Published on: August 2, 2021
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…
• Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers: 35,768,924 total cases … 629,380 deaths … and 29,673,290 reported recoveries.
The global numbers: 199,022,838 total cases … 4,240,374 fatalities … and 179,631,883 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 67.5 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 58.1 percent of that demographic group fully vaccinated.
• From the Associated Press:
"Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday that more “pain and suffering” is on the horizon as COVID-19 cases climb again and officials plead with unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.
"Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also said he doesn’t foresee additional lockdowns in the U.S. because he believes enough people are vaccinated to avoid a recurrence of last winter. However, he said not enough are inoculated to 'crush the outbreak' at this point.
"Fauci’s warning comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course to recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges. With the switch, federal health officials have cited studies showing vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.
"Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections can occur in vaccinated people, and though the vast majority of those cause mild or no symptoms, the research shows they can carry about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots."
• From the Washington Post:
"The newly resurgent coronavirus could spark 140,000 to 300,000 cases a day in the United States come August, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant and the widespread resumption of normal activities, disease trackers predict.
"The nation is already reporting more than 70,000 cases a day, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average — an increase of nearly 60,000 in the daily average in less than six weeks. Cases, measured as that rolling average, have risen to levels last seen in February."
If there is a silver lining, the Post writes, "it is this: Experts do not expect hospitalizations and deaths to rise to the levels experienced in the winter," because the people getting sick and younger and healthier.
The Post writes that "the surge has multiple propellants. The delta variant, which transmits more easily between people, is one.
"Another major contributor, epidemiologists said: Relaxing precautions, such as no longer wearing masks or engaging in social distancing. That probably includes behavior even among the vaccinated, Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said.
Shaman suspects cases among vaccinated people, known as breakthrough infections, are much higher than official tallies indicate. That could be because vaccinated people are less likely to get tested. Or they may be apt to dismiss a mild case of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, as simply the sniffles."
• CNBC writes that the CDC has warned "that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, has a longer transmission window than the original Covid-19 strain and may make older people sicker, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated."
• The New York Times writes that "employers held off for months on making decisions about vaccine mandates, worried about the legal and political fallout. But facing renewed pandemic restrictions, and with encouragement from government leaders, a growing number of the country’s biggest companies have been embracing the idea … The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission first issued guidance in December that employers could mandate vaccines — and reiterated that message in June. But companies have been worried that mandates would bring litigation and have been fearful of employee pushback during a labor shortage."
• The Wall Street Journal elaborates:
"Can employers impose vaccine mandates?
"Legally, there is little preventing private or public employers from imposing vaccination requirements, said labor and employment lawyers. The law allows public and private employers to impose vaccination mandates, so long as they aren’t violating workplace-discrimination laws, they said.
"Few companies outside the healthcare industry require their staff to be vaccinated against the flu or other communicable diseases as a condition of employment, yet hospital systems in several states have mandated vaccines for employees and new hires. Federal lawsuits in a handful of states have resulted in Covid-19 vaccine mandates being upheld. A federal judge in Texas ruled in June that a hospital system could require employees to be vaccinated, and Indiana University was allowed to require students, faculty and staff to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccines. Dozens of other private and public colleges and universities have adopted similar vaccine policies."
• The Associated Press reports that "Walmart is requiring that all workers at its headquarters as well as its managers who travel within the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4.
"The retailer based in Bentonville, Arkansas, is also reversing its mask policy for its employees working in stores, clubs, distribution facilities and warehouses. Going forward, they will be required to wear masks in areas with high infection rates, even if they have been vaccinated.
"The moves are part of a series of sweeping measures the nation’s largest retailer and private employer announced Friday to help curb the spread of the virus and drive more of its workers to get the shot in the arm.
"The vaccine mandate excludes frontline workers, who the company says have a lower vaccination rate than management. But it’s hoping that managerial employees, who represent just a fraction of its 1.5 million workers, will serve as inspiration."
According to the story, "Walmart is also encouraging customers to wear masks in stores located in areas with surging cases and will be adding back signs at the entrances. It will also bring back so-called health ambassadors who will be stationed at the entrances and hand out masks.
"The company is also doubling to $150 the incentive it is offering to workers in stores, clubs, as well as other facilities like distribution centers, to get the vaccine. Those who already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their paycheck dated Aug 19.
"The steps come three days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges."
Walmart also has said that "business travel should be limited to 'business-critical' travel only, at this time."
• Kroger released the following statement:
"Kroger’s current mask guidance requires unvaccinated associates to wear masks and requests that unvaccinated customers wear masks when in our stores and facilities. In light of the Delta variant and updated CDC recommendations, we strongly encourage all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in our stores and facilities. We will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, including our associates."
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"Supermarket chain Albertsons Cos. is preparing for a potential return of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns as the Delta variant pushes up the number of cases across the country.
"'We’re starting to talk about it. We will be prepared,' Albertsons Chief Executive Officer Vivek Sankaran said in an interview, noting that the seven-day average of daily new cases is similar to that of a year ago. 'We should not ignore that'."
• CNBC reports that "Publix Super Markets, which operates more than 1,100 stores mostly across the Southeast, is now requiring employees to wear masks inside all locations regardless of their vaccination status."
Probably makes sense, since at one point last week Florida reported a record 21,000 COVID-19 cases in single day, the highest since start of pandemic.
• From the Seattle Times:
"With the highly contagious delta variant sending coronavirus cases soaring, many Seattle-area employers are rethinking everything from when to bring workers back to the office to whether masks or even vaccines should be mandated for employees.
"At organizations ranging from Amazon and Starbucks, to Ethan Stowell Restaurants and Rachel’s Ginger Beer, to the governments of King County and Seattle, decision makers have been reviewing pandemic rules and strategies after reports of rising case counts and new indoor mask-wearing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
"Amazon, which has said it is monitoring the spread of the delta variant, has rolled back coronavirus safety measures in recent months. But the company isn’t ruling out a return to stricter precautions."
"If that means we have to wear masks again, even if vaccinated, that’s what we’ll do,” says Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky.
• Also from the Seattle Times:
"At Starbucks, a source close to the company confirmed it was 'currently evaluating whether to make changes' to its existing mask policy, which allows fully vaccinated workers and customers to go without masks in Starbucks stores, unless required by state or local law."
• Variety reports that "The Walt Disney Company is requiring that their salaried and non-union U.S. employees get vaccinated before returning to work … Disney is the latest major company to require vaccinations for employees as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to drive a major rise in cases throughout the country. Netflix announced earlier this week that those working in Zone A of productions — actors and those who come in close proximity to them — must be vaccinated as well. Companies like Google and Facebook have announced similar measures for their employees."
In a statement, the company says that it has "begun conversations around this topic with the unions representing our employees under collective bargaining agreements. In addition, all new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before beginning employment. Vaccines are the best tool we all have to help control this global pandemic and protect our employees."
Frankly, this ought to be an easy one for unions - they should be pushing hard for their members to be vaccinated, and for employers to make the vaccination process easier than it already is. Mandating vaccinations is one way to keep employees healthy, which ought to be everybody's end goal.
• The New York Times reports that "The New York Times Company indefinitely postponed its planned return to the office. The company, which employs about 4,700 people, had been planning for workers to start to return, for at least three days a week, in September. Its offices will remain open for those who want to go in voluntarily, with proof of vaccination … Lyft postponed its return to office until February. Uber and Google both pushed their expected return to October and said vaccines would be required to enter the office, and Twitter shut down its San Francisco and New York offices, putting a halt to reopening plans."
• Axios writes, "Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told CNN all employees and customers need to prove vaccination. 'If you really want to go unvaccinated, you can dine somewhere else, and you can also go work somewhere else.'
"Announced today: Broadway theaters will require proof of vaccination (and a mask) to see a show."
• CNBC reports that "Apple will require both vaccinated and unvaccinated customers as well as staff members to wear masks in many of its U.S. retail stores starting on Thursday."
• The Associated Press reports that "Masks, which had started to disappear from store shelves, may be front and center again … Sales of masks rose 24% for the week ended Tuesday, compared to the prior week, reversing weekly declines since May, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index."
The AP goes on: "The scenario marks a shift from the past two months when masks were getting heavily discounted and were being pushed to the side on the sales floor following the CDC move to relax guidance on masks in May. Even before then, data from NielsenIQ shows that mask sales started to consistently decline weekly since early April, going from $101 million worth of masks to roughly $37 million for the week ended July 3."
• In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target is once again paying front-line employees a $200 bonus to thank them for their work over the past few months.
"On Thursday, the Minneapolis-retailer announced the bonus will be awarded to full- and part-time team employees in Target stores and distribution centers as well as headquarters staff who support its customer and employee contact centers. The bonuses will be paid out in August.
"This bonus, an investment of $75 million by Target, will be the sixth paid to employees during the pandemic."