Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of January 25, 2021.
A new Covid-19 plan. President Biden has announced more aggressive plans to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, which would be funded by his previously announced $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal. Soon after his January 20, 2021 inauguration, Biden signed several executive orders that will require people to wear masks in federal buildings and on interstate transportation. Biden also laid out new quarantine rules for people traveling from outside the country and set up a “pandemic testing board” with the objective of increased Covid-19 tracking. Federal agencies will also be able to use the Defense Protection Act to churn out additional vaccines. Biden also promised that 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine would be administered in the 100 days of his administration.
- The takeaway: Increased testing and vaccination are considered central to reopening businesses and overall economic recovery. As of December, 2020, 10.7 million Americans are unemployed as Covid-19 continues to keep many businesses partially or fully closed. While unemployment is still lower than it was in April, 2020, it is roughly double what it was before the pandemic hit the U.S.
Booster on the way. Pharmaceutical company Moderna said that it’s developing a booster shot for its Covid-19 vaccine to protect against strain of the virus that reportedly spreads more quickly, such as those currently predominating in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Moderna has warned the booster may be less effective against the South African strain.
- The takeaway: New strains of the virus could complicate the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. The U.S. has begun vaccination with the candidates from Moderna and Pfizer, which require two separate doses. Both vaccines have proven roughly 95% effective against the initial strain of the virus. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines use mRNA proteins to produce antibodies in recipients.
Will sanitization stick? Hand sanitizer sales reportedly increased 600% to $1.3 billion as of January, 2021 compared to January, 2020, thanks to precautions people are taking during the pandemic. As a result, some makers of hand sanitizers and cleaning products are increasing their investment in their businesses. Gojo, the maker of Purell hand sanitizer reportedly hired an additional 500 employees to deal with increased demand for its product. Gojo also opened a new factory and warehouse during the last year in Akron, Ohio, investing $400 million in growth in 2020, approximately ten times what the company typically spends in a year.
- The takeaway: Companies like Gojo are anticipating that as vaccinations roll out and the world starts to recover from the pandemic, cleaning and sanitizing habits will remain, as people try to avoid getting sick. If that’s correct, businesses, homes, and schools will still need significant supplies of cleaning products and hand sanitizer.
Google threatens to go offline down under. Google said that it’s considering ending its services in Australia in response to legislation that would require the search engine and Facebook to pay publishers for their content. If the bill goes into effect, Google would have to pay publishers in order to display certain links in search results. Publishers and news organizations would then be able to negotiate with Google over prices. Google has said that the bill would alter the engine’s business model and prevent it from providing Australians with the free search capability that it currently offers.
- The takeaway: Australia is one of a number of countries trying to control the dominance of big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. In France, Google said that it will begin paying publishers for their content as a result of new copyright laws there. In the the U.S., the Department of Justice announced in October, 2020, that it was suing Google for allegedly maintaining a monopoly over internet searches and search advertising.
Tax tip. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has extended the date it will begin accepting tax returns by two weeks. It will reportedly start accepting forms on February 12, 2021. It typically starts taking them on January 30.
- The takeaway: The IRS said it’s changing the start date for tax season to test updates to its filing system that account for pandemic-related changes to people’s incomes, including a second round of stimulus checks approved at the end of 2020. The IRS encourages people to file electronically this year to speed up refunds.
Find out what we covered in last week’s Scan.