana and North Dakota, have removed mask mandates.

"On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said he would be dropping the state’s mask mandate and all business-capacity restrictions."

Reeves said that the restrictions were "never to prevent all possible spread of Covid-19.  It was always about protecting the integrity of our healthcare system.”

Indeed, the new  moves are in complete contravention to recommendations by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said earlier this week that states' moves to relax or eliminate public health rules related to the pandemic mean that "we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."

The Texas decision especially strikes me as, at the very least misguided - just a few more months of vigilance could mean the difference between beating back the pandemic and having to deal with a national resurgence.  It isn't just Texas - if the state's position leads to a resurgence there, it is likely to spread to other states.  Which means that it will imperil the country's ability to emerge from this nightmare.  I don't think it is hyperbole to point out that it was just yesterday that the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) said that it is planning an in-person Fresh Summit in New Orleans in late October … but that's only possible if we continue to make progress.  

It was something like 10 months ago that Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we had to work to get the number of daily new cases in the US to 20,000 or below … and we're still way higher than that.  And yet, there are people - not just in Texas - who frame the elimination of pandemic-related restrictions as some sort of declaration of independence, ignoring the very real possibility that they are putting our independence in jeopardy.

I did enjoy the folks on the internet yesterday who pointed out that Abbott sounded a lot like another political leader:

Yes, I know that's two Jaws references in one day.  But you can't have too many Jaws references, IMNSHO.

•  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "indoor dining and other activities that were shuttered or severely curtailed for more than three months will resume on Wednesday in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Napa counties, which have moved into a less restrictive tier in the state’s pandemic reopening plan.

"With Marin and San Mateo counties, five of the region’s nine counties are now in the red tier; the other four remain in the purple tier. Counties in the red tier may allow certain businesses and activities to resume - in particular, indoor operations such as gyms, movie theaters and museums, in addition to restaurants.

"The reopenings come as cases, hospitalizations and deaths plummet across the Bay Area after a brutal winter surge. In San Francisco, Napa and Santa Clara counties, cases have dropped up to 83% from the peaks in late December. Public health officials said that with vaccinations increasing and coronavirus cases at their lowest levels since November, they feel confident about loosening some restrictions."

The goal should be to re-open carefully … continuing to mandate vigilance in terms of masking and physical distancing … and pay attention to the numbers, with the idea being that if we do it right, we can avoid the yo-yo of closings and openings that disrupted so many communities.

•  Some mildly encouraging news - ride-sharing company Lyft says that an increase in demand for its services means that it is likely to lose just $135 million in Q1, as opposed to the $145 million-$150 million it originally projected it would lose.

CNBC notes that Lyft has taken a different approach than Uber, which has expanded into areas like food delivery as a way of compensating for the loss of revenue from ride-sharing.  Lyft, on the other hand, "has kept its focus on ride-sharing and looked toward a reopening of the broader economy."

•  Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, in her own words, got a dose of her own medicine yesterday.

Parton famously wrote a check for $1 million last year and donated it to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which used the money to help develop the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.  Yesterday, she got her money's worth - her first vaccination.  (She reportedly had been offered it earlier, but said she wanted to wait her turn.)

"I’m old enough to get it, and I’m smart enough to get it," she said.

Lucky for us, it was all captured for YouTube: