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Daily Briefing – 443

Post: Jan. 17, 2022

2021 Holiday Sales Grew 14.1% to Record $886.7 Billion

Retail sales during 2021’s November-December holiday season grew 14.1% over 2020 to $886.7 billion, easily beating the National Retail Federation’s forecast and setting a new record despite challenges from inflation, supply chain disruptions and the ongoing pandemic. Consumers were backed by strong wages and record savings and began their shopping earlier this year than ever before. This is, in part, why we saw a decline in sales from November to December. 

The number includes online and other non-store sales, which were up 11.3% at $218.9 billion. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail.

Read more at Material Handling and Logistics

Omicron Surge Roils U.S. Small Businesses

As the pandemic enters its third year, many small businesses across the United States are besieged on three fronts: deepening supply chain issues; periodic staffing shortages; and fewer customers showing up in some areas, fearing the Omicron spike in COVID-19 cases. Day-to-day management has become a challenge. Census surveys conducted since early in the pandemic show concerns steadily shifting from dwindling cash reserves and a hunt for financing to challenges with supply chains and rising costs.

This week the Federal Reserve released its latest collection of anecdotes about the state of the economy from businesses, labor groups and others nationwide, showing that the fast-spreading Omicron variant was exacerbating difficulties, especially for hiring and inflation.

Read more at Reuters

NY Fed President Sees US Inflation Slowing as Supply Issues Resolve

New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said he sees inflation falling to 2.5% this year, but cautioned that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means any forecast faces high uncertainty.

Given the rapid recovery and high inflation, he said the Fed is “approaching a decision” on raising lending rates.  With inflation hitting its highest rate in nearly 40 years, the Fed already has begun to remove the massive stimulus pumped into the world’s largest economy during the pandemic to aid in the recovery. Many economists now expect the Fed’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee to raise the benchmark interest rate off zero in March, with three or even four hikes possible this year. But Williams said the date will depend on how the recovery progresses.

Read more at IndustryWeek

China GDP Grew 8.1% in 2021, Though Momentum Slowed in Fourth Quarter

China’s economy expanded 8.1% last year as a pandemic-plagued world snapped up its goods, though slowing growth in the final months of the year points to challenges ahead for its economy. As expected, the annual gross domestic product figure easily topped Beijing’s official growth target of 6% or more, as exports surged to a record high. 

The challenge for the world’s second-largest economy this year is to keep the post-pandemic recovery rolling for a third year, even as momentum slows and Beijing continues to push longer-term reforms in the economy to boost its birthrate, reduce inequality, lower debt and make the country less dependent on the world.

Read more at the WSJ

US COVID – CDC Director Aims to Improve Covid-19 Messaging, Data Collection

One year into her tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky acknowledges that she should have communicated certain things better to the American public. She says the pandemic threw curveballs that she should have anticipated. She thinks she should have made it clearer to the public that new rules and guidelines were subject to change if the nature of the fight against Covid-19 shifted again.

The CDC director has come under fire from public-health experts for the way she has communicated pandemic guidelines from mask wearing to isolation requirements. Dr. Walensky said she is committed to communicating CDC policy more clearly. She plans to hold more media briefings in the coming months separate from her appearances with the White House Covid-19 Response Team. Some public-health experts have said such briefings would help highlight the CDC’s role as a scientific voice, independent of politics.

Read more at the WSJ

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of January 17:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 86.1% of all New Yorkers – 16,019,112 (plus 7,461 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,663,862 (plus 337).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 73.0% of all New Yorkers – 14,183,629 (plus 7,801).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,447,460 (plus 456). 

Boosters Given

  • All New Yorkers – 5,438,556
  • In the Hudson Valley – 646,751

The Governor updated COVID data through January 17.  There were 152 COVID related deaths for a total reported of 62,891. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 11,751.

7 Day Average Positivity Rate  – Cases per 100K population

  • Statewide 15.68%    –    250.57 positive cases per 100,00 population
  • Mid-Hudson: 15.49%   –  234.09 positive  cases per 100,00 population

Useful Websites:

Federal Testing Website Launches Wednesday, 4 Tests Per Home

On Wednesday, the government says the public can begin to order up to four free at-home COVID-19 tests online and by phone to ship via the U.S. Postal Service at no charge to their addresses for arrival in a week to 12 days. The White House said “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service, which reports shipping times of 1-3 days for its first-class package service in the continental United States.

The website is ​​COVIDTests.gov. It is not the most timely way to receive such rapid tests if symptoms of COVID-19 infection crop up beforehand, but it is another way to be prepared as the omicron surge continues.

Moderna Hopes to Market Combined COVID and Flu Booster in 2023

Moderna hopes to market a combined booster vaccination for COVID-19, influenza and RSV — a common respiratory virus — as soon as the fall of 2023, CEO Stéphane Bancel said Monday. He said the combination vaccine would enable people to get broad protection against illnesses caused by respiratory viruses ahead of the winter infectious season without having to obtain multiple jabs.

The COVID booster is currently in phase three trials while the flu vaccine under development — which also uses mRNA technology — should progress from phase two to three trials in the second quarter. “Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don’t have compliance issues where people don’t want to get two to three shots a winter,” said Bancel. “The best-case scenario would be the fall of 2023.”

Read more at Politico

Fauci Says it’s Still an ‘Open Question’ Whether Omicron Spells COVID Endgame

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it is still too soon to predict whether the omicron Covid-19 variant will mark the final wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “It is an open question whether it will be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for,” Fauci said via videoconference at The Davos Agenda virtual event. “I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant,” he said.

The omicron variant, while highly transmissible, has been found to be less severe than previous variants, sparking hope that it could hasten the end of the pandemic. Yet, Fauci said there is still no guarantee.  Still, even if omicron does emerge as the final variant of Covid-19, it is unlikely that it would mean endgame for the virus entirely, Fauci said. Rather, it will remain present in society at an endemic level.

Read more at CNBC

China’s Birth Rate Drops to Record Low in 2021

Mainland China’s birth rate dropped to a record low in 2021, data showed on Monday, extending a downward trend that led Beijing last year to begin allowing couples to have up to three children. The 2021 rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people was the lowest since 1949, when the National Statistics Bureau began collating the data, adding further pressure on officials to encourage more births.

The natural growth rate of China’s population, which excludes migration, was only 0.034% for 2021, the lowest since 1960, according to the data. China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit to try to avoid the economic risks from a rapidly aging population, but the high cost of urban living has deterred couples from having more children.

Read more at Reuters

HSAs, FSAs and 401(k)s: 11 Numbers to Know for 2022

From a planning standpoint, the beginning of the year is important for employers in many ways. It also marks a new beginning for certain benefit components—including several account limits set by the IRS. The IRS announced 2022 changes to health savings accounts back in May, but it only recently unveiled annual changes to flexible savings accounts and 401(k)s.

From contribution limits to out-of-pocket amounts, here are 11 figures that employers need to know—all of which come into play in January.

See the numbers at HR Executive

Rolls-Royce, Bentley, BMW Sales Surge as Cheaper Brands Lag Behind

A surge in luxury-car sales and the shifting of scarce semiconductors to the most profitable vehicles helped many auto makers achieve robust profits last year, even as sales of mainstream vehicles lagged behind and supply-chain disruptions crippled car production. Bentley sold 14,659 cars last year, an increase of 31% from the year before and a record for the company. Porsche, also owned by VW, sold 301,915 cars, an increase of 11% world-wide. By comparison, VW’s namesake brand, its biggest business by unit sales, struggled throughout the year to keep its factories operating because of the chip shortage. The main plant in Wolfsburg worked under capacity and had to scrap shifts throughout the year.

Other types of manufacturers have given priority to big-ticket products for similar reasons, making it harder for consumers to find cheaper alternatives. Car makers have also benefited from a bump in demand for the more expensive models.

Read more at the WSJ

DiNapoli: School District Tax Levy Cap at 2%

For the first time since 2019, property tax levy growth for school districts will be capped at 2%, up from 1.23% last year, according to data released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

The tax cap, which first applied to local governments and school districts in 2012, limits annual tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2%. School districts may override the cap with 60% voter approval of their budget. DiNapoli’s office calculated the inflation factor at 4.7% for those with a June 30, 2023 fiscal year end. “School district and municipal officials must remain fiscally cautious to stay under the cap as they prepare their budgets,” DiNapoli said. “Even with significant funding from the state and federal governments, school and local communities are faced with the rapid increase in inflation, pandemic surge, and trying to retain and recruit employees.”

Read more at The Comptroller’s website

Nearly One-Quarter of States Are Leaving the Public in the Dark About 2021’s Standardized Tests

We knew the picture of student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic would be murky, as states canceled standardized testing in 2020 and the federal government relaxed rules on how testing should work in 2021.

This year, parents and policymakers will have a lot more clarity in some states than others. Our nationwide review of state testing policies finds that some states managed to pull off standardized testing in 2021 with the same levels of student participation they could expect in a normal year and reported the results publicly — with all the caveats that come with testing during a global pandemic, when many students were still learning remotely. 

Read more at The 74

Could Viruses Cause Alzheimer’s? COVID-19 Brain Studies Offer New Clues

Scientists are racing to understand why some patients have persistent symptoms, especially brain fog, after a bout with COVID-19. Though little is currently known, some of the findings may yield insights into another condition that has long vexed researchers: Alzheimer’s disease, which currently affects nearly six million Americans, a number expected to triple by 2060. Long COVID sufferers describe some cognitive symptoms that neurologists say are very similar to Alzheimer’s disease. 

In the century since Alzheimer’s disease was first characterized, scientists have considered many reasons why these patients have unrelenting memory loss. The most widely accepted possible cause involves high concentrations of two abnormal proteins: beta-amyloid, which clumps in the space between neurons, cutting off the lines of communication; and tau, which accumulates inside nerve cells and disrupts neuronal signaling. Another hypothesis gaining traction is that a viral, bacterial, or even fungal infection could set off a series of events leading to neurodegeneration. Though the theory is far less popular than the amyloid hypothesis, it was starting to garner renewed attention even before the pandemic.

Read more at NatGeo