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Apple today confirmed earlier rumors that it plans to shut down re-opened stores in four states.  Impacted locations include six stores in Arizona, two in Florida, another two in North Carolina and one in South Carolina.

“Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas. We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

It’s been just over a month since the company began to reopen a handful of locations, as states began wider reopening efforts. The company implemented several safeguards, including mask requirements, temperature checks and enforced social distancing, as well as extended cleaning efforts.

“These are not decisions we rush into,” Retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien wrote at the time, “and a store opening in no way means that we won’t take the preventative step of closing it again should local conditions warrant.”

One imagines the company will approach re-re-opening the same way. However, several states have posted increases in COVID-19 cases since government began the process of reopening. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Nevada, Oregon and Texas have all posted record high infection rates in the past week. Given the uncertain nature of the virus’s spread, it seems likely this won’t be the last time Apple and other retailers have to reverse course. 

 

The following locations will be closed, beginning tomorrow,

Florida
  • Waterside Shops
  • Coconut Point
North Carolina
  •  Southpark
  • Northlake Mall
South Carolina
  • Haywood Mall
Arizona
  • Chandler Fashion Center
  • Scottsdale Fashion Square
  • Arrowhead
  • SanTan Village
  • Scottsdale Quarter
  • La Encantada

More information on specific stores can be found on Apple’s site.


TechCrunch

Echoing much of the existing data and research on the subject, SF-based Color released data today showing that based on its own testing program, most individuals who test positive for COVID-19 display either mild or no symptoms, including even running a fever. The results, taken from Color’s own testing of over 30,000 people to date across its California testing stations, shows that despite continuing efforts underway across the U.S. to reopen local and state economies, widespread testing is still key to any true recovery program.

Color notes that 1.3 percent of the people who it has tested to date have received positive results for COVID-19, and says that among those, 78% reported only mild symptoms, or said they were asymptomatic, meaning they displayed no observable symptoms whatsoever. What’s more, only 12% had a fever of over 100 degrees, which is bad news for efforts to contain potential transmission of cases through the reopening through measures like temperature checks at workplaces and shared use facilities.

Color’s data matches up with recently released information from the WHO that indicated as many as 80% of individuals who test positive display either mild or no symptoms. Color also shared more specific information around what symptoms those who did report some said they had, with most saying they had a cough – though the most highly correlated reported symptom with an actual positive test result is loss of smell, making it a much better indicator of a positive test result than fever, for instance.

Other notable findings from Color’s testing to date, which includes testing San Francisco’s frontline essential workers in partnership with the city, include that most of those who test positive are young (68% are aged between 18 and 40) and that Latinx and Black communities showed much higher positive results on a per capita basis than either white or Asian populations. Color’s data in both these regards support results shared by other organizations and researchers, backing up concerns around who will be most negatively affected by any hasty and unconsidered reopening efforts.


TechCrunch

An eighth Amazon employee has died of COVID-19. The news comes as the company is under scrutiny for failing to be more transparent about the wider number of infections among its warehouse workers.

A spokesperson confirmed the reports of the death, telling TechCrunch, “We are saddened by the loss of an associate who had worked at our site in Randall, Ohio. “Her family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting her fellow colleagues.”

According to the company, the worker in North Randall, a village outside of Cleveland, was sent home from work on April 30. She received a positive test a little over a week later, on May 8. Amazon says it notified fellow employees of the death and has provided counseling to colleagues.

The overall number of Amazon workers who have tested positive for the virus remains a mystery. The company stands by its decision not to disclose such information. “We don’t think that number is super valuable,” it has said previously. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, it added: 

Our rates of infection are at or below the rates of the communities where we operate. We see that in our quarantine rates as well. Quarantine rates are a critical part to understanding what’s happening in the workplace – it shows that our hard work around social distancing is paying off. Unlike others who hide beyond HIPAA, we alert every person at the site anytime there is a confirmed diagnosis. This alert to employees is a direct text message noting when the person with the confirmed diagnosis was last in the building.

The lack of transparency is one of a number of sources of criticism surrounding Amazon’s COVID-19 response.

While the company has repeatedly maintained that it has done all it can to protect the employees in its fulfillment centers, potential exposure to the virus among warehouse workers is difficult to avoid, even with the proper PPE. Earlier this month, a letter from 13 state attorneys general demanded that Amazon disclose the number of workers who have been impacted by the virus.

“We have requested but not received information on how many of the Companies’ workers have been infected with COVID-19, and how many have died from it,” the letter reads. “Please provide a state-by-state breakdown for each Company with this information.”

Earlier this week, The New York Times noted one particularly hard hit warehouse in northeastern Pennsylvania, where more than 100 workers have apparently tested positive for the virus. The exact figure is unknown, as Amazon will not disclose it. Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that at least 30 workers at the nearby Kenosha warehouse have tested positive for the virus.

As more housebound Americans rely on Amazon for deliveries, workers have largely fallen under the “essential services” guidelines issued by many states. In mid-May, the company extended its $ 2 an hour “hazard pay bonuses” through the end of the month. Amazon confirmed that it will return to standard salaries, come June, stating: 

To thank employees and help meet increased demand, we’ve paid our team and partners nearly $ 800 million extra since COVID-19 started while continuing to offer full benefits from day one of employment. With demand stabilized, next month we’ll return to our industry-leading starting wage of $ 15 an hour.

The company has been subject to additional scrutiny over the firing of several employees that have raised public concerns over its treatment of workers during the crisis. While Amazon has repeatedly denied the firings were retaliation, the reports were enough to warrant another letter, this time from a number of high-profile senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.


TechCrunch

Everlywell was one of the first startups to announce that it was working on a self-administered, at-home COVID-19 diagnostic kit, but it initially sought out to ship kits before regulators made clear that this was not in line with its guidelines. Everlywell then became intent on working with the FDA to secure a proper Emergency Use Authorization for its kits before sending any to consumers, and that approach has paid off with the U.S. drug regulator issuing an EUA for Everlywell’s tech today.

Everlywell‘s COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit is the first standalone sample collection kit to be granted a proper EUA by the FDA. Other kits have been in use through physician-prescribed and directed collection, and others still have been authorized specifically for use with one test (where provider of both kit and test are the same). This approval is unique because Everlywell is offering its sample kit independent of any specific testing lab, and can work with a variety of labs to potentially provide a broader testing footprint.

The test kits are then sent to one of two labs currently authorized under separate EUAs for COVID-19 testing, and the administration notes that this could expand to other test providers in future should they file for an EUA and provide the requisite data that goes along with the verification required for that emergency approval. The FDA cites Everlywell’s work in collecting and presenting data from studies including those supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to show that samples collected at home using its nasal swab collection method remain stable during shipping.

That data is also now available to others looking to provide similar test kit offerings, the FDA notes, which should reduce the burden of proof on anyone looking to gain authorization for a competing product. That could potentially open up testing even further, reducing a bottleneck that many public health professionals see as one of the key drivers of a successful recovery.

“The authorization of a COVID-19 at-home collection kit that can be used with multiple tests at multiple labs not only provides increased patient access to tests, but also protects others from potential exposure,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Today’s action is also another great example of public-private partnerships in which data from a privately funded study was used by industry to support an EUA request, saving precious time as we continue our fight against this pandemic.”


TechCrunch

In a memo titled “The Course Ahead,” Vice Media Group CEO Nancy Dubuc announced a large round of layoffs to staff. The number includes 155 workers — 55 of whom will lose their jobs today. The remaining 100, meanwhile, will be let go in the coming weeks. The figure comprises around 5% of the company’s overall headcount.

Dubuc cites “tough decisions” in the memo, noting that the company has “done absolutely everything we could to protect these positions for as long as possible, and your time and contributions will forever be part of who we are and who we will become.”

Vice’s Union confirmed the figure, noting that the 55 are coming from U.S.-based operations, while the other 100 will be pulled from the company’s international operations. The Union adds that, contrary to Dubuc’s claims, “Vice repeatedly refused to discuss workshare programs” that might have be used to lower the impact on job figures. The union for Vice Media-owned Refinery29 echoed the statements in its own tweet.

Nancy Dubuc

LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 10: A+E Networks President and CEO Nancy Dubuc participates in a keynote panel on the future of video at CES 2018 at Park Theater at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on January 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 12 and features about 3,900 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Vice is hardly alone, of course. Even as more people have their eyes glued to computer screens and news reports, revenue has declined during the COVID-19 crisis. Reporting on itself, The New York Times noted its own revenue struggles, even as digital subscriptions have climbed,

In keeping with a trend that has affected other news organizations during the pandemic, The Times attracted new readers while the money it brought in from advertising plummeted. Overall ad revenue fell more than 15 percent, to $ 106.1 million, in the quarter. Digital ad revenue declined 7.9 percent, while print ad revenue had a drop of 20.9 percent.

It’s a familiar and frustrating refrain across the board. Even with readership up for some, companies simply aren’t spending on ads during the pandemic. Times likes these, the ad revenue model feels like a precarious house of cards on top of which media empires have been built. Buzzfeed, Vox and Bustle have all announced either layoffs, pay cuts or employee furloughs in recent weeks, leaving many to ponder at the future of the already precarious world of digital media.

It’s true that publications suffer every time a slight gust of wind upsets the state of the economy, but the COVID-19 recession feels different in virtually every way. In addition to the 36 million Americans who have filed unemployment since the start of the crisis, the pandemic has had extraordinarily far reaching impacts on ever aspect of the economy. Not even ad giants like Facebook and Google are immune from the effects. A report from late March noted that the internet giants could see a combined loss of $ 44 billion in ad revenue before year’s end.

Digital media has felt like a precarious industry for some time. The effects of economic recessions and feelings of distrust against media sowed by the White House have made the last few years particularly difficult. The addition of the unprecedented uncertainty of COVID-19 is adding rocket fuel to that fire.

We’ve reached out to Vice for comment.


TechCrunch

The COVID-19 crisis is creating an untold amount of uncertainty through every business sector, but for cannabis startups, it’s exacerbating a critical market that was already in decline.

TechCrunch spoke to Schwazze CEO Justin Dye following his company’s recent rebrand. He joined the company when it was Colorado’s Medicine Man Technologies (MMT) in late 2019 and is revamping the organization, including changing its name to Schwazze and acquiring a handful of companies to create a healthier, vertically integrated cannabis company.

The cannabis market is experiencing a correction after a period of rapid expansion. Shops are feeling the pain, and public valuations are settling under IPO levels — and this was before a pandemic swept the world. Cannabis media outlet Leafly laid off 91 employees in late March, and Eaze, an early mover in on-demand pot delivery, is experiencing major trouble after raising serious cash and recently losing a top partner in Caliva. In several states, efforts are underway to prop up the cannabis market by asking for the federal government to allow these businesses to be eligible for federal financial relief.

According to Dye, there are several things CEOs of cannabis companies of every size should work toward. His advice echoes what TechCrunch has heard in other verticals, as well: During the COVID-19 crisis, cannabis companies must hunker down and lean on strong teams to weather the storm. Once the skies start to clear, capital will be available to the survivors.

One, the cannabis market is looking for financially sustainable companies, Dye said.

“This next reset in the cannabis industry will not only be aspirational, but it’s going to be coupled with a requirement for performance in terms of executing against a plan and driving profits — or driving it to create free cash flow to be reinvested in the business and product experiences.”


TechCrunch

In a blog post today, YouTube announced that it’s finally bringing its fact-checking information panels to the U.S. First introduced in Brazil and India, the expansion comes as COVID-19-related misinformation and conspiracy has proliferated online and through certain media.

Fact-check articles will begin appearing in relevant search results, using informations pulled from a dozen or so third-party publishers, including The Dispatch, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and The Washington Post Fact Checker. The site is leveraging ClaimReview’s article tagging system, which is also used by Google Search/New, Bing and Facebook.

In the post, YouTube specifically cites concerns around COVID-19-related misinformation as a driving force in the feature’s expansion, noting the difficulty in keeping up with a rapidly changing news cycle.

“Our fact check information panels provide fresh context in these situations by highlighting relevant,” the company writes, “third-party fact-checked articles above search results for relevant queries, so that our viewers can make their own informed decision about claims made in the news.”

The move doesn’t directly involve the takedown of offending videos. Instead the plan is to offer users context as they search for information on a given subject. The feature will no doubt have mixed results, depending on how committed a user is to a given theory or source. People who are already dug in on notions of COVID-19 as a hoax are not likely to be swayed by contextual information from PolitiFact or the Washington Post. That’s just the nature of the post-information hellscape in which we all currently reside. 

It echoes a similar move from Facebook earlier this month, which alerts users when they’ve interacted with “harmful misinformation” about the virus. Twitter, too, has expanded its own guidelines around coronavirus related tweets, removing some of the offending misinformation around theories involving things like 5G.

YouTube says the new feature “will take some time for our systems to fully ramp up.” That involves both refining the system, the features efficacy and eventually rolling it out into even more markets.


TechCrunch

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