News roundup for Fri, Aug 27, 2021

Costco is limiting the purchase of paper household products again, and Lunchables, kids’ juice packs, and lobster are in short supply too:

The Rio Grande is low on water secondary to drought conditions:

Grain inventories are depleted all over the globe as temperatures rise. The US grain supply is no exception, and grain prices are rising.

There’s an earthquake swarm under Kilauea, but scientists say no eruption is imminent. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has placed it under “watch” status for now.

Tropical storm Ida is headed to the Gulf Coast, and is likely to strengthen into a hurricane before it does:

TSMC microchip prices are going to rise. This is going to hit device availability and device costs down the line.

The world has 215.4 million COVID cases. The world has gained 4.6 million cases in the last seven days. There have been nearly 4.5 million deaths in total. The US has had a cumulative 39.3 million cases. Over 651,000 Americans have died. There have been over 150,000 new cases in the last day, and over 1,100 deaths in that time in the US. The US is still leading global daily case gain.

States in the US South are faring worse than some entire countries:

US COVID hospitalizations have really ramped up:

Brexit and COVID combined are pummeling the UK with labor shortages. Manufacturers are asking the government to use prisoners to fill the labor gap. It’s not just the labor supply that’s in trouble, it’s food, too—McDonald’s can’t make milkshakes in the UK because of ingredient shortages.

People are still cruising on cruise ships during the pandemic, and people are not only contracting COVID on their trips, they’re dying from it on their trips.

Hospital workers are balking at vaccine mandates, and this could make proper staffing even more difficult than it already is right now.

The CDC is not truly tracking breakthrough infections in the vaccinated. The agency is trying to track “severe” breakthrough cases, but the data reporting methods are likely to cause omissions. More breakthrough infections are happening than you might think and the CDC acknowledges this.

The US might recommend COVID booster shots at six months instead of eight as Delta continues to rage. It looks like we don’t have the means to speed up the delivery of boosters before September, though. Moderna plans on seeking full FDA approval for its vaccine soon.

Here’s a handy list of universities that are currently requiring COVID vaccination in students and/or staff.

Companies are starting to charge unvaccinated employees more for health insurance. Delta has seen a 5-fold rate of increase in COVID vaccinations after this announcement:

Over 1/3 of Tennessee’s COVID cases are in children, which is more than twice the proportion of pediatric COVID cases seen with the wild type virus. Few schools in Tennessee have a mask mandate, and few allow schooling by distance at this time.

Tyson chicken plants are going to offer a $10K weekly lottery to employees who get vaccinated.


    • Greg P

      This is just a personal observation, but several of the counter-service restaurants in my area are drive-thru only due to staffing shortages.  At retail stores in general there are “help wanted” signs everywhere.  It will be interesting to see if this is a short-term blip or if actual structural changes will occur.  Given the likelihood of permanent wage increases ( most places I see advertise up to $15/hr to flip burgers) some places will not survive.  You can’t charge the general public $15 for a Big Mac ( not singling McD’s out) and expect that price point to translate to large enough sales to keep the doors open.  Maybe we have some macroeconomic brains in our group that can shed some light on what this translates to in the big scheme of things.  Personally, I would be interested to know.

      One wonders what impact technology will have on this – there’s already a push to reduce human labor costs and automate more.

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      • Captain Peanut Greg P

        I can see it leading to more automation in various fields. My closest McDonalds had a cool device where it would get the order from the cash register, then automatically pick the correct size soft drink cup put it on a conveyor belt, drive the cup over to a spout and fill it up with ice and the correct drink and then finish on the end where the employee only has to place on a lid. This blew my mind!

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      • Colorado Jones Greg P

        Good point about product pricing, Greg!  I spent nearly $30 on dinner for two at the Wendy’s drive-thru a few days ago.  Twenty years ago that would have cost more like $10-12.  Unfortunately, my income hasn’t tripled in the past two decades.  While there’s lots of compelling reasons not to eat fast food–health and otherwise–it looks like product pricing is what will most likely keep me from ever making another purchase at Wendy’s.  One can only wonder about the ripple effects things like this will have elsewhere in the economy . . . 

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    • Chris Cox

      As a Costco employee within several miles of one of the California fires, I can confirm about the shortages.

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    • Hardened

      Say, last year The Prepared sounded the alarm about commercial meat safety in the US.  Has the situation changed?

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      • Gideon ParkerStaff Hardened

        Around April and May of last year we talked about many issues with the meat industry such as higher prices and rationing as a result of labor shortage, the food supply chain redirecting from restaurants to consumers, and farmers having to kill many of their herds because of the change in demands. This then led to meat processing plants seeking permission from the FDA to increase their line speed, plant employees getting sick and dying from COVID-19, and yet being forced to stay open by the government.

        Here are the two articles: What’s next for meat & milk: higher prices, odd sizes, weird packaging, rationing and Meat supply safety worries mount: even if it’s available, should you eat it?

        In 2020, we saw many store shelves completely empty of meat or if they had some, there were limits on how much you could buy. Much of this was caused by panic buying and hoarding. But supply caught up to the demand and stores lifted their limits and you didn’t have to worry if you were going to find meat or not. The same thing happened with toilet paper and cleaning products. With the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19, we are starting to see people buy out toilet paper again out of panic buying and stores enacting limits.

        But it is unlikely that we will see the same 2020-like shortages with meat. Meat prices are up 6% compared to last year, but many other areas are seeing dramatic increases such as 12.3% rise in cost for major appliances and 3.4% in food overall. (Forbes) Local grocery stores are preparing and creating better inventories to meet demand. Many meat processing plant employees are vaccinated now and these plants have had time to implement better COVID procedures to prevent the spread, both things that they didn’t have in early 2020.

        There are some things to keep an eye out for though, such as meat processing plants requiring all employees to be vaccinated like Tyson Foods has. There will always be a portion of the population who will be against this and would rather quit than be vaccinated. So there may be some labor shortages because of this. Tyson foods is offering a $200 bonus to vaccinated employees to help encourage them to stay, though I don’t think that is much of an incentive to keep people if they would have quit their job anyways and lost out on their entire source of income.

        Another thing that we touched on earlier this year was proposed anti-farming laws that would drive meat production out of some states in the US. This would potentially cause us to import more meat from other nations where strict food safety laws may not be as closely monitored, and continue to raise prices further.

        Although there always seems to be some product being recalled because of salmonella we haven’t seen any major widespread meat safety issues over the past year that was caused by the increase in line speed at processing plants. In the above linked article, we spoke with food scientist Dr. Gretchen Mafi who had full confidence in the meat processing system and the strict training and testing that the USDA goes through to monitor meat quality, it looks like she was right.

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