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 a total of 30,521,774 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 555,314 deaths and 22,754,252 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 123,934,415 coronavirus cases, with 2,729,015 resultant fatalities, and 99,856,245 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  The Washington Post reports that "at  least 81.4 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 41.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 156.7 million doses have been distributed."

In addition, the Post reports, "in the last week, an average of 2.49 million doses per day were administered, a 4% increase over the week before."

•  The Wall Street Journal writes that federal officials are warning "that the U.S. may be on track for another surge in Covid-19 cases, trailing Europe by a few weeks in a pattern that has been seen throughout the pandemic.

"European countries now implementing new lockdowns amid a resurgence in infections each took an upward trend after disregarding known mitigation strategies, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Rochelle Walensky, noting it was a warning sign for the U.S."

The story goes on:

"The U.S. in general has followed the European Union by a few weeks in the dynamics of the outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week. In Europe, cases came down, plateaued and then countries pulled back on mitigation methods and had a rebound in cases, he said in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal.

"'They are in the process of a rebound now, which is really something we absolutely want to avoid,' Dr. Fauci said. He added that given the current level of community infection in the U.S., it is risky to pull back on all the preventive modalities."

•  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday that it was cutting in half - from six feet to three feet - the distance that K-12 students need to be apart while in the classroom.

The Wall Street Journal reports that "the agency also removed a recommendation that schools install physical barriers such as sneeze guards, partitions or tape and urged schools to consider Covid-19 symptom screening for sports and extracurricular activities."

The Journal goes on:  "The reduced distance applies to students only, not teachers and staff, the CDC said, because transmission rates of Covid-19 are higher among adults. Also, middle- and high-school students should remain 6 feet apart in communities where transmission of Covid-19 is high if they cannot be divided into cohorts, the CDC said … Students should still remain at least 6 feet from one another while eating and during activities like chorus or sports, at other times when masks cannot be worn and in common areas like school lobbies and auditoriums, the CDC said."

There will be some who will suggest that the CDC hasn't known what is is talking about, but the reality is that scientists learn more every day, and then apply what they've learned to the situation.  Pretty sure that it is called the scientific method.

•  The Washington Post reports that "Oxford University and AstaZeneca reported on Monday that their coronavirus "vaccine for the world" was safe and 79 percent effective overall, according to data from a long-awaited clinical trial in the United States, alongside other studies in Chile and Peru … The scientists said the data show the vaccine is 79 percent effective against symptomatic covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 100 percent effective against severe illness."

It is expected that they will apply to US federal regulators for emergency use authorization in the coming weeks, which, if granted, would add one more vaccine protocol to the other three now available in the US.

The story notes that "use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was paused across Europe last week after reports of a handful of worrying blood clots. The European Medicines Agency, which regulates drugs in the European Union, said the vaccine was safe and effective, and was not linked with a rise in the overall risk of blood clots. But the EMA did not rule out a possible link to rare cases of clotting in the brain, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST."

•  The Washington Post writes that "new coronavirus infections are rising in several U.S. states, despite record vaccinations — an increase experts attribute to the growing reach of new variants and widespread pandemic fatigue after a year of public health restrictions. The seven-day average of newly reported cases climbed 2.6 percent on Sunday, even as overall hospitalizations and deaths remain down.

"In Florida, a state where coronavirus measures are lax, authorities in Miami Beach declared a state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew this weekend as large crowds of rowdy spring break revelers turned violent and disruptive."

It seems clearer than ever that we're in a race - can we vaccinate at a fast enough rate that it obviates any resurgence?  So many people seem to be done with the pandemic and unwilling to continue being vigilant about their own and the public health that it seems entirely possible that things could go off the rails.  I hope it won't … but the combination of lack of public discipline and a far-too-great skepticism about the vaccines makes me worry about the future.

Vigilance, at this point, doesn't mean hiding.  It shouldn't mean shutting everything down.  But it does mean being respectful of the damage the coronavirus can do and attentive to the recommendations made by public health officials.

•  The Washington Post writes that "Pregnant women who receive a coronavirus vaccine not only acquire protective antibodies against the virus for themselves but also may pass along immunity to their babies, emerging research shows.

"Several preliminary studies suggest that women who received an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) during pregnancy had covid-19 antibodies in their umbilical cord blood. Another study also detected antibodies in their breastmilk, indicating that at least some immunity could be transferred to babies both before and after birth."

This research, according to Brenna Hughes, vice chair for obstetrics and quality at Duke University, shows that "worries about possible risk and harm may be proven quite the opposite. In fact, it may be proven that the vaccines actually provide protection to the developing fetus."

•  The New York Times reports that "Miami Beach officials struggled to enforce a new 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday in the city’s South Beach entertainment district. Videos on social media from showed hundreds of people gathered outside after dark on Saturday and law enforcement dispersing crowds.

"In trying to control crowds and taking a subject into custody, Miami Beach police said they used pepper balls. Two officers were also injured and taken to the hospital, according a departmental tweet. Police arrested at least a dozen people, according to CNN.

"The city of Miami Beach, worried about the bigger than usual crowds filling the streets of South Beach and the threat of a resurgent coronavirus, declared a state of emergency and moved up its curfew on Saturday in an effort to shut down late-night spring break partying that it said had gotten out of control."

•  The decision has been made to ban spectators from outside Japan from attending the Summer Olympics there, as a way "to reduce the possibility of spreading of the coronavirus at the Games and boost tepid support for the event among Japanese."

The Wall Street Journal writes that "the Tokyo Games are set to open on July 23, a year later than planned after the pandemic forced a delay. A decision on spectator levels for those in Japan will be made in April, the local organizers said."

According to the story, "Japan has been far less affected than the U.S. and many western countries by the coronavirus, with fewer than 9,000 deaths. The spread of new variants of the virus has deepened concern in Japan that an influx of visitors for the Olympics could accelerate Covid-19 cases.

"Public opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Japanese would prefer the Games to be postponed again or canceled rather than held this year. Worries about the spread of the virus are the top concern."

•  The New York Times has a piece about the "widely varying conditions sports fans can expect as large-scale spectatorship returns to big-league stadiums and arenas this spring. Americans are still getting infected with the coronavirus each day, and hospitalizations and deaths continue to add to the virus’s ghastly toll - but even the most Covid-weary cannot deny the life-affirming joy of root-root-rooting for the home team.

"The question is, should you be rooting in person?"

The fact is that conditions will range "from strict testing, masking and physical-distancing protocols in New York and California, to a full 40,000-seat stadium with almost no coronavirus restrictions outside Dallas … This spring, the spectator policies of big-league baseball, soccer, hockey and basketball teams in the United States are governed primarily by the Covid-19 regulations of the 27 states where they are located, and the District of Columbia."

One team certainly hit hard by coronavirus protocols is the Toronto Blue Jays, "who are likely to play home games in Buffalo’s intimate Sahlen Field starting in May or June if the U.S.-Canada border remains closed."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"There are a lot of ways to lose in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Virginia, the defending national champions, got knocked out in traditional, if surprising fashion, falling to No. 13 seed Ohio after spending much of the past week in quarantine. 

"Virginia Commonwealth, meanwhile, experienced an entirely new way to lose on Saturday night when a Covid-19 outbreak on its roster forced the team to forfeit its first round game against Oregon. 

"The forfeit is an early sign of how difficult it is to stage such a huge event during the pandemic. The entire tournament is being played in Indianapolis and the NCAA developed a lengthy and detailed list of protocols hoping to prevent what happened on Saturday."

•  The New York Times reports on how "older people, who represent the vast majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, are emerging this spring with the daffodils, tilting their faces to the sunlight outdoors. They are filling restaurants, hugging grandchildren and booking flights."

The story notes that "the upside-down world in which older Americans are drinking more martinis inside restaurants at a far greater rate than millennials will be short-lived.It’s a fleeting Covid-era interregnum in which the elders celebrate while their younger counterparts lurk in grocery stores in search of leftover shots or rage on social media, envious of those who have received a vaccine. In a few months, all that will most likely be over, and vaccines will be available to all who want them.

"For now, about two-thirds of Americans over 65 have started the vaccination process and nearly 38 percent are fully vaccinated, compared with 12 percent of the overall population, giving the rest of the nation a glimpse into the after times."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that "film buffs flocked into Los Angeles-area theaters this weekend, eager to turn the page on the pandemic that forced them to spend a year watching movies from home."

The story goes on:  "Los Angeles is the film capital of the world. Thousands of its residents either work in the entertainment industry, wish to work in it or depend on the sprawling economic activity that film and television production generates. So when many of the city’s theaters threw open their doors Friday - at reduced capacity - for the first time in one year, people showed up, and in some cases filled every seat available."

For months, the story says, "executives at Hollywood’s biggest studios and theater chains said that when massive markets like Los Angeles and New York eventually reopened, combined with a successful rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine, 'pent-up demand' would revive their struggling businesses. Now, after theaters in New York opened two weeks ago and those in Los Angeles this weekend, the industry will get a clear look at how desperate moviegoers may be to return to theaters."

•  Variety reports that "the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is moving from October 2021 to April of 2022, two industry sources with knowledge of the situation tell Variety. It is expected that the country-music themed Stagecoach festival, which takes place the weekend after Coachella’s two weekends, will move as well … The move, if it is officially confirmed, marks the fourth time the dates for Coachella, which takes place over two weekends at the Empire Polo Ground in Indio, Calif., have been rescheduled: first from April to October 2020, then to April 2021, and then October, although the October dates were not officially confirmed by promoters and there have been no dates posted on the festival’s official website for several months."

•  The Wall Street Journal writes that California-based Bolthouse Farms "is paying $500 to full-time hourly workers who get Covid-19 vaccines and is hosting inoculation events weekly at its main Bakersfield plant to deliver doses. Bolthouse executives meet multiple times a week to review how much of its staff has been vaccinated, how many people have been infected and other virus-related metrics."

The company, the Journal writes, "is among the businesses large and small nationwide trying to get a majority of staff vaccinated to reduce the risk of on-the-job transmission and eventually, to relax some of the stringent and costly workplace-safety measures that have been in place for nearly a year."

•  Business Insider reports that "Krispy Kreme will give away a free glazed donut to anyone who comes in with a COVID-19 vaccination card through the end of 2021."

One twist to the program:  "There are no limits on the free donuts, so a vaccinated person could potentially go every day.

"The chain will also give employees up to four hours of paid time off to get both vaccine doses."

•  The Associated Press reports that "the scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer … The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors."

This isn't exactly reverse engineering.   The story says that using this technology to fight cancer was what Ozlem Tureci was working on when she first became aware of the Covid-19 coronavirus.  She changed her company's focus to fighting Covid-19, and now will be able to use revenue generated during the pandemic to fund her anti-cancer work.