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Coronavirus update: Walmart, Target, CVS lead corporate push for face masks amid US case spike

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

The U.S. had another near-record spike in coronavirus cases, with more than 71,000 newly reported cases pushing the country’s total to 3.5 million cases, prompting a growing number of major corporations to enforce masking in their establishments.

The global pandemic surpassed 13.5 million cases Thursday, with more than 584,000 dead, proof of acceleration of the outbreak in recent weeks. As fall approaches for the northern hemisphere, concerns about a second wave are emerging. Trailing not too far behind the U.S. are Brazil and India, with the latter reporting another record-breaking day with more than 32,000 cases.

As expectations grow that a vaccine can be deployed sooner rather than later, jumpy investors have been mollified by pharmaceutical companies making strides toward finding a treatment, which in turn have spurred hope that a candidate can emerge before early 2021. Investors got encouraging news on this week from Moderna (MRNA), which plans to start its final phase of trials by July 27.

In an earnings call Thursday morning, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) CFO Joseph Wolk said that a second wave is unlikely to be as damaging as the first wave, since better treatment protocols, possible therapeutics, better testing and adequate equipment are more readily available.

The drug giant is one of the leading candidates in the global vaccine race. JNJ’s Wolk told Yahoo Finance in an interview that JNJ has had “great success” on a vaccine, and plans to begin human trials next week— with Phase 3 expected by September.

Developments in the hunt for a cure can’t arrive soon enough, as COVID-19’s casualty count keeps rising. Critical levels of hospitalizations and ICU bed use are now seen in many states — largely in the Sun Belt — as well as some midwest states.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to strain the global economy, and dampened expectations for a sharp U.S. rebound. In spite a few big companies that have defied the virus’ worst effects, jobless claims on Thursday showed the labor market remains in turmoil with over 50 million out of work.

Abbott Laboratories (ABT), which has been a major player in the U.S. response with five coronavirus tests receiving FDA emergency use authorization, saw brisk growth in the latest quarter, according to CEO Robert Ford.

Demand for the COVID-19 tests drove sales up 7%, with molecular diagnostics up 241% and rapid diagnostics up 11%. Sales of all COVID-19 tests totaled $615M in the second quarter, Abbott said.

People protest against mandates to wear masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Austin, Texas, U.S., June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Flores TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Mask-wearing is the new normal

While there is no federal mandate or enforcement strategy for wearing masks in public places, companies have been taking greater steps to mandate masks at their establishments. Walmart (WMT) announced such a move on Wednesday, followed by CVS Pharmacy (CVS) and Target (TGT) on Thursday. Last month, Starbucks called for employees and clients to wear masks in their cafes.

The move comes as some states struggle to implement or enforce masking, despite numerous calls for Americans to embrace the strategy in the past few months — a charge led by health care professionals using social media to promote mask adoption.

The CDC recently recommended wearing masks as a way to reduce spread, after releasing a few studies of instances where mask-wearing helped contain new infections. But the White House coronavirus task force and other federal officials have thus far avoided calls for a national standard.

However, some fault the lack of masks in the U.S. compared to other recovered regions, especially Asia, as a reason behind the current resurgence.

In an interview with JAMA earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that lots of congregating happened without masks, “which is so highly predictable that you’re going to get into trouble.”

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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