A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 14, 2021

Should Healthcare Workers Be Required To Get Covid Shots?

70% of the public support mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers as well as for all workers planning to return to an office setting. 

There is little question about the legality or the ethics of such a decision. Refusers appear to be primarily motivated by political considerations, with perhaps an element of self-indulgent individualism in addition. Concerns based on historically biased outrages are out of place in the current environment. There is no room in a complex, interactive society for selfish behavior. JL

Amy Goldstein reports in the Washington Post:

A half-dozen companies that house the elderly have announced vaccine mandates. Houston Methodist became the first to announce vaccination would be mandatory for 26,000 employees at its eight hospitals and outpatient settings, starting with managers, who must get one shot by April 15, or risk suspension or layoff. Among the 3 in 10 health-care employees (nationally) who said they did not intend to get vaccinated or had not decided, 8 in 10 said they would oppose a vaccine requirement, and two-thirds said they would leave their job rather than get a shot. The general public is more receptive than health-care personnel to bosses telling workers they must get a shot.

How AI Is Solving Post-Pandemic Workplace Challenges

The complexity of reopening offices to large numbers of employees is a challenge tailor-made for AI. From hybrid scheduling to work station availability to health and safety protocols, the task of managing the myriad details work flow requires a greater degree of precision than previously. 

Perhaps more importantly, the productivity gains observed by many leaders and investors early in the pandemic are now giving way to growing reports of declines as the stress of the past year meets the uncertainty of how the return will go. AI is being used to optimize post-pandemic performance. For managers and venture investors, the fact that it is being routinely applied to the mundane as well as the exotic is a sign of its long term operational and financial success. JL

Angus Loten reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Companies are approaching back-to-work issues by leveraging software and platforms powered by artificial intelligence. Gartner estimates 1.1 billion workers around the world worked remotely last year. As the shift to remote work passes the one-year mark, many companies are starting to see a drop off in productivity, after an unexpected boost in the early months of the crisis. AI algorithms can be fine-tuned over time with an ever-larger pool of data on the comings and goings of employees, providing insights for corporate executives and building managers to optimize work schedules and on-site activities.

Apr 13, 2021

Was the Decision To Pause Use of the J and J Covid Vaccine the Right One?

There are two perceived trade-offs: one between risk of death from Covid and risk of death from a very rare clotting disorder. The other is between prudent scientific inquiry and concern that this decision will increase vaccine hesitancy. 

But as vaccination rates rise, percentages of those refusing vaccination decline and public frustration with Covid restrictions grows, governments may have to be less attuned to academic debate and more concerned about losing control of public response to the pandemic through constant cautionary revision. JL 

Josh Marshall reports in Talking Points Memo:

There is a huge amount of criticism about the decision to pause of the J&J Janssen vaccine. Based on preliminary rates of risk it is certain that discontinuing use of this vaccine would lead to more deaths from COVID than any saved from the rare clotting disorder. Lots of people (are) saying this halt will increase hesitancy. Perhaps a better approach would have been to issue this announcement but wait on issuing a call for a pause. (But) a key source of public mistrust of public guidance is the belief that the real information is being hidden. So once you find a potential safety signal there’s no way around making it public and going through a process of analysis.

Could Post-Covid Airplane Redesign Feature Coffee-House Style Seating?

Recent airplane cabin design competitions suggest that future aircraft may be more like open plan tech offices than the rigid phalanx of rows to which travelers are now subjected.  

Given the prospect of increased ticket costs, airlines are looking for ways to differentiate themselves. Profitably. JL

Cory Stieg reports in CNBC:

This “coffee house cabin” features a long row of tables facing one another in the center aisle of the plane, called “a productivity-focused zone.” Each passenger can have more space to work on their device alongside others, like at a coffee shop, co-working space or library. Business travelers could use the table to take meetings with other colleagues on the flight. The workspace seats would be priced above basic economy but below first class. Another includes different “zones” for passengers to sit and lounge away from their seats, including an area where people can exercise and stretch, as well as a walk-up bar.

Why US Cannot Donate Surplus Covid Vaccines Even If It Wants To

Contracts the Trump Administration signed with vaccine manufacturers legally prohibit the export of doses the US government paid for and may want to donate to other countries. 

The intent may have initially been to assure that US citizens got first access to vaccines, but is also presumably to give the pharma companies the ability to profit from foreign sales of Covid vaccines. The Biden Administration is looking for ways to get the language changed but initial reaction from the manufacturers has been negative. That the virus is still surging in parts of the US probably means that it will be some time, possibly months, before the US can donate vaccines for use by less fortunate countries. JL

Katherine Eban reports in Vanity Fair:

Contracts the Trump administration signed with vaccine manufacturers prohibit the U.S. from sharing its surplus doses with the rest of the world. According to contract language, agreements with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen state: “The Government may not use, or authorize the use of, any products or materials provided under this Agreement, unless such use occurs in the United States” or U.S. territories. “It is a total ban. Those legal parameters must change before we do anything to help the rest of the world.” (Plus) "the pandemic is spiraling here. There is no capacity to deal with global donations."

Can the US Actually Do Anything About the Semiconductor Shortage?

As it did with PPE and pharmaceutical raw materials, the US once again finds itself suffering from just-in-time inventory and manufacturing policies which make it dependent on - where else? - Asia. 

The Administration's infrastructure plan will allocate $50 billion for semiconductor output increases, but that means there will be no immediate solution to the problem, borne of short-term profit-driven tactics that have created strategic crises. JL 

Paul Eisenstein reports in NBC:

A crisis has impacted consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals and auto manufacturing, which has had to slow production across the U.S. The crisis could drive up the cost of the chips now used in every auto, further escalating vehicle prices that have reached record levels, an average $40,000. Dealer inventories (are) down 1 million vehicles, compared to what is normal. Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal would set aside $50 billion for the semiconductor industry, expanding U.S. manufacturing of chips that largely come from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. But chip plants are costly and challenging to set up. So, shortages are likely to continue for months, into 2022.

Shrinking Post-Covid Office Space Needs Could Cripple City Budgets

The reality is that it is not yet clear to what degree employers and employees will want to return to offices.  

While productivity and even profits have not suffered in many businesses, there are good arguments for evolving to hybrid work processes for both cost savings and employee performance. But in the interim, governmental budgets based on property tax revenue are likely to suffer, leading to potential tax increases of other types. JL

Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report in the New York Times:

The average contract for office space runs seven years. As leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction - 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills. “We are going to be bleeding lower for the next three to four years to find out what the new level of tenant demand is.”