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COVID-19 Updates: August 13

Aug. 14, 2020
Initial Unemployment Claims Drop Below 1 Million; Russia OK’s Vaccine Early; COVID-19 Spotlights Digital Transformation

On August 13, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing the advance figure for initial unemployment claims during the week of August 8 had dropped to 963,000. Unless the Bureau of Labor Statistics adjusts the number of claims, that would make last week the first week since March 26 that the number of new claims per week was below one million. Before 2020, the highest recorded number of claims in one week was 695,000, during the savings & loans crisis.

The receding number of weekly unemployment applications aligns well with other current events in COVID-19: The situation isn’t good, but it’s slowly getting better. Rates of new infections remain elevated, but, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, 3-day averages of the virus are trending down in many states, including, notably, former hotspots Arizona and Florida. In manufacturing, while manufacturing is still re-adding jobs lost during the pandemic, it’s doing so at a significantly decreased rate compared to last month.

Johns Hopkins currently reports 5,248,722 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States to date. Of resolved U.S. cases, 167,097 people have died of the virus, and 1.7 million have recovered from it.

Manufacturing Jobs and Steel Production Recovery Moving Slowly

The United States added 26,000 more manufacturing jobs in July, but the rate of new jobs gained relative to those added in June slowed dramatically. In fact, if it had not been for 15,000 new transportation equipment jobs added in the durable goods sector, the durable goods sector would’ve actually lost 24,300 jobs. Read the full story here.

It’s good, says Matthew McMullan, of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, that the U.S. added factory jobs in May through July. But the 750,000-job hole left by the initial impact of the pandemic is nowhere near being filled, he writes, and AAM President Scott Paul is troubled that factory layoffs not yet restored may become permanent losses instead of temporary layoffs. Read the full story here.

Capacity utilization rates at steel mills are also currently undergoing a slow recovery from a brutal blow. The American Iron and Steel Institute reported that production for the week of August 8 was 26.5% less than it was for the same period in 2019. Demand for steel products was crushed by closed auto plants and other major manufacturers. Many of those plants have come back online, but the metal manufacturers are still far behind where they were pre-shutdown. Read the full story here.

COVID-19 Spotlights Digital Transformation

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the urgency of digital transformation, writes Peter Fretty, IW technology editor, and put a wedge between companies successfully implementing new digital strategies and those that have not. The virus, Fretty writes, has created a new environment, a “new normal with remote capabilities and a host of other digital technologies quickly climbing the ladder of significance.” Read the full story here.

Russia Approves Vaccine Before Finishing Trials

Russia announced August 11 that it had approved a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. President Vladimir Putin announced the approval of the Ministry of Health, but critics and epidemiologists raised concerns that the relevant drug had not yet completed Phase 3 testing—intended to ensure long-term effectiveness and safety.

On August 13, Francis Collins of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said on a call with reporters that it would be highly unlikely for the U.S. to approve of a vaccine before November or December at the earliest.

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