Commentary

Retailers, Restaurants, Entertainment Venues Suspending Operations

With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 3,774  as of 8 a.m. EDT this morning, an increasing number of retailers and service establishments are suspending or curtailing the hours they are open to the public or otherwise limiting social interaction in various ways.

“Daily life in the United States continues to grind to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Across the world, countries are shutting their borders to travelers and enforcing quarantine requirements. Yet local transmission is on the rise in many places, especially Europe and the United States, demonstrating the difficulty of controlling the virus even with increasingly harsh entry restrictions,” Siobhán O'Grady, Teo Armus and Rick Noack report  for The Washington Post in a free, “live updates” section of the newspaper’s website.

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“More people have now died from the coronavirus outside of China than inside, a worrying sign of how quickly the virus has spread beyond the country where it first emerged,” they add. 

The COVID-19 death toll was 69 in the U.S. this morning, 6,513 worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended  “for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more” throughout the country although it does not apply to “organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.” 

The CDC advisory is not intended to supersede the advice of any local public health officials and a few took more drastic measures over the weekend.

“Several state governments on Sunday called for the closure of bars and restaurants, a drastic step to enforce ‘social distancing’ that follows similar measures in Europe, where the coronavirus outbreak has put tremendous strain on health resources,” Zachary Basu reports  for Axios

States calling for temporary shutdowns of restaurants except, in most cases, for takeout and delivery, include Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and  California. In addition, New York City last night ordered cafes and restaurants to close their dining rooms and also shut down movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues. Larger theaters, such as those on Broadway, were closed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as of Friday. 

Out west, “the Las Vegas strip is feeling the effects of coronavirus as a number of resorts and casinos close in an effort to create social distancing,” CNN reports. Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts will close for a period and Caesars Entertainment is suspending all live ticketed performances.

“Though companies like Walmart have taken steps to reduce hours, several major retailers are electing to fully cease physical store operations as confirmed coronavirus cases in the country continue to rise. On Friday, Glossier and Patagonia both announced that they will close stores, prompting a flood of retailers to follow suit over the weekend, including mall brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Urban Outfitters and athletic companies like Nike,” Bethany Biron reports  for Business Insider. 

“As Americans have fretted about quarantines and shortages, they’ve raided online and brick-and-mortar retailers, leaving shelves unstocked and warehouses short. Amazon said it is out of stock on certain household items. Chains like Texas grocer H-E-B has had to limit purchases of some food items, including eggs, boxed pasta and canned soup. Fears of product shortages have also led people to steal products like hand sanitizer and surgical masks from grocery stores and doctors’ offices,” CNBC’s Lauren Hirsch reports.

The New York Times’ Jack Nicas broke the story Saturday of a Tennessee man and his brother who over the course of three days hoarded a stash of thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes to sell on Amazon at steep markups.

He “became a subject of national scorn” after the story ran, and “just as the Tennessee attorney general’s office began investigating him for price gouging,” donated all the remaining supplies on Sunday to a church to distribute to people across Tennessee, Nicas writes in a follow-up story.

President Donald Trump held a teleconference yesterday with leaders in the grocery, retail and food industries including the CEOs of Whole Foods, Wegmans, Publix, Aldi, Walmart, Costco, Dollar General and the heads of the Campbell Soup Company and Kraft Heinz, John Bowden reports  for The Hill.

“The President reminded the participants that this is an all-of-America approach and each of their stores and the stores they support can help Americans feel calm and safe when shelves are stocked with the items they need. Supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials,” according to White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Meanwhile, “an industry trade group, Consumer Brands Association,  which represents companies including Lysol-owner Reckitt Benckiser and Clorox, requested funds in upcoming supplemental appropriations to ‘mitigate supply chain disruptions’ and help manage shortages. Trump agreed in the call to hold off for six months on new regulatory decisions that could hinder supply chains, according to a letter from the group to Trump that was obtained by CNBC,” CNBC’s Hirsch adds.

Appearing later in the White House briefing room, Trump urged Americans to chill.

“Our supply chains in America are the most powerful in the world, and they’re all working very hard. They’re working around the clock. And the stores are stocking up at a level that’s beyond Christmastime. And it’s -- it’s great. It was very reassuring speaking to these people.  They have it totally in hand,” Trump said, according to the White House briefing statement.

“There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies.  They said to me, ‘Could you please tell them just go and buy, enjoy it.’ Have a nice dinner. Relax. Because there’s plenty. But you don’t have to [hoard] the quantities because it’s hard to refill the stores on a basis as rapid as they’re refilling them,” he added.

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