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…

•  In the United States, there now have been 30,294,798 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 550,649 deaths, and 22,447,275 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 121,914,549 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,694,637 resultant fatalities, and 98,255,283 reported recoveries. (Source.)

•  The Washington Post reports that "at least 73.7 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 38.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 147.6 million doses have been distributed."

"Newly reported U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths continue to broadly decline, if more slowly, from a deadly fall surge. But the metrics remain elevated, with the seven-day average of new cases near 55,000, and several states starting to see a slight uptick in infections.

"Vaccinations, meanwhile, are increasing, with 15.1% of the adult population now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. As the effort gains pace, officials are ramping up strategies for getting doses to hard-to-reach populations. Mobile clinics and veterans are delivering shots from Appalachia to Southwest deserts."

•  From the New York Times:

"As Americans celebrate a slowing spread of the coronavirus, including in many former hot spots in the South and Midwest, trends in the Northeast have experts and public officials on edge.

"In New York and New Jersey, new cases per capita are at least double the national average. New cases rates are raising concern in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. And as of last week, a virus variant that was first detected in New York City recently made up a growing proportion of new cases there."

The Times goes on:  "Although the rate of new cases is either plateauing or increasing in several Northeastern states, public officials are moving ahead with plans to ease restrictions.

"Starting on Friday, Rhode Island will allow restaurants to serve at 75 percent occupancy, up from 25 percent. Indoor dining in New Jersey and New York City will go to 50 percent capacity that day. Outside New York City, indoor dining across the state can expand on Friday as well, to 75 percent, from 50 percent."

•  Axios elaborates on the numbers:

"The U.S. is now adding about 55,000 new cases per day.

"The pace of new infections got better over the past week in 13 states, got worse in another 13, and held steady everywhere else.

"Michigan saw the biggest jump in new cases, at 53%.

"The biggest improvements came in Alabama, Arizona, California and Georgia, each of which saw a decline of over 30% in new cases per day.

"Nationwide, that averaged out to a 5% drop from the week before."

Axios goes on:  "Containing the spread more tightly in the meantime would help minimize the threat posed by variants of the virus, which likely will keep circulating for years, causing new flare-ups and in some cases requiring vaccine booster shots.  But as long as Americans keep getting vaccinated in large numbers, the end of the pandemic, as we’ve experienced it over the past year, is well within reach."

•  From the Financial Times:

"The rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across the US is starting to work, according to a Financial Times analysis of official data that shows the number of deaths and hospital admissions are falling more quickly among older people than in the wider population.

"The US has overseen one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world, administering more doses than any other country and vaccinating a large proportion of its population. Older people and those in nursing homes were first in line for vaccinations, resulting in a rapid decline in Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths among these groups in the past few weeks. The declines in these groups has been faster than in the rest of the population, which has also seen a broad-based reduction since the winter peak.

"Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said: 'Vaccines are already saving thousands of lives in the United States. Rapid declines in the number and proportion of deaths among nursing home residents are the direct result of vaccines saving lives'."

•  The Washington Post reports that a new Danish study suggests that while unvaccinated people who get Covid-19 seem to be protected from reinfection for at least 12 months, that immunity may be significantly less the older you get.

The story says that "researchers found that natural infection reduced the chances of getting the virus again by about 80 percent, but offered just 47 percent protection against repeat infection among those over 65."

British immunologists commenting on the study tell the Post that the results illustrate why natural/herd immunity may not be achievable, and why an effective global vaccination program is, quite literally, the best medicine.

And, of course, while vaccination programs roll out, continued emphasis on responsible behavior - physical distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing.

•  The New York Times reports that Moderna, which created one of ther vaccine programs being implemented around the country, "has begun a study that will test its COVID vaccine in children younger than 12, including babies as young as 6 months."

And, the story says, "in a separate study, Moderna is testing its vaccine in 3,000 children ages 12-17.  Many parents want protection for their children, and vaccinating children should help to produce the herd immunity considered crucial to stopping the pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for expansion of vaccine trials to include children."

•  The New York Times reports that Walmart has "signed on to an international effort to provide standardized digital vaccination credentials to people. The company joins a push already backed by major health centers and tech companies including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Cerner, Epic Systems, the Mitre Corporation and the Mayo Clinic."

These credentials will allow people "to verify their vaccination status at airports, schools and other locations using a health passport app on their smartphones."

“Walmart is the first huge-scale administrator of vaccines that is committing to giving people a secure, verifiable record of their vaccinations,” Paul Meyer, CEO of the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit in Geneva that has developed health passport apps, tells the Times.  “We think many others will follow.”

•  From the BBC:

"A digital certificate to kick-start foreign travel should be given to citizens across the EU "without discrimination", officials say.

"The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against Covid-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the EU.

"The 27 member states will decide how to use the new digital certificate."

And, the BBC writes, "Ahead of the EU's announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was working to 'create an international trusted framework' for safe travel, but that vaccinations should not be a condition."

•  The Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about how H-E-B has been "caught in the middle" of the "mask divide" in Texas, hung out to dry by Gov. Greg Abbot's decision to lift a statewide mask mandate and leave it up to people whether to wear them or not as he opened up the state "100 percent," allowing businesses to operate in pre-pandemic fashion.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland said that the decision "stripped stores of the 'backstop' that the threat of a fine provided."  When the change in state policy was first announced, H-E-B dithered uncharacteristically - it first said it would not require masks in its stores, then said it would but would not enforce the rule because of concerns that this approach would escalate confrontations between customers and employees.

The Journal writes that "H-E-B said it expects shoppers to continue wearing masks in its stores and that it has increased security at many of its locations. 'The ending of mask ordinances puts real pressure on retailers to enforce an emotional policy for many and we will not ask our Partners to put themselves in harm’s way,” the company said in a written statement."

The "middle" in which H-E-B finds itself is not a comfortable place to be.  Many retailers operating stores in Texas said immediately that they would continue to enforce a mask mandate, no matter what the state government says.  But, at the same time, many businesses - especially in the restaurant business - cheered the change.

As all this has happened, the Journal writes, H-E-B saw its image tarnished, as customers who were concerned about their health were put off by the dithering.

It is a measure of exactly how divisive mask mandates continue to be that a retailer as surefooted as H-E-B finds itself at odds with some customers.  The shame of it is that public health experts seem fairly unanimous in their belief that just a few more months of conscientious mask wearing will be an enormous factor in arresting the pandemic, and Texas has decided that there are other, more important priorities.

• The Boston Globe reports that "public-facing workers such as grocery store employees and transit and sanitation workers, as well as residents aged 60 and over, will be eligible to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments starting Monday in Massachusetts, and the general public aged 16 and older will be eligible starting April 19, officials said Wednesday … Under the timeline, essential workers and residents 60-plus who become eligible Monday will be followed by people aged 55 and over and those with one comorbidity, who are slated for eligibility April 5. Then the rest of the 16 and over public gains access starting April 19, at which point officials estimate 2.5 million people will be newly eligible."

•  SaveMart Companies this week marked the one-year anniversary of its recognition and compensation of "its frontline store and distribution center employees with weekly hazard pay and other COVID-19 related benefits without interruption, continuing its 'Employees First' commitment and prioritizing their safety and well-being.

"Starting in March 2020, The Save Mart Companies began providing weekly hazard pay for all hourly frontline employees across all three banners – Lucky/Lucky California, FoodMaxx and Save Mart -- and at their distribution centers, encompassing approximately 16,000 workers in California and Northern Nevada.  It is the only grocery chain that has provided uninterrupted hazard pay and other COVID-19 related benefits since the pandemic onset. "

Which is why government-mandated hazard pay is both a bad idea and unnecessary - companies like Save Mart can differentiate themselves and distinguish themselves through the treatment of employees … and, at the same time, Save Mart ought not be forced to offer even more hazard pay when it already has been doing so.