Posts tagged with "Pandemic"

Biden to deliver six-step plan on COVID

September 10, 2021

On Thursday, September 9, President Joe Biden was expected to outline new approaches to control the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, which rages on despite the wide availability of vaccines, reports Thomson Reuters Foundation News.

In his speech, Biden planned to focus on six areas—among them, new plans to get more people vaccinated, enhancing protection for those who already have had shots, and keeping schools open, according to a White House official.

In addition, the official said, the president would discuss increasing testing and mask-wearing, protecting an economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, and improving healthcare for people infected with the disease.

“We know that increasing vaccinations will stop the spread of the pandemic, will get the pandemic under control, will return people to normal life,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. “We have more work to do, and we are still at war with the virus.”

Increasing infections have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending company return-to-office plans.

Just over 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated, including almost two-thirds of the adult population, according to CDC data. The disease has killed more than 649,000 Americans.

With many Americans still skeptical of the shots, the White House already has announced plans to give those who are fully vaccinated booster shots for more additional protection.

In doing so, they have rejected arguments from the World Health Organization and other advocates that rich countries should hold off on booster shots before more people worldwide have been inoculated.

Research contact: @thomsonreuters

Progressives led by AOC call for Biden to replace Fed Chair Powell

September 1, 2021

Progressive Democrats, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on President Joe Biden to give the Federal Reserve a sweeping makeover by replacing Jerome Powell as chairman, CNN reports.

“We urge President Biden to reimagine a Federal Reserve focused on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice,” the lawmakers said in a statement released on Tuesday morning, August 31.

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, the statement was issued Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Mondaire Jones of New York, and Chuy Garcia of Illinois—all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Powell, a Republican and former investment banker, was nominated to lead the powerful Federal Reserve by former President Donald Trump in 2017, who later sharply criticized his handpicked chairman.

Powell’s term as chair expires in February, and the White House has not said whether he will be reappointed.

According to CNN, under Powell, the Fed wasted little time responding forcefully to the economic fallout from the pandemic in March 2020. Economists have credited the Fed’s historic actions with helping to prevent a full-blown depression and financial crisis in the United States.

The Fed is tasked by Congress to maximize the number of American jobs while keeping inflation low. Although the Democrats in the statement credited the Powell-led Fed with making changes to how it approaches its goal of full employment, they voiced concern over his track record on the climate crisis and regulation.

“Under his leadership, the Federal Reserve has taken very little action to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system,” the lawmakers said in the statement.

However, the Fed did join an international network of global financial regulators focused on climate change in late 2020. In June, Powell warned that the climate crisis poses “profound challenges for the global economy and certainly the financial system.”

The AOC-led statement also criticized the Fed for “weakening” financial regulations enacted after the Great Recession, including capital and liquidity requirements, stress tests and the Volcker Rule. Powell has previously disputed the argument that the Fed has weakened regulations.

The Fed chair is appointed by the president. The term lasts four years. Looking for continuity, former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama reappointed Fed chairs that were appointed by previous presidents, both of whom were Republicans. But Trump did not reappoint Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who was appointed by Obama.

A White House official told CNN on Tuesday that when it comes to appointing Fed officials, Biden “will appoint the candidates who[m] he thinks will be the most effective in implementing monetary policy.”

The Federal Reserve declined to comment.

Research contact: @CNN

Jabra unveils research on the sounds we’ve missed most during lockdown

June 25, 2021

 Jabra, a Danish brand specializing in audio equipment and teleconferencing, has unveiled a new research report that pinpoints which sounds people worldwide missed the most during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Respondents overwhelming missed the sounds of social activities, the study found, according to a release posted on PR Newswire.

Indeed, the top five sounds that respondents missed include the following:

  1. Live music at concert (65%)
  2. Splashing and laughter around a swimming pool (60%)
  3. Cutlery and dinner noises at a restaurant (58%)
  4. Theatre applause (56%)
  5. Bar/pub noises (53%)

However, just 31% of participants overall said they missed the sounds of the gym—with those in the UK being particularly averse (only 20% of Britons yearned for gym sounds).

Europeans as a group craved live music the most—with 77% in Italy placing it at number one; 73% in Spain; and 68%, in Germany. In fact, the research found that music is the sound and experience missed most everywhere but in the United States; where respondents put the sound of splashing and laughter at a swimming pool at the top of the list (74%).

The past year has been a trying one, but has given most people a greater appreciation for the smaller things in life, and this is reflected in some of the sounds people have been missing. It’s no surprise that the sounds of the beach and the sea were high on most people’s lists, in addition to the sound of nightlife and crowds cheering at sports events.

Interestingly enough, sounds that previously would have gone unnoticed now appear to coveted—including children playing in schoolyards, the noise of traffic,

Others missed the real-life voices of their family and friends, the tune of ‘Happy Birthday,’ or the simple request to “give me a hug.”

Research contact: @PRNewswire 

Too much of a good thing: Girl Scouts stuck with over 15 million boxes of unsold cookies

June 17, 2021

The Girl Scouts are struggling to sell a heaping pile of extra cookies: 15 million boxes of them, to be exact, according to a report by The New York Times.

Troops with armfuls of cookies used to be a fixture outside grocery stores and on people’s doorsteps. But this year, those cookies are stuck in warehouses after Girl Scouts of the USA was confronted with two major obstacles during the pandemic: membership has declined, and the scouts had to abandon their usual in-person selling methods.

Those problems left the national organization with millions of extra Thin Mints, Samoas and other signature treats. Around 12 million of the 15 million surplus cookies never left the bakery warehouses in Kentucky and Indiana, the Girl Scouts said in a statement on Tuesday, June 15.

“Given that a majority of cookies are sold in person by girls at booths or other face-to-face methods, a decrease in sales was to be expected,” Kelly Parisi, a Girl Scouts spokesperson, said in the statement.

The organization sells around 200 million boxes per year at about $5 a box. The Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for over a century.

“It’s exceedingly rare to have significant excess inventory, but the pandemic greatly impacted our cookie program,” Parisi said.

Confronting declining sales, the Girl Scouts announced in January that they were teaming with Grubhub to sell and deliver cookies. The delivery service agreed to waive the fees that it usually charges.

While this year’s surplus is much larger than usual, Parisi said the organization had dealt with previous cookie gluts by donating extra boxes to the military or to emergency medical workers.

And of course, Girl Scout cookies are available to civilians on the organization’s website. The organization debuted a new variety of cookies this year: Called Toast-Yay!, they’re shaped like slices of toast and dipped in icing.

Research contact: @nytimes

Taking ‘extraordinary measures,’ White House backs suspending patents on vaccines

May 7, 2021

The Biden Administration came out on Wednesday, May5, in support of waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines—thereby, siding with international efforts to bolster production amid concerns about vaccine access in developing nations, The New York Times reports.

Under former President Trump, the United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some of the world economic body’s intellectual property protections—enabling drugmakers worldwide to gain access to the closely guarded trade secrets of how the vaccines have been made.

However, the Times notes, President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, drafted by India and South Africa and backed by many congressional Democrats.

Katherine Tai, the United States Trade Representative, announced the Administration’s position on Wednesday afternoon, as the pandemic continued to spiral in India and South America.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Support from the White House is not a guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The European Union has also been standing in the way, and changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement. Tai said the United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, but that they would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

Standing against her will be the pharmaceutical industry, which responded angrily to the extraordinary decision. Stephen J. Ubl, the president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), called the announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” he said in a statement, adding that the move would have the effect of “handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery.”

The pharmaceutical industry has argued that a suspension of patent protections would undermine risk-taking and innovation.

“Who will make the vaccine next time?” Brent Saunders, the former chief executive of Allergan, which is now part of AbbVie, wrote on Twitter.

However, the Times reports, global health activists, who have been pressing for the waiver, praised the Administration’s decision. It is “a truly historic step, which shows that President Biden is committed to being not just an American leader, but a global one,” said Priti Krishtel, an executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK).

But the activists said a waiver alone would not increase the world’s vaccine supply. It must be accompanied by a process known as “tech transfer,” in which patent holders supply technical know-how and personnel. Activists also are demanding that Biden use his leverage to ensure that manufacturing is scaled up around the globe, and not just by the pharmaceutical companies that now hold the patents.

“Handing needy countries a recipe book without the ingredients, safeguards and sizable work force needed will not help people waiting for the vaccine,” Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, the president and chief executive of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), said in a statement. “Handing them the blueprint to construct a kitchen that — in optimal conditions — can take a year to build will not help us stop the emergence of dangerous new Covid variants.”

Shares of the pharmaceutical companies BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax dropped on Wednesday afternoon as news broke of the Biden administration’s decision.

Research contact: @nytimes

Have you seen Darius? Giant celebrity rabbit is missing

April 26, 2021

If police in Worcestershire, England, could “pull a rabbit out a hat,” they would: Darius—rabbit with long floppy ears who measures a record-breaking 4 feet long—has gone missing. He last was seen in his rabbit hutch in on the property of owner, breeder, and bunny aficionado, Annette Edwards.

Police said they were hunting one of the world’s largest rabbits, if not the largest, which went missing  on the night of April 10, NBC News reports.

“We are appealing for information following the theft of an award-winning rabbit from its home in Stoulton, Worcestershire,” West Mercia Police said in statement on Monday, April 12. “The rabbit is quite unique in the fact it is four feet in size.”

Darius, who became a 2010 Guinness world record holder for his huge length, was stolen from a garden enclosure in central England.

His owner, Annette Edwards, wrote on Twitter that police were working hard to find her prize-winning pet—and that she had offered a reward of £1,000 (US$1,400) for his safe return.

“A very sad day,” she said. “Darius is too old to breed now. So please bring him back.”

Edwards in an interview with the TODAY show in 2010 said her massive pet—a Continental Giant rabbit—was friendly, had a huge appetite, and enjoyed lazing around on furniture.

The pair used to tour the country together with owner Edwards donning a Jessica Rabbit style outfit to show off gigantic Darius.

At the time, she said the celebrity bunny was insured for $1.6 million, had an agent, and traveled with a bodyguard.

Darius’ disappearance comes amid a spike in pet theft in England during the coronavirus pandemic. The charity DogLost said it saw reports of thefts rise by 170% in the last year—from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

Pet detective Jacob Lloyd, head of investigations at Animal Protection Services, which prosecutes US1,000) to £3,500 (US$5,000) in the last year.

“It’s completely disproportionate to what we would normally see,” Lloyd said. “Opportunists and organized criminals have taken advantage in the rise of prices, and dog and other animal thefts have gone up.”

With people in England locked down for much of the year, Lloyd said the need for “companionship” while spending more time at home had led to the surge in demand.

In Darius’ high-profile case, a potential “ulterior motive” could also be at stake, pet detective Lloyd added—likely the work of organized criminals who knew his value.

The U.K.’s Policing Minister Kit Malthouse called animal theft a “vile crime,” in a statement earlier this year. “Let me be clear — pet theft is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and it must be confronted wherever it occurs,” he added.

Singer Lady Gaga’s two pet dogs, Koji and Gustav, made global headlines when they were briefly stolen and returned in February, amid her public pleas and a $500,000 reward. Her French bulldogs were taken in a violent robbery in Hollywood, in which the singer’s 30-year-old dog walker was shot and sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Procter & Gamble will raise prices in September to fight higher commodity costs

April 21, 2021

Stock up on Tampax, Pampers, and Always Discreet now: Procter & Gamble has announced that it will hike prices on baby care, feminine care, and adult incontinence products in September, in response to higher commodity costs, CNBC reports.

The consumer giant joins a host of other companies—among them, rival Kimberly-Clark and beverage giant Coca-Cola, which are raising prices to protect their profit margins.

The companies are betting consumers will be willing to pay more for the brand version instead of opting for a cheaper private label. However, that outcome depends on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and how many consumers will have the cash to spare.

P&G said its price increases will vary by brand but will be in the range of mid-to-high single digits, CNBC notes.

“This is one of the bigger increases in commodity costs that we’ve seen over the period of time that I’ve been involved with this, which is a fairly long period of time,” Chief Operating Officer Jon Moeller told analysts.

After the price increases go into effect, P&G is planning to hold onto market share by trying to increase consumers’ perception of the value of its products and introducing new or upgraded items.

Moeller said on a press call that the company is assessing the raw material costs and foreign exchange impacts on other categories as well, which could mean more price increases down the line. For example, Kimberly-Clark raised prices on its Scott toilet paper due to rising commodity costs; but P&G’s Charmin products have not been impacted yet.

Research contact: @CNBC

Ad Age: Five big trends in Sunday’s Super Bowl LV commercials

February 8, 2021

When the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the turf at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on February 7 for Super Bowl LV, many viewers will be watching the advertising spots as avidly as they watch the plays.

According to an analysis by Ad Age, this year, there’s no question that the pandemic has affected what we’ll see during the commercial breaks. From who is in—and out—of the Big Game, to the tone of the spots and who is being featured, this year’s commercials are poised to look vastly different. Among the trends we’ll be watching are the following, the global media brand predicts:

Big void. There will be a void in some typical Super Bowl categories: Think soda, cars, and movies. Neither Coke nor Pepsi will air commercials for their flagship cola brands; nor will automakers Hyundai and Kia light up the screens with their latest models. Currently, just five car commercials from three nameplates (as well as Vroom, the online auto dealership), are expected to run.

 Super Bowl LV also will be light on trailers for blockbuster movies, as many theaters remain shuttered and productions continue to be delayed. Last year, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Marvel, and MGM all aired commercials. Currently, Walt Disney Studios is the only studio expected to air trailers during the game, although it remains to be seen if any others have bought in.

Of course, the biggest brand to announce its absence on game day is Budweiser, which will be watching the Super Bowl from the sidelines for the first time in 37 years. Other brands sitting out include Avocados From Mexico, breaking its six-year streak; and Hulu, which has aired commercials during the last four games.

Newbies. Nineteen marketers set to make their Big Game debuts, compared to 11 first-time advertisers last year, Ad Age reports.

Brands like Scotts Miracle-Gro, e-commerce platform Mercari, online job site Indeed, online car dealership Vroom, online freelance platform Fiverr, DraftKings, DoorDash and Uber Eats, saw their businesses grow in 2020 thanks to a shift in consumer behavior amid lockdowns. Similarly, buy now, pay later firm Klarna and trading app Robinhood also have witnessed a change to how people want to conduct their finances.

While it’s likely most of these companies won’t turn into regular Super Bowl advertisers, their presence this year will certainly serve as an opportunity to put some of these brands on the map.

Small business support. As part of their Super Bowl campaigns, several marketers are showing their support for local and small businesses, which have been particularly bruisedfby COVID-19.

 DoorDash’s commercial celebrates the businesses in your neighborhood with a new take on the Sesame Street classic song “The Neighborhood,” while Uber Eats is looking to persuade Super Bowl viewers to eat local with its ad reuniting “Wayne’s World’s” Wayne and Garth.  Klarna is supporting small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses in its social media push around its Western-themed ad.

What’s more, part of Verizon’s campaign will aim to help small businesses achieve long-term survival. It includes a benefit concert immediately following the Super Bowl headlined by Alicia Keys, Eric Church, H.E.R, Brittany Howard, Luke Bryan, Brandi Carlisle, and Jazmine Sullivan.

Inclusivity. Amid the renewed social justice movement, some 2021 Big Game advertisers have worked to become more diverse in the creation and production of their ads. There’s still a long way to go, but more brands have made some strides this year.

Amazon’s Alexa is embodied by actor Michael B. Jordan, who is backed up by  a predominantly Black cast. Several prominent Black stars—among them, Don Cheadle, Daveed Diggs and Lil Nas X—star in commercials for Michelob Ultra, DoorDash and Logitech, respectively.

Dan Levy, who represents the LGBTQ+ community, is featured in M&M’s spot. And Toyota tells the story of Paralympian Jessica Long.

In its first-ever Super Bowl ad, ndeed features a diverse group of job seekers—nearly all of whom are real people using the site. The message: Indeed finds jobs for all people.”

Nostalgia. From remakes of classic songs to some unlikely pairings, Super Bowl advertisers will look to bring viewers back to some happier times. Cheetos plays on Shaggy’s 2000 hit “It Wasn’t Me” for a humorous ad starring celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who illustrate  how to try to convince someone else you didn’t swipe their snacks.

 In other spots, Uber Eats reboots “Wayne’s World,” which rose to fame on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1980s.  Dolly Parton turned her iconic “9 to 5” song into an anthem for the side-hustle in Squarespace’s ad with the title “5 to 9.” And a grown-up version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is the soundtrack to Shift4Shop’s Super Bowl ad promoting its sponsorship of the first civilian mission to space.

Finally, Bud Light resurrects some of its classic Super Bowl ad characters, like “I love you man” guy, Dr. Galazkiewicz, the “Real Men of Genius” singer and Cedric the Entertainer, who last appeared in a Bud Light Big Game ad in 2005.

Research contact: @adage

Nike taps the comfort trend with the launch of GO FlyEase, a no-lace, slip-on sneaker

February 2, 2021

Nike is offering its first pair of slip-on sneakers without laces—hoping to enjoy some of the same momentum that rivals like Crocs and Vans have seen during the pandemic, as more consumers gravitate toward comfortable, no-fuss footwear, CNBC reports.

The GO FlyEase shoe is marketed as a style that easily slips on and off, without the use of hands or laces. The company said it was inspired in part by Asian cultures, where it’s customary to remove shoes before entering a home. The debut also comes at a time when people are more conscious of not touching dirty surfaces, like the bottom of shoes.

“This shoe really responds to our current-day situation living in these COVID times,” Sarah Reinertsen, manager of FlyEase Innovation at Nike, said in an interview. “This is actually an innovation that has been cooking up in our innovation kitchen for a little while … but it just came out right at the right time, when we needed it more than ever.”

Go FlyEase is part of Nike’s FlyEase line of running, soccer and basketball sneakers that are said to be easier to wear and fit feet better, says CNBC. Nike has been working on FlyEase innovations for about five years—including shoes that zip up the side and a pair with a pull-cord at the back to tighten the shoe around the heel.

“We have been using laces for a long time,” Reinertsen said about Nike’s decision to go without them. “But … a lot of times [people] are trying to work around those laces, they’re trying to use one foot to anchor the shoe and slip out. Laces are kind of a hassle. We wanted to make shoes easier for everybody.”

These look nothing like a pair of rubber Crocs, though, if that’s what you had in mind. For a slip-on shoe, Nike’s version is quite unique and complex, CNBC reports. When it’s not being worn, the Go FlyEase sits in an open position. A separate foot-bed platform, detached from the base of the shoe, moves up and down, thanks to a hinge that’s constructed into the bottom.

A band wraps around the top of the shoe, and snaps into place once the foot is inside, since there aren’t any laces to help with tightening. The biggest issue with slip-on shoes, for many consumers, tends to be getting them to fit tight enough around the foot.

There is also a “kickstand” on the heel to help take the shoe off. Reinertsen said many people already intuitively step on the back of their shoe to remove it.

According to Reinertsen, Nike’s newest shoe isn’t meant for endurance sports, but more for casual movements like walking. She said Nike plans to build on the GO FlyEase design and create more slip-on sneakers. The additions could help Nike position itself as not only a brand for athletics, but for everyday activities.

The new sneakers will be available to select Nike members in its largest markets at a retail price of $120, starting February 15. Later, the shoes will be sold more broadly.

Research contact: @CNBC

‘Wheels come off’ for bus companies, closing down travel options for lower-income Americans

December 30, 2020

The wheels on the nation’s buses aren’t going round and round very much these days. Indeed, demand for bus travel has fallen by more than 80% during the pandemic, NPR reports.

That is raising concerns about the potential long-term damage to an essential transport sector for millions of lower-income Americans—even as air travel has shown signs of picking up since the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Even now, getting a bus ticket is becoming more expensive—and routes are being cut nationwide.

Feeling the pinch most are people such as Andrew Sarkis, said NPR, which interviewed him as he tried to make his way home for the holidays. Sarkis said he paid $97 for a one-way bus ticket from Hampton, Virginia, to New York City—a 12-hour journey that required two transfers.

“It’s expensive, man,” said Sarkis, while stretching his legs after his bus took a brief stop at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

“I used to go on another bus, for $45 a trip, that goes straight to New York,” he added.

Sarkis was on his way to visit family for Christmas but ended up with a half-day travel option on a Greyhound bus after finding his usual options in competing services pared down. “The service is not bad,” he said. “It’s just long hours of traveling.”

For its part, Greyhound told NPR that it’s operating at less than half its normal bus routes during the pandemic, while revenues have fallen nearly 60%.

“Greyhound has been immensely impacted by the effects of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement. “From temporary and permanent closures of routes to sudden workforce reductions, our ability to provide critical service to communities—especially those that are underserved and/or rural—has been reduced.”

Industrywide, the service cuts are even deeper.

We see the industry operating at about 10% capacity,” said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association.

And it’s hard to estimate how soon demand will pick up. Not many people are interested in riding the bus these days, which means spending hours with strangers in an enclosed space.

Unlike airlines, which saw an uptick in travel over Thanksgiving, demand for bus tickets remains severely depressed, according to Wanderu, a travel website.

That raises concerns about the long-term health of a sector that generally operates on thinner margins and has less financial cushion.

Pantuso estimates that 85% of the 100,000 people who work in the bus industry have been laid off or furloughed—in most cases since March.

It’s not just long-haul services like Greyhound that are limping. Traffic on commuter lines that ordinarily ferry workers to and from the suburbs has also dried up, since many people are working from home.

Charter buses and specialty services are struggling as well.

The Nitetrain Coach Co. in Nashville offers tricked-out buses with bars and bunk beds for touring musicians. Since March, the company’s 120-bus fleet has gone silent.

“It’s been a hard time with concerts not happening,” said Nitetrain’s Angela Eicher. “No job. No income.” The company has idled more than 200 drivers as well as mechanics and office staff.

“We’re at the mercy of the venues,” Eicher said. “When the venues allow the concerts to start happening, that’s when our buses will start rolling again.”

But while Congress has offered billions of dollars in financial aid to airlines and Amtrak, bus companies have been overlooked.

Pantuso, the bus trade group president, told NPR that the lack of attention from Congress was a concern, calling his sector a critical piece of the nation’s transportation network. “If more members of Congress took the bus on a more regular basis,” he said, “we’d probably be at the top of the list for funding.”

Research contact: @NPR