North America Update: June 18
Keep an eye out for the next update on Monday, June 22.
- COVID-19 is still leading to about 800 U.S. deaths a day, a pace that would result in more than 200,000 total deaths by the end of September if the rate is sustained over the next few months. Several states, including Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas, all reported their largest one-day increases in new cases this week. Arizona, which did not record its first 20,000 coronavirus cases until June 1, took less than three weeks to record 20,000 additional cases. On Wednesday, Oklahoma reported 259 new cases – a single-day record for the second day in a row – just three days before President Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign rally in the city of Tulsa. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top epidemiologist, said the United States is not in a second wave of the pandemic because it is still in the initial wave.
- The Department of Labor reported today that weekly unemployment claims stayed above one million for the 13th consecutive week due to the coronavirus pandemic. The record number of claims persists but appears to be stabilizing as all states have reopened to various extents, and nonfarm payrolls grew by 2.5 million in May. Before the coronavirus, the record for a single week was 695,000 in September 1982. As of May 30, the total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits was 29.1 million. Extended unemployment benefits that are providing many workers $600 above what they normally would receive are scheduled to run out at the end of July. Congress is working on an extension of the program. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday urged Congress to extend the benefits though he did not recommend anything specific.
- The impact of lockdowns on small businesses has been particularly acute. The percentage of small businesses open in early June was only 16 points higher than it was in mid-April, according to Opportunity Insights. Small businesses are having to navigate a patchwork of rules and guidelines issued at federal, state, county and city levels. Smaller companies also face an additional challenge in reopening: after having no revenue for months, they must find ways to pay for the new sanitation regimens, thermometers, plexiglass, masks and other items necessary to open. None of the federal relief packages include repayment of these costs.
- Canada’s struggle against COVID-19 passed a new milestone today after 173 new cases in Ontario pushed national cases to more than 100,000 since the pandemic began.
- Prime Minister Trudeau announced today that Ontario is launching a mobile app to help track cases of COVID-19. The voluntary app, which will be available as early as July 2, will alert smartphone users across the country if they have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- The European Commission unveiled its new vaccine strategy on Wednesday. It plans to use EU funds to purchase vaccines before testing is completed in exchange for guaranteed supplies if the vaccine works. The Commission stated that its goal is to accelerate the development process, in order to make a safe and effective vaccine accessible globally.
- The Swiss government predicts that the country’s economy will shrink by approximately six percent this year, with some recovery in the second half of 2020 and growth in 2021.
- The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee voted in favor of a £100 billion stimulus package to aid the UK’s economic recovery.
- As Spain enters its main tourist season, the government has put forward a Government €4.250 billion recovery plan for the tourism industry.
- Despite high numbers of new infections, Saudi Arabia has announced a “return to normalcy” across the Kingdom, except for Mecca.
- The German government’s coronavirus alert app, which is designed to track chains of infection through mobile phones, has been downloaded seven million times since its launch on Tuesday.
- CureVac will begin clinical trials in humans for its potential coronavirus vaccine.
Weber Shandwick’s Asia Pacific team spotlights this week the state of healthcare beyond COVID-19.
- Singapore’s Ministry of Health noted that with fewer pandemic cases requiring hospitalization, beds in public hospitals previously set aside for such patients would be disinfected and converted for non-COVID-19 patients. Similarly, with utilization of wards designated for COVID-19 remaining at less than 15 percent capacity, Malaysia’s hospitals will begin to admit more regular patients. The country’s Health Ministry is reducing the number of staff currently redeployed to combat the virus.
- According to the World Economic Forum, the global backlog of elective surgeries cancelled due to the pandemic could take up to a year to clear if countries increase surgical volumes by 20 percent.
- Private hospitals in New South Wales and Victoria received the green light from health authorities to return to 75 percent of their pre-pandemic elective surgery capacity by June, with an aim to reach 100 percent in July. Tasmania is increasing the number of elective surgeries conducted ‘in the safest way possible’ according to Health Minister Sarah Courtney, following a hospital closure upon uncovering a COVID-19 case.
- Similarly, the elective surgery backlog in New Zealand will take years to address due to shortages of specialized doctors. About U.S. $182 million from the 2020 budget has been set aside to clear backlogs of scans, surgeries, and procedures created by the pandemic.
- Many clinical trials in oncology, central nervous system and infectious diseases were disrupted during April and May, according to GlobalData’s global clinical trial data. However, this trend has begun to slow down in June, with the number of clinical trials taking place starting to increase.
- Treatment researchers in Australia have been able to benefit from an additional U.S. $277 million in federal funding for research into new treatments for mental and infectious diseases. Announced by Health Minister Hunt, 237 new projects are backed by the National Health Research Council and a further 30 through the Medical Research Future Fund.
- With nearly 155,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 18,300 deaths, Mexico is among a group of countries that has not managed to flatten the curve, according to John Hopkins University. In an analysis to determine where the rate of infection has decreased, John Hopkins University found that out of a group of 20 countries, cases are increasing in 13 countries and decreasing in only seven countries.
- The Association of Banks of Mexico warned it will have more difficulty competing for Foreign Direct Investment after the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of clear rules. Since the start of the Administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, new rules for infrastructure investment have been announced, but have yet to be formalized.
- The seventh edition of Hot Sale, an e-commerce push, managed to help relieve companies by generating sales of about one million dollars between May 22 and June 1. In the 10 days that the campaign lasted, digital sales experienced an 82 percent growth compared to 2019.
- Brazil is ranked last in a global assessment of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey (Democracy Perception Index) conducted by the Dalia Institute, which considered data from 53 countries.
- According the Brazilian Institute of Economics (FGV), nine out of ten countries will respond to the coronavirus crisis better than Brazil. The study was based on information from the International Monetary Fund and the most recent edition of the Central Bank’s Focus Bulletin. Among South American countries, only Venezuela will have a worse result than Brazil. Additionally, the Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee reduced the country’s basic interest rate from 3 percent to 2.25 percent per year, the lowest level since 1996.
- An experimental vaccine for COVID-19, produced by the American PDS Biotechnology and the Brazilian Farmacore Biotecnologia companies, will be tested in Brazil. According to the American company, the financing of the first testing phase will be made by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Brazil.
- A donation of 11 tons of medical equipment to combat COVID-19 in Brazil has been stalled in China since the beginning of April. The ByteDance donation, valued at $ 1 million, includes 90 ventilators and hospital supplies. According to foreign trade specialists, the donation offered by the Chinese company is still in China due to logistical obstacles. However, they propose the possibility that ideological issues have prevented Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from speeding up the process due to the government’s position not to prioritize donations from China.
- According to a message from the Brazilian Embassy in Beijing, new preventive measures against COVID-19 in China may affect the entry of meat from Brazil. Due to the new requirements, some importers have suspended purchases and asked that contracted cargo not be shipped to China.
INSIGHTS & INTEL: COVID-19 TESTING IN THE U.S.
- The U.S. is now conducting more than three million coronavirus tests a week, an improvement over the shortage of testing that worsened the pandemic in the spring. Commercial labs have also ramped up their ability to process tests and results, and now have capacity to spare, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association. However, the country risks another dangerous testing deficit this fall when schools and more businesses reopen. Safely reopening universities, schools and businesses could require up to 30 to 40 million tests per week, experts say. If surging coronavirus cases collide with the fall/winter flu season, the demand could be even higher.
- Testing is only one aspect of the larger public health response. Governments are also making efforts to trace and isolate people who test positive to protect their families, friends and coworkers. There is currently no national effort in place. While states and localities are ramping up contact tracing programs, the country is far short of the 300,000 tracer experts say are needed. Some states are still hiring and training staff weeks after reopening their economies. In addition, many people are concerned about their privacy related to contact tracing initiatives and technologies and may refuse to participate.
FORWARD TO WORK WEBINAR SERIES
United Minds’ webinar series, “Forward to Work: Perspectives to Guide Re-Entry,” offers companies a topical new perspective on workforce re-entry, including public affairs, public health, organizational preparedness, employee resilience, workforce inclusion and corporate reputation. Our next session at 12 PM EST on Friday, June 26 will feature TIAA’s Chief Employee Relations and Associate Experience Officer Andy Habenicht and Chief Talent Management Officer Josh Greenwald to discuss how employee expectations are evolving, and how employers will answer the call.
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BUSINESS RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS
Below are summaries of interesting business responses beyond COVID-19 as companies act to address racial issues in the United States.
- Uncle Ben’s owner Mars is planning to change the rice maker’s “brand identity” — one of several food companies planning to overhaul logos and packaging that have long been criticized for perpetuating harmful racial stereotypes. In a statement on its website Wednesday, Mars wrote that “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”
- Quaker Oats is retiring the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand and logo, acknowledging its origins are based on a racial stereotype. The brand’s origin and logo is based off the song “Old Aunt Jemima” from a minstrel show performer and reportedly sung by slaves. B&G Foods, which owns Cream of Wheat, also said it would be doing an “immediate review” of the breakfast cereal’s packaging, which features a picture of a Black chef. The brand stated it “understand[s] there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and are committed to evaluating packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that [B&G Foods] do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”
National media this week continues to feature coverage of racial tensions in the United States as well as the impact of COVID-19 across brands and media.
Media Moves to Diversify
- NBC News Medical Correspondent, Dr. John Torres, is hosting daily live chats mostly focused on COVID-19 updates and averaging tens of thousands of views. NBC has also started Ask the Experts Global Hangout about the dual threats of coronavirus and racism and how these issues affect Americans.
- Jamie Stockwell, deputy national editor at The New York Times, will expand her role to include Race/Related, as the acting editor, effective immediately, following James Bennet’s stepping down from his post as editorial page editor at The New York Times amid controversy over publication of an op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Kathleen Kingsbury, deputy editorial page editor at The New York Times, will step in as editorial page editor through the November elections.
- Washington Post Opinions hired Havana-based journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa as a contributor to its Spanish-language page, Post Opinión. Enoa will give a reported commentary to the monthly piece focused on social and political issues in Cuba.
- Samira Nasr has been appointed editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar in the U.S., overseeing content strategy and development across the brand’s print and digital platform, starting July 6.
- Fatima Hussein, the Bloomberg Law reporter who is president of the union at Bloomberg Industry Group, shared a memo imploring the organization to recognize holidays like Juneteenth and Emancipation Day. The memo also explained the union’s desire to change the national holiday on the second Monday in October to ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.’
- The Wall Street Journal reported on the swift move from corporate America to recognize Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., as a company holiday. Plans to observe the June 19 holiday have moved quickly across corporate America in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd, with businesses ranging from Nike Inc., Twitter Inc. and Spotify Technology SA, announcing employees would have a paid day off.
- Virginia followed Texas’s lead and just became the second state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, joined Governor Ralph Northam to announce the news on June 16 — just three days before the holiday. Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. Virginia’s 2020 declaration could motivate more states to follow suit to recognize this important day in American history.
- New Virtual Events: Top conveners continue to schedule new virtual programming, including events from Fortune, Bloomberg Live and The Atlantic on topics such as returning to work, how CEOs are navigating the current climate, and how higher education is approaching school reopening.
- FORTUNE Brainstorm Tech: The event will now be held virtually from December 1 – 2 after initially being postponed to mid-December in San Francisco.
- USTA: U.S. Open will continue programming as planned from August 24 – September 13 without spectators. Athletes such as Serena Williams have voiced their commitment to participate.
- MLB: The MLB Commissioner and the MLBPA Executive Director are working together to bring a 60-68 game season to fruition, expected to begin at the end of July.
- WNBA: WNBA confirms plans for a 22-game regular season to be held at the IMG Academy in Florida beginning in late July. The condensed season will include a postseason in October.
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