Posts tagged with "Pandemic"

‘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

Sweetgreen will pilot a drive-in restaurant as part of suburban push

December 17, 2020

These are the “salad days” for the restaurant chain Sweetgreen, which has been been offering contact-free delivery and pickup at its 91 restaurants throughout the pandemic, CNBC reports..

Now, Chief Concept Officer Nic Jammet says that the business pivot that the company has taken since the virus took hold in the USA earlier this year has accelerated its decision to pilot test a new type of eatery—slated to open next winter in Highlands Ranch, Colorado next winter. At the test site, customers will be encouraged to order on-site using dedicated parking spaces with intercom boxes connected to the chain’s app; and to pick up their food from drive-thru lanes.

As Sweettgreen expands from urban settings into suburban America, it joins the flood of restaurant companies that have unveiled new designs inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. Fast-food chains like Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have focused their new designs on making delivery and digital orders even more convenient.

But the fast-casual segment, which includes Sweetgreen and Chipotle Mexican Grill, has been influenced by the success of drive-thru lanes. Drive-thru orders grew by 24% across the restaurant industry in October, according to the NPD Group.

Like Sweetgreen, Shake Shack will open its first ever drive-thru lane in 2021, says CNBC. And Chipotle, which has been building its “Chipotlanes” for several years, is planning to add even more drive-thru lanes as same-store sales at those restaurants outpace the rest of its footprint.

Already, says Jammet, “A lot of our customers [… already are adopting this] behavior of using the Sweetgreen app to order ahead and come in ahead to pick it up.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Rocking the pandemic: Texas nature path becomes a wonderland of tiny stone paintings

November  18, 2020

Chris Penny figures that his mail carrier must have spectacular biceps by now. Most every day for the past seven months, when the carrier arrives at Penny’s home in Grapevine, Texas, he unloads a few heavy bins and hauls them, one by one, up the driveway to Penny’s front porch.

The boxes are filled with packages containing painted rocks—most of them intricate works of art, handmade and mailed from people all over the country, The Washington Post reports.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been sending them to Penny so that he and his family can place them along the Parr Park Rock Art Traila mile-long public walking path that has become a wonderland of more than 4,000 art rocks.

“These aren’t just any rocks;

Above, a wagon loaded with new rocks to be displayed along the rock trail. (Photo source Chris Penny)

they’re works of art,” said Penny, 44. “The other day, I had 11 big boxes to unpack in my living room. It’s incredible to see that people from all over are now painting rocks to turn my community into a trail of happiness.”

The rocks—painted to resemble everything from the Beatles to Mickey Mouse to a face mask—started arriving at Penny’s house ever since he bought a bunch on eBay after noticing a dozen painted rocks scattered along a nature trail in Parr Park. Penny said he knew right away that he wanted to flood the trail with them and make it a destination.

Penny learned that the colorful rocks he’d stumbled upon were painted by Ron Olsen and his three grown children in March, after Olsen returned from a trip to Iceland and discovered that Grapevine, a city of around 46,000 people, had practically become a ghost town due to the nationwide coronavirus shutdown.

Olsen said he wanted to do something for the community, so he gathered his family together on March 28 to paint a few rocks—including one covered with blue bonnet flowers and another decorated with balloons—and scatter them along his favorite trail in Parr Park.

Soon, he and Penny decided to join forces to transform the trail into an artsy attraction for anyone in Grapevine and beyond who wanted to escape the stress of COVID-19 for a while.

“We wanted to make it a getaway for people and give parents something safe to do outdoors with their children,” Olsen, 62, who works in Grapevine as a photographer and RV dealer, told the Post.

“Anyone can paint a rock,” he said. “And if you put hundreds and hundreds of them together, it really adds up to something amazing.”

Penny, who runs the nonprofit Broken Crayon, focused on helping women and children living in poverty in the United States and Ghana, said the project has provided his family with something fun and positive to do close to home during the pandemic.

In the early days in March, after he’d painted several dozen rocks with his daughters and bought dozens more online, Penny posted on Facebook, asking anyone who would like to contribute to the project to mail him their rocks and he’d pay for the shipping.

“I thought that a few people might want to pitch in, but I was stunned when I went to get my mail one day and found tons of rocks on the porch,” he said. “Pretty soon, we were the talk of the post office.”

For Lissa Critz, who visits the park regularly with her two children, told the post that the rock trail has provided some much-needed diversion from home schooling in Grapevine.

“It’s become like a game when we go to the park to locate all of the new rocks,” said Critz, 41. “The rocks are so well done and so much time and care has been put into the project. We love it.”

There are sections devoted to wildlife, teachers, health-care heroes, firefighters, Disney princesses, patriotism, movie stars, video games and travel, said Olsen, who visits the trail several days a week to photograph all of the new rocks and post them on the park’s Facebook page.

“Of course, we have a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame, and we also have a dog park,” said Olsen, adding that they have cat rocks but they haven’t yet made a “cat park.”

“I guess we’d better get busy on that,” he added.

 

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Ex-Pence aide blasts Trump over COVID response, says she’ll vote for Biden

September 21, 2020

In a two-minute video spot released by the group Republican Voters Against Trump on September 17 and posted on YouTube— a former senior adviser and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force lambasted President Donald Trump as a stonewalling, capricious leader with more concern for his reelection than the pandemic—and said she would be voting for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in November.

Olivia Troye, a lifelong Republican who worked as an adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security to Vice President Mike Pence before leaving the administration in August, appeared in an ad in which she shared damning anecdotes that portrayed Trump as a debilitating actor in the administration’s efforts to contain the virus, Politico reports. She said Trump was dismissive toward the task force’s efforts to prepare for the outbreak from early in the year, before the virus had made heavy inroads into the United States.

“It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything’s OK when we know that it’s not,” Troye said. “He doesn’t actually care about anyone else but himself.”

Troye also asserted that Trump said during a meeting: “Maybe this COVID thing’s a good thing. I don’t like shaking hands with people. I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.”

That remark, Troye said, encapsulated the president’s flippant attitude toward a pandemic that has since claimed nearly 200,000 American lives.

The Washington Post first reported Troye’s frustrations with her previous role.

The White House promptly rebuffed the allegations, using its frequent defense against personnel-turned-critics by saying that Troye was a disgruntled and vindictive ex-staffer. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted Thursday night a letter by Troye after her departure from the White House. It praised the task force’s work combating the disease.

“I have witnessed firsthand how dedicated and committed all of you have been to doing the right thing,” the letter said.

But Troye’s criticisms were directed at the president specifically, not the administration. In the ad, she said working with the task force was the “opportunity and honor of a lifetime.”

“I put my heart and soul into this role every single day,” she said in the ad. “But at some points I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror and say, are you really making a difference? Because no matter how hard you work or what you do, the president is going to do something detrimental to keeping Americans safe.”

Her letter likewise praised her colleagues and her work with Pence, but did not mention Trump.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday evening before departing for a campaign rally in Wisconsin, Trump said that “I have no idea who she is.” He then said Troye was dismissed from her post and “then she wrote a beautiful letter.”

According to Politico, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows later told reporters aboard Air Force One: “It’s the swamp fighting back. It’s, generally speaking, disgruntled employees.”

Asked by a reporter what Troye was disgruntled about and whether she was fired, Meadows responded, “I can’t speak to personnel matters.”

As of Friday afternoon, September 18, the YouTube video already had garnered almost 640,000 views.

Research contact: @politico

Stretch goals: Lululemon is finally extending its size range

September 15, 2020

A larger Lululemon size offering is finally here. The Vancouver, Canada-based activewear brand announced on September 8 at a press conference helmed by CEO Calvin McDonald that it will offer sizes up to 20 for its core styles by the end of September.

The company currently only goes up to a size 14 for most pieces—and its body-hugging athletic gear is shown on the Lululemon website on models with thin frames.

Indeed, Lululemon has been called out on multiple occasions in the past for body-shaming, according to a report by Bustle. In 2013, former CEO Chip Wilson resigned after stating that Lululemon pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies.” Then, in 2017, a woman’s story went viral after she was allegedly told that she should be shopping for a larger size when visiting the Lululemon store in Canada.

Despite these incidents, the brand continues to enjoy unprecedented popularity in the activewear market, Bustle notes. Several items — including Meghan Markle’s go-to Align leggings—continue to sell out.

What’s more. those who are quarantining and working from home during a time of pandemic are choosing to wear comfortable, soft clothing. Thus, the brand was one of the few that saw a significant sales increase during the first half of the year.

While the brand will offer larger sizes for its core pieces by the end of the month; McDonald promised that the “majority of women’s products” will be more size-inclusive by the end of 2021. He added that it is “an important step forward” for the company.

Research contact: @bustle

Reuters/Ipsos poll: No bounce in support for Trump as Americans see pandemic, not crime, as top issue

September 3, 2020

It’s the pandemic, stupid! President Donald Trump’s attempt to mobilize his base by making civil unrest a central theme of his re-election campaign has yet to boost his political standing, as a majority of U.S. voters remain sympathetic to protests against racism, according to findings of a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday, September 2.

Conducted between August 31 and September 1, the national opinion poll found that 40% of registered voters support Trump, a Republican; compared with 47% who said they will vote for his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. Biden’s lead over Trump has remained largely unchanged over the past three weeks—a time during which both parties held their nominating conventions.

Trailing Biden in most national opinion polls since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus this year, Trump has sought to change the subject from a pandemic that has killed more than 180,000 Americans, blaming Black Lives Matters protesters for violence in the cities and accusing Biden of being weak on crime, Reuters notes.

However,  in the poll, the majority of respondents— 78% — remained “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus. Nearly 60% said Trump is at least partly responsible for the protracted school and business closures due to the virus, as well as for the high number of coronavirus cases in the United States. More than 6 million Americans have been infected with the virus, more people than in any other country.

By contrast, most Americans do not see crime as a major priority and do not think it is increasing in their communities, the poll showed. Only about 8% of American adults listed crime as a top priority for the country, compared with 30% who said it was the economy or jobs, and 16% who said it was the healthcare system.

What’s more, 62% of registered voters—including 62% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans—said crime was not increasing in their communities

According to the poll, 53% of American adults said they remain sympathetic to people out protesting against racial inequality, nearly unchanged from 52% in a similar poll that ran in late July.

While support for the protesters has declined overall since the immediate aftermath of the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a national conversation on race, the poll showed more than half of suburban Americans and more than half of undecided registered voters are still sympathetic to them.

“The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he’s trying to scare America,” Biden said in Pittsburgh this week.

Research contact: @Reuters

Test your board game skills at the virtual Mind Sports Olympiad

July 23, 2020

Are you a master at Scrabble? A wizard at chess? A sought-out partner at bridge? Or a genius at Settlers of Catan? Then this just might be the perfect time to sign up for the annual Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO), a tabletop gaming and skills tournament going virtual amid the pandemic, reports The Boston Globe.

The event 15th annual event runs through the month of August, and registration is free to global audiences this year.

“Now is an amazing time to go global,” said event organizer Etan Ilfeld. “People everywhere are sharpening their skills and can put them to the test here.”

Gamers can sign up for classic events, like Bridge, Countdown, Draughts, and Checkers, or multi-player games including Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Quatro, 7 Wonders, and Kingdomino. The tournament also hosts exam-style activities — a speed reading and creative-thinking test, an intelligence challenge, a mental calculations quiz, and Sudoku.

Started in 1997, the MSO usually accommodates around 1,800 gamers every year for a week in London. Ilfeld hopes the upcoming remote alternative will attract at least double, or even triple, the number of participants, he told The Boston Globe.

“We designed it so it’s time-zone-friendly for the States,” he said. “It’ll be quite an event for sure, so we wanted it to be accessible to as many people as possible.”

A handful of games, like Rummikub , could not be translated online but have been replaced by new additions. TBA prizes will be awarded to winners.

The event starts Aug. 1 and each tournament competition is pre-scheduled and described on www.msoworld.com. Registration is required.

Among the sponsors and partners of the competition are Mensa, the World BackGammon Federation, the World Puzzle Federation, Europe Masters, and London On Board.

Research contact: @BostonGlobe

Trump cites game show host Chuck Woolery on pandemic while sabotaging Dr. Anthony Fauci

July 15, 2020

On Monday, July 13, President Donald Trump retweeted a message from Chuck Woolery, a longtime game show host and conservative commentator, which accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of “lying” to the American public about the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported.

The most outrageous lies are the ones about COVID-19,” Woolery said in his tweet, adding, “Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most ,that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.”

Trump in recent days has also accused Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and  the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, of making “mistakes,” blasted CDC guidelines for opening schools as “impractical,” and repeatedly undercut public health officials’ recommendations by questioning the efficacy of masks and social distancing.

Taken together, the president’s efforts have led to a lack of clarity and consistency in the national response to the virus, Ben Sommers, a doctor who teaches at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Post.

“When the president is calling the guidance wrong and endorsing the view that these public health experts are lying, it makes it incredibly difficult for the public to know what to do,” he said. “It erodes the long-term ability of our government to provide one of its basic goals which is to protect the public safety.”

While Trump has played down the virus and dismissed the warnings of public health experts for months, his recent push has come amid a fresh surge in cases and concern over how to safely reopen schools in the coming weeks. Trump primarily has been focused on trying to revitalize the economy, which has been devastated by the pandemic, seeing its revival as key to his reelection chances this fall.

Indeed,  the Post notes,Trump also retweeted a post from Woolery, who hosted “Love Connection” in the 1980s, pointing to “worldwide and overwhelming” scientific evidence that schools should reopen in the fall. Trump and his aides have tried to make the restart of schools a simple choice of opening or not opening. Public health experts have said that while restarting schools should be a top priority, the issue is that without proper safety measures the move could worsen the pandemic.”

 Trump’s aides have amplified his statements promoting a return to normalcy and undermining government health expertise in the middle of a pandemic. White House officials disseminated negative talking points about Fauci to reporters over the weekend after The Washington Post reported that Fauci had been sidelined by Trump in recent weeks.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany used a news briefing Monday to defend those criticisms of Fauci and reinforce the president’s attacks on the government’s health experts. She accused “some rogue individuals” at the CDC of misleading the public and defended Trump’s retweet of Woolery by saying he was calling out scientists for engaging in politics.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Report: For three months, White House blocked CDC from briefing Americans on COVID-19

July 6, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was denied permission by the White House to brief the public about the coronavirus crisis, a source at the agency told Yahoo News. 

As a result, the CDC found itself unable to do public briefing for three months—from March 9 through June 12—starting not long after a senior official warned in late February that the virus was likely to hit hard nationwide, Business Insider reports.

As the coronavirus swept across America, it was the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence, and fronted with increasing frequency by President Donald Trump, that took the lead in briefing the public about the crisis.

Earlier in the year the CDC had given frequent briefings on the pandemic. But then it fell abruptly silent.

A CDC spokesperson, speaking anonymously to Yahoo, confirmed that the agency “slowly but surely took a backseat” to the coronavirus task force.

“We continued to ask for approval” from the White House to hold briefings, the CDC spokesperson told Yahoo News. “We were not given approval. Finally, we just stopped asking.” 

In a briefing on February 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), had issued a stark warning about the likely impact of the disease.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” she said.

The message contrasted sharply with Trump’s attempts at the time to downplay the likely impact of the disease, Business Insider said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

A task force member told Yahoo that the CDC was too concerned with its own stature, and an interagency response to the crisis was required. “The CDC feels like they should be in charge of this,” remarked

Research contact: @YahooNews

Trump Administration cuts off funding to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in five states

June 25, 2020

The Trump Administration is doing its level best to close—or at the very least, slow down—coronavirus testing nationwide by cutting off support to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites on June 30; and leaving operation and funding of those sites to the states—even as cases spike in several parts of the country, Politico reports.

This is not the first time that the Administration has tried to offload control of the drive-thru sites to the states—but the last effort was suspended in April when governors in the states affected objected strongly.

The 13 sites—in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas—are the last federally run sites out of 41 originally established across the country. Seven sites are in hard-hit Texas, where cases are climbing.

Taking the offensive on Thursday, June 24, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told Roll Call that the sites were always meant to be a temporary solution as the country worked to ramp up testing capacity in traditional health care settings.

What he didn’t mention was that, with a looming election challenge, Trump has seen the pandemic as a drag on the economy that he simply wants to go away.

Indeed, in early March, the president transferred responsibility for flattening the line on the coronavirus pandemic to the states—and, specifically, to the governors. He will neither wear a mask nor recommend one; and he has been unwilling to release nearly $14B in Congressional funding for testing and tracing efforts to combat COVID-19. However, he continues to brag that his pandemic effort is the best ever executed.

Already protesters are piling on: Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, tells Politico that it’s not the right time to shift responsibility for the sites to the states—especially those near emerging hot spots in Texas

“The federally supported testing sites remain critically needed, and in some place like Houston and Harris County, TX and in other hotspots, are needed now more than ever,” Becker said in an email. “This is not the time for the federal government to walk back prior commitments on testing.”

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is critical of the plan, noting,. “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,” he said. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”

So what will be the outcome? HHS says there is no going back: Gigroir recommends that the state governors can use CARES Act funding to maintain operations at the current federally supported testing sites.

Research contact: @politico