StubHub will pay out over $16 million in refunds to over 75,000 customers for events canceled at the start of the pandemic last year

  • 11 attorneys general were investigating StubHub after customers said they weren’t refunded for tickets that were canceled due to the pandemic.
  • The company said it had been “necessary” to adjust its written refund policy after scores of events were canceled last year.
  • Refunds total more than $16.7 million for customers in six states and Washington D.C.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

StubHub will pay at least $16.7 million to refund tickets purchased by thousands of customers who had events canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorneys general in 10 states and the District of Columbia had filed civil suits against StubHub, the largest global secondary ticketing marketplace, saying the company had refused to honor its own FanProtect Guarantee. The policy promises consumers full refunds of the purchase price and fees customers paid for tickets if their events were canceled.

According to the civil suits, instead of issuing refunds to its customers after thousands of concerts, sporting events, and other events were canceled amid coronavirus lockdowns last year, StubHub decided to give credits equal to 120% of their purchases to be used for future events.

In a settlement announced Wednesday, StubHub has agreed to honor the FanProtect Guarantee, as well as disclose any future modification to its refund policies and promptly process refund requests it receives from consumers for events going forward.

StubHub notified its customers in May that it was reversing course for those who purchased tickets prior to March 25, 2020, and would issue full refunds of the amount paid. Customers also had the option to receive the refund in account credits.

“Adjusting our refund policy for canceled events during the pandemic was a difficult decision, but a necessary one at the time,” StubHub said in a statement. “As soon as circumstances allowed, StubHub achieved its goal of providing impacted customers the choice to keep the 120% credit they were issued when their event was canceled or receive a cash refund.”

Last year, as events were canceled, StubHub furloughed two-thirds of its North American workforce, leaving few full-time employees still working at the secondary ticket marketplace, Insider previously reported.

The states and territories involved in the settlement with the District of Columbia are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Refunds among customers in Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are estimated at over $16.7 million, according to the states. StubHub did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the total amount refunded to all customers living in the areas impacted by the settlement.

“Hoosiers have suffered enough from the pandemic without having to pay admission to events canceled due to circumstances quite outside their control,” Indiana Attorney General Rokita said in a statement. “They have every right to expect these refunds, and we will always work diligently to protect consumers.”

Last year, two lawmakers blasted Ticketmaster for appearing to drag its feet on refunds of events canceled because of the pandemic. The Live Nation subsidiary announced it would issue refunds for postponed events as well as those that are canceled.

Read the original article on Business Insider

CVS limits the number of COVID rapid tests a customer can buy as cases of the Delta variant spike

The Ellume COVID 19 Home Test
  • CVS is running out of at-home COVID-19 tests due to an increase in demand.
  • Customers are limited to buying four tests in-store and six online at a time.
  • The Delta variant continues to surge as many Americans return to the office or go back to school this fall.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

CVS is limiting the number of at-home coronavirus tests customers can buy amid surges of the Delta variant across the US.

Originally having been able to purchase an unlimited number of tests, customers are now only allowed to purchase a maximum of six at a time from the CVS website or four at a time while shopping in-store, according to an email sent Friday from a CVS spokesperson. The tests are still available without a prescription.

The purchasing restraint is caused by manufacturing delays from suppliers of the tests. The limited tests include the Abbott BinaxNOW and Ellume at-home tests, the CVS spokesperson told Insider.

The delays are caused in part by fewer workers and slower production lines, a spokesperson from Abbott Laboratories told The Wall Street Journal. Ellume is experiencing similar issues, telling Bloomberg they are “scaling production and working with retailers to ensure consumer access to its tests.”

Both Abbott Laboratories and Ellume did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

CVS cites “high demand” as a reason for the shortage of the tests. Demands for testing have grown as people return to school or the office this fall.

“We’re continuing to work with our suppliers to meet customer demand,” a CVS spokesperson said.

As coronavirus continues to spread, at-home testing is a popular option for those looking for quick results. The Delta variant is now responsible for most of the cases in the US and spreads faster and more easily than the earlier-detected versions of the coronavirus.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden administration weighing a vaccine mandate for all federal employees

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden revealed on Tuesday that the federal government is weighing whether to implement a vaccine mandate for the entire federal workforce as the US grapples with a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The move would follow recent decisions to require vaccines for state workers in California by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a similar plan for city workers announced by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and on for the US Department of Veterans Affairs – with private businesses around the US following suit.

“That’s under consideration right now,” Biden said, answering a reporter’s question.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Vrbo is a popular vacation rental site with entire homes listed around the world – here’s what to know before you book

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Family grilling outdoors
  • Vrbo is a vacation rental platform where homeowners list their homes directly, similar to Airbnb.
  • Only entire homes are listed on Vrbo, so you’ll never have to share with the host or other guests.
  • We break down everything to know about Vrbo, from pricing and fees to how it differs from Airbnb.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Although it’s commonly pronounced as “verb-oh”, Vrbo is actually an acronym that stands for “vacation rentals by owner,” which tells you a lot about the rental site right off the bat.

These days, travelers are pretty accustomed to direct communication with hosts thanks to the rise of online booking platforms like Airbnb, but when Vrbo first launched in 1995, it was a relatively new concept that helped homeowners bypass the cost of a management company. Today, the site boasts over two million private homes in over 190 countries.

While HomeAway and Vbro used to be separately branded sites that shared the same listings and were both run by Expedia Group, as of a year ago, HomeAway has been entirely folded into Vrbo.

For those more familiar with Airbnb, Vrbo has many similarities, but there are a few key differences when it comes down to the booking experience, service fees, and COVID-19 protocols.

The main distinction between the two websites is that homeowners on Vrbo only rent out the whole property, which means you won’t find anyone else sharing the space with you. This is unlike Airbnb where you may also book a room in a shared house. There are a few other factors that set Vrbo apart and we break down exactly how the rental platform works below.

How booking on Vrbo works

The booking experience of Vrbo is very similar to what you’d find on Airbnb and other booking platforms. You may filter by the number of bedrooms, property type, house rules, and amenities.

But, it gets a little finicky when it comes to pricing. Prices won’t populate on the page unless you specifically filter by price, and unlike Airbnb, you won’t know the total price of your stay until you click through to the main listing page where you can then see a breakdown of the total price and fees.

Each property is given an overall rating out of five stars and you’ll be able to read reviews at the bottom of the page. If you like a place but aren’t ready to commit, you can save it to a “Trip Board” and come back to it later.

Once you book and the homeowner accepts your booking, you’ll be able to communicate directly with them about the property’s details and check-in process.

Vrbo also offers a Book With Confidence Guarantee, which provides every traveler with payment protection against fraudulent listings and access to a team of re-booking specialists. If the owner cancels at the last minute or you can’t get into the house for some reason, the re-booking specialist can help you find somewhere else to stay. Bear in mind that this is not trip insurance and if you decide to cancel your trip on your own accord, you won’t be refunded unless you purchase additional trip insurance.

Vrbo cabin rental in Gatlinburg TN

How is Vrbo different from Airbnb?

In many ways, the experience of sorting through properties on Vrbo is exactly like Airbnb. The main distinction between the two platforms is that Vrbo is strictly for entire home rentals and you will always have the entire home to yourself. Airbnb, on the other hand, tends to emphasize hospitality and market the value of a good host, while Vrbo is strictly about the property.

In fact, hosts and travelers do not have their own profile pages like they do on Airbnb. This means you can’t click through to a reviewer’s profile to see whether or not they leave overly negative or positive reviews, nor can you click through to a host’s profile to see the other properties they have and read the reviews on those.

However, Vrbo does have its own version of Airbnb’s Superhosts, which they call Premier Partners. These are owners with a low rate of cancellations and an average guest rating above 4.5.

However, even these qualifications are not quite as strict as Airbnb where Superhosts must average a 4.8 rating to earn Superhost status. Additionally, it’s more difficult to compare prices on Vrbo than on Airbnb. For many Vrbo listings, you must click through to the final listing page to see the full breakdown of costs, while Airbnb is more upfront about this information on its listings.

Read a full breakdown of the differences between Vrbo and Airbnb here.

What is pricing on Vrbo like?

The pricing is very reasonable on Vrbo when you compare similar properties in the same area across rental sites.

In some cities, you can find apartments for as little as $78 per night, like this designer bunaglow in Austin, Texas or you might splurge on a unique property like a home built by a famous architect or a actual castle.

Nightly rates will vary depending on where you’re searching and the time of year, but prices are rarely lower than $50 per night or higher than $500 per night, unless it is an exceptionally large or unique home, or located in a coveted area in peak season.

A good way to judge whether or not the rate is competitive for the area is to compare the rate to nearby hotels. For example, in New York City, even shoebox-sized hotel rooms typically start at $100 per night, but on Vrbo, you can find some apartments for less than that in all five boroughs.

Generally, the nightly cost for standard-quality listings is competitive with other listing sites like Airbnb and often cheaper than hotels. However, keep in mind that like Airbnb, the base listed price on Vbro doesn’t include fees. Those fees can add up, so be sure to take that into consideration when browsing listings with a budget in mind.

Vrbo Luxury Castle rental in Arlington WA

How much is the service fee on Vrbo and what does it cover?

When you’re comparing properties in the list view, you’ll only see the cost per night. But when you click through the listing, Vrbo will show you the total cost of your trip based on the dates plugged in and the applicable fee and taxes.

Beneath the price, you may click “View details” to see how this total cost is broken down. Owners can charge varying fees for cleaning, taxes, and even pets, but the service fee will be applied by Vrbo for every booking. The owner has no control over how much the fee is and does not have the power to waive it.

According to the Vrbo, the service fee goes towards providing “a safer and more secure booking experience coupled with 24/7 customer support throughout your trip.” The fee is based on a sliding scale, although it is unclear how exactly they are calculated.

On some listings, it can be as low as 5% of the total rental amount, and on others, it may be as high as 12%. There’s no way to avoid paying the fee on Vrbo, but if you really fall in love with a place, you may be able to find it for a lower price on another booking platform. However, you won’t get the benefit of Vrbo’s Book With Confidence Guarantee.

Is Vrbo safe to book right now?

Vrbo does not have any mandatory cleaning procedures for hosts. However, they have released guidelines for homeowners that encourage:

  • Having a proactive plan to manage and minimize risks.
  • Implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting between stays.
  • Providing sufficient hand sanitizer and soap for guests, as well as cleaning and disinfecting products.

Among listing resources to health authorities and outlining the proper way to clean the property, the information is pretty thorough – but they’re just guidelines. While Vrbo encourages its owners to communicate their cleaning measures in the listing itself and with their guests, there’s not much they can do to enforce or guarantee that the guidelines will be followed by hosts.

You might compare this approach to Airbnb’s Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, which is requiring all hosts to follow a five-step cleaning process developed in partnership with health and hospitality experts.

With Vrbo it’s up to the travelers to look into each listing’s sanitation measures before they book. You can also looks specifically for listings recent users have rated highly for cleanliness by sorting for “Highly rated for cleanliness” under the “More filters” section.

Neither booking platform can guarantee safety, but Vrbo’s guidelines do mean that you must have good communication with the homeowner to properly ensure that the property will be clean and safe for your arrival. If the host does not outline their cleaning regimen in the description of the home, try to contact them directly before you pull the trigger and book.

What is Vrbo’s cancellation policy?

Much like with Vrbos cleaning policies, you’ll need to check individual listings’ cancellation policies, which include the following options according to Vrbo:

  • No Refund – This is the strictest policy and means no refund is offered at all for any reason.
  • Strict – Bookings must be canceled at least 60 days before the start of the stay to receive a full refund.
  • Firm – Bookings canceled 60 days or more before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled between 60 days and 30 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.
  • Moderate (recommended) – Bookings canceled 30 days or more before the start of the stay receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 14 days before receive a 50% refund.
  • Relaxed – Bookings canceled 14 days or more before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 7 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.

You can compare this to the Airbnb cancellation policy here.

Are vacation rentals safe right now?

The CDC recently announced that fully vaccinated people can safely travel in the US.

Experts also consider private vacation homes, such as those on Vrbo, one of the safer lodging options, especially when compared to hotels. This is because you are booking an entire home protected from interaction with others.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Trump demands China pay $10 trillion of ‘reparations’ to US for damage caused by COVID-19

Trump speech
Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the NCGOP state convention on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina

  • Trump demanded that China pay $10 trillion in “reparations” to the US during a speech on Saturday night.
  • The former president urged countries that owe money to China to cancel their debts as “down payment” on reparations.
  • He said that he blames China for the damage caused by COVID-19, and cited the lab-leak theory.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Donald Trump has demanded that China pay “reparations” to the US for the damage caused by COVID-19, the Independent reported.

During his first public address in three months, Trump argued that China should have to pay up to $10 trillion to the US.

He also suggested that any country that owes money to China should cancel their debts as a “down payment” on reparations and that the US should put 100 percent tariffs on incoming Chinese goods, the Independent said.

“We demand reparations from the Communist Party of China. China must pay. They must pay,” the former president said during the speech.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Documents reveal how Trump is spending taxpayer money on his postpresidential offices – from printer toner to Stephen Miller’s salary

Trump once again expressed his belief that the coronavirus was created in a Chinese laboratory. “We had this horrible thing come in from China, we got that one right too, by the way, do you notice, you see what’s going on, it’s called the lab, that was an easy one, Wuhan,” he said.

As early as April 2020, Trump claimed that he had evidence showing that COVID-19 had originated from a lab in Wuhan. It was initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

At the time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out a statement saying that the US intelligence community agreed with the “wide scientific consensus” that the coronavirus was not “manmade or genetically modified,” Insider’s Sonam Sheth reported.

In recent weeks, however, the lab-leak theory has gained traction, Insider’s Tom Porter wrote in late May.

British spies have said that the thesis that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in China is “plausible,” The Sunday Times reported.

And President Joe Biden has asked the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to determine the origins of the novel coronavirus and to search for an answer as to whether the Chinese government covered up a leak, Insider’s Erin Snodgrass said.

The idea that the coronavirus leaked from a lab hasn’t been totally ruled out, though a WHO report said it was unlikely, Insider’s Aylin Woodward reported.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women varies by race and ethnicity, according to a new analysis

waitress New York coronavirus
  • From employment to food sufficiency, the pandemic has had devastating effects on women.
  • 59.3% of Latinas lost income since March 2020 compared to 41.3% non-Hispanic white women, NWLC wrote.
  • Latina and Black women also reported higher shares of food Insufficiency than white women did.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Black and Latina women have been particularly hard-hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, experiencing higher rates of income loss, food insecurity and struggles to pay bills on time, a new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center finds.

The Census Bureau has been running a Household Pulse Survey since April 2020 to get a sense of the pandemic’s effects on Americans. Now in its third phase, the survey includes questions related to employment, income loss, food sufficiency, and household spending, among other topics.

The nonprofit organization National Women’s Law Center took a closer look at the survey results from March 3, 2021 to March 15, 2021 to see how some of these findings compare for women of different racial backgrounds and ethnicities.

“Due to already high rates of pre-pandemic economic insecurity and lost earnings due to racial and gender wage gaps, women entered the COVID-19 crisis with little or no financial cushion,” NWLC wrote in a recent fact sheet.

Based on several metrics from the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, NWLC found that the pandemic has been particularly devastating for non-Hispanic Black women and Latina women compared to non-Hispanic white women as well as non-Hispanic white men.

For instance, one in five non-Hispanic Black women and Latina women during the data collection period “reported experiencing food insufficiency in the previous seven days.” Only 4.0% of non-Hispanic Asian women and 6.9% of non-Hispanic white women reported this. Feeding America wrote that racial disparities in food insufficiency have continued during the pandemic. Feeding America also estimates that 45 million people experienced food insecurity in 2020 and predicts an estimate of 42 million people for 2021.

Additionally, 59.3% of Latina women reported a loss of household income since March 2020 compared to 41.3% non-Hispanic white women. Additionally, 52.7% of non-Hispanic Black women reported this. The share of non-Hispanic Asian women who reported this was similar to that of non-Hispanic white women, at 41.5%. A larger share of Asian women, 4.7 percentage points higher, however expected a loss of household income in the next four weeks from the data collection period compared to white women.

“Millions of women were already supporting themselves and their families on meager wages before coronavirus-mitigation lockdowns sent unemployment rates skyrocketing and millions of jobs disappeared,” Brookings wrote in October 2020 about the pandemic’s effect on women.

The pandemic has not only affected employment and earnings for some women but also the ability to pay for household bills on time. Latina, Black, and Asian women all had a higher share of respondents saying they were behind on rent or mortgage payments compared to the share of respondents for either white men or white women. The share of non-Hispanic white women who reported being behind on mortgage payments was similar to that of non-Hispanic white men at 8.1% and 8.0% respectively.

Research from University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame also shows that the poverty rate reached its highest rate so far during the pandemic in March, from 10.3% in March 2020 to 11.7% in March 2021. The authors of this report note that women were one of the groups that “experienced the sharpest rise in poverty” in March, underlying the pandemic’s negative impact on women.

Women did see another month of employment gain in March. There were 315,000 jobs added for women in March after a blowout employment report of 916,000 jobs gained. The unemployment rate for women also has dropped from pandemic highs to 5.9% in March. This rate is still higher than February 2020’s rate of 3.4%.

“At this point we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go,” Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC’s director of research, previously told Insider.

NWLC found that it would take 15 months for women to reach pre-pandemic levels of employment based on March employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

C. Nicole Mason, the president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, previously told Insider that getting the coronavirus under control and reopening schools for in-person learning would benefit women getting back into the labor force as some women have had to take on more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Which is safer: Airbnb or hotels during COVID-19? Here’s what doctors and the CDC say.

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Travel Generic Graphics Hotel Key 4x3

  • Summer travel is poised to make a big comeback in 2021.
  • Both Airbnbs and hotels are open and welcoming travelers with stringent new cleaning protocols.
  • So which is safer: Airbnb vs. hotels? We asked doctors about the lodging they’d book themselves.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Travel is shaping up to have a major comeback this summer as more Americans become vaccinated, and in response to new CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated individuals can now safely travel in the US.

As a result, many will likely book that long-postponed family vacation, romantic getaway, or bucket list trip. Of course, the novel coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and safety in travel will still be top of mind.

Fortunately, when it comes to safe lodging, travelers have many choices, and all of them are actively courting business with sweeping new policies and protocols.

Many large hotel chains have announced big changes to cleaning policies, and Airbnb requires that all hosts and guests commit to their Enhanced Clean program, which includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and abiding by a five-step enhanced cleaning process.

However, there is still an element of risk. After all, travelers who preferred hotels for on-demand housekeeping, room service, and impressive on-site amenities may now view those same person-to-person interactions as liabilities. Similarly, in an Airbnb, everything from bedsheets to a fork was previously used by another person.

To help determine the safest lodging for travelers during COVID-19, we spoke with doctors, whose conclusions represented a consensus.

Are hotels and Airbnb safe during COVID-19 in 2021?

When making arrangements for overnight lodging – as with any other decision you make when leaving your house during the pandemic – consider that the most significant risk you can encounter is direct contact with other people.

And when you’re traveling, you’re likely to encounter not only other humans but those who come from backgrounds and locations unfamiliar to you.

“The first thing that potentially opens up risk is running into other people that you have no idea what their infectious status is,” explains Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. “We know now that there’s a lot of people who get the coronavirus who have no symptoms at all who could potentially transmit it. Therefore, you have to assume that anyone you encounter that you don’t know could be potentially infectious.”

Are pools safe during COVID?

When it comes to pools, beach chairs, and other amenities found at Airbnbs and hotels, “other bodies are the main concern,” Dr. Russo says, as opposed to the water in the pool.

So, your safest leisure-time bet would be a chaise completely away from the crowd, a bike for a solo ride, or a swim in the chlorinated pool of a private Airbnb with no other guests present. To help with that, we rounded up some of the best Airbnbs in the US with private pools.

CNT Hotel Hot List 1HotelWestHollywood

Is it safe to eat in a restaurant?

In hotels, unless you have a suite with a kitchen, all dining will be done either in a restaurant or through takeout. Our experts said the safest option in a hotel would be no-contact room service or other delivery.

In an Airbnb, you can prepare your own food, which is both safer and cost-saving, although remember with this style of lodging you can expect an additional cleaning fee. Increased fees post-pandemic have been in the range of $250, and that’s just for cleaning, in addition to service fees and the like.

Again, no matter what lodging you pick, the main thing you’ll want to consider is the likelihood you’ll encounter other people and the number and length of such encounters. Plus, factor in the location, and if possible, avoid regions with high rates of infection.

“When booking any type of lodging, consider how many people you’ll be surrounded by, when was the last time someone stayed in that accommodation, and how is the state or city doing in regards to flattening the curve,” said Dr. Neil Brown, K Health‘s chief diagnosis officer.

What can I do to minimize the risk of COVID-19 while staying at a hotel or Airbnb?

Whether you choose an Airbnb or a hotel, be aware of high-touch areas that might facilitate virus transmission.

In both Airbnbs and hotels, these might include light switches, phones, TV remotes, doorknobs, sinks, bathroom faucets, and toilet handles. Additionally, look out for flat surfaces like bedside tables. “If someone was sick in the room and coughing, [those are among] flat surfaces it could settle onto,” Dr. Russo notes.

If you’re going to use kitchen items in Airbnbs, Dr. Russo suggests running them through the dishwasher just in case, an action that would neutralize the virus.

The virus is likely to settle out of the air quickly – about one to three hours under experimental conditions, and possibly much less in the real world – Dr. Russo notes. So that means the air quality is not likely to be a major concern in either a hotel room or an Airbnb if you are the only one in it. Nevertheless, you can mitigate your risk in both by insisting upon a margin of time passing since the last guest was in the space.

With Airbnb, look to book homes that have an Enhanced Cleaning badge, indicating they have committed to following Airbnb’s COVID-19 safety practices. This includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and, for hosts and their teams, abiding by a five-step enhanced cleaning process.

Disinfecting doorknob

Similarly, look for hotels with impressive new cleaning protocols and policies such as keeping rooms empty between guests, or specifically request a room that’s been vacant for a day or more.

Without explicitly stated buffers, hotels may indeed turn guest rooms around faster than Airbnb. But if you were to check into a room in which an infected person stayed right before you arrived, and the housekeeping crew did clean and sanitize everything according to guidelines, you would “probably” escape risk, Dr. Russo said, “but that’s not an ideal scenario.”

“I think it’s great that hotels are taking initiative and hiring these experts to help them implement better cleaning protocols,” he said. “But my biggest concern is the amount of traffic going through these hotels.”

Plus, there is the matter that stated policies ideally will be executed in good faith by every member of the hotel staff, and every Airbnb host or cleaner, in every instance. But that cannot be guaranteed by each individual arriving guest.

What do CDC guidelines say about hotels vs. Airbnbs?

According to the CDC’s current guidelines for lodging options, the lowest risk option is, of course, staying at home.

However, the guidelines list “staying in a house or cabin (for example, a vacation rental) with people from your household or fully vaccinated people” as “Safer.” However, it’s important to note that this is specifically for booking vacation rentals and Airbnbs only with people from your household.

Both hotels and vacation rentals that you share with people who are not vaccinated or are outside of your household are in the “Less Safe” category.

Bottom line, which is safer: hotels or Airbnbs?

The doctors we spoke with agreed that one lodging option is safer than the other as a general rule, because the main risk in coronavirus transmission is directly from person to person. And you are more likely to have person-to-person encounters in hotels compared with private Airbnbs. So the experts we spoke to agree with the CDC guidelines that the safer option is Airbnbs.

“While there is no question hotels are working diligently to keep their hotels clean and sanitized, Airbnb has a huge advantage given that the renter is generally the only one occupying the property,” said Dr. Brown. “With Airbnb’s new Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, the company provides a better option than public hotel spaces. Airbnb homes are more private, so there is a lesser chance of being exposed to the coronavirus.”

Dr. Brown does suggest confirming your listing meets Airbnb’s new cleaning protocol even though it is now a requirement for all hosts. “I would double-check to see if the host is participating in the policies,” he said.

Dr. Russo “absolutely agree[s]” that staying in a private Airbnb, especially one that allows no-contact check-in, such as through a lockbox, is the safer option now, given the probability of fewer person-to-person encounters.

Whatever lodging option you choose – if you choose to travel – both doctors recommend undertaking a serious consideration of the risks versus rewards.

Dr. Russo said he would stay in an Airbnb, and as for a hotel, said, “I think so.” But if he had the potential to encounter anybody in person at any point in his travels, he’d definitely wear a mask and would weigh the importance of the trip to his quality of life before deciding to undertake it.

“If it’s a trip that is important and necessary, I feel relatively safe using the proper protective measures like wearing a mask, distancing, disinfecting, and hand hygiene,” he said, noting that individuals will have to weigh their own individual risk tolerance, risk factors, and risk-reward potential.

Dr. Brown voiced a somewhat more conservative view. “Personally, I would do my best to avoid traveling altogether, but if it is necessary, I would feel more comfortable staying at an Airbnb after doing my own disinfecting upon arrival,” he said. “At the end of the day, the only people we can trust to protect us are ourselves. So if there is no need to travel at the moment, I would recommend everyone to continue staying home.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

A Baltimore man has the coronavirus variant found in South Africa – the 3rd confirmed US case. He ‘likely’ caught it locally, the state governor said.

Larry Hogan
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

  • Maryland officials said a Baltimore man caught the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa.
  • The man had not traveled abroad and likely caught the variant locally, said Maryland’s governor.
  • The mutant variant is more contagious, but not thought to be more deadly. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US has identified its third case of the more contagious coronavirus variant found in South Africa – this time in a man from Maryland.

The man, from the Baltimore region, had not traveled outside the country, Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement, which means it’s “likely” he caught it in the community.

This is the third case of the variant found in the US: South Carolina state officials announced Thursday the first two confirmed cases of the variant in the country. Neither person had travelled outside the US, and the two cases were not connected, state health officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant, named B.1.351, can “spread more easily and quickly,” but there is no evidence it is more deadly. The variant has a mutation on its spike protein, which is what the coronavirus uses to invade human cells.

Read more: Coronavirus variants threaten to upend pandemic progress. Here’s how 4 top vaccine makers are fighting back.

Hogan said Maryland health officials were trying to identify and test the man’s contacts, as well as “closely monitoring the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state.” 

“We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”

The man did not need to go to hospital and is recovering at home, Maryland health department spokesman Charles Gischlar told The Washington Post.

Maryland has confirmed 352,726 cases of COVID-19. Nationwide, nearly 26 million cases have been confirmed, and the virus has killed more than 435,000 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Studies suggest vaccines are effective against the variant

The latest evidence suggests that vaccines work against the variant – albeit slightly less effectively than against the original virus. 

A study published Wednesday showed Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine worked against a lab-made coronavirus similar to the South Africa variant. Performance was slightly lower than against the original virus, but this was “unlikely to lead to a significant reduction” in effectiveness, the drug companies said. Moderna announced similar results of a study on Monday.

There is not yet sufficient data to say whether vaccines work against the variant outside of laboratory conditions.

Some studies have suggested the variant may be able to evade antibodies produced by the body. Both Pfizer and Moderna, who make the two vaccines authorized in the US, are developing new versions of their vaccines to counter the variant.

President Joe Biden has banned travelers from South Africa from entering the US.

The US has also reported cases of mutant variants found in Brazil and the UK. The variant first identified in the UK, B.1.1.7, is the most widespread of the three variants now confirmed in the US, and experts believe it has been circulating in the US for several weeks.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The next global pandemic may be caused by a bioterrorist attack, says Harvard tech expert

Factory worker with dangerous materials
The next global pandemic could be the result of a bioterrorist attack.

  • The next global pandemic could be caused by a bioterrorist attack, warned tech expert Vivek Wadhwa.
  • He’s worried about the accessibility of CRISPR gene editing, which allows genes to be cut and paste.
  • Although “the genie is out of the bottle,” an effective counter-response could prevent an attack.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The next global pandemic could be the result of a bioterrorist attack, a tech expert has warned.

Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering, said in an essay for Foreign Policy that this was largely due to advances in cheap and easily accessible methods of genetic engineering.

Conspiracy theories have often suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “bioweapon” manufactured in a Chinese lab.

However, Wadhwa, who is also a distinguished fellow of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, insisted that the pandemic was not created in a lab, citing a report by Nature Medicine.

“But if genetic engineering wasn’t behind this pandemic, it could very well unleash the next one,” Wadhwa said.

He believes the current pandemic should be treated as a “dress rehearsal of what is to come, including viruses deliberately engineered by humans.”

Advances in genetic engineering are a double-edged sword

The concerns of those in science and tech have slowly been becoming a reality, with Wadhwa pointing to the ease of access to gene editing kits in the US.

Mail-order do-it-yourself kits can be ordered by anyone, with a bacterial engineering kit costing as little as $169. Meanwhile, a human engineering kit comes in at $349.

One reviewer said they were a high-school student while another said they “didn’t know it could be this easy.”

This ease of accessibility is largely due to the advances of CRISPR gene editing, which enables scientists to cut and paste genes, with the possibility of curing or eradicating malaria or Huntingdon’s disease, but also of damaging species and ecosystems.

Wadhwa said CRISPR makes it “almost as easy to engineer life forms as it is to edit Microsoft Word documents.”

“There should have been international treaties to prevent the use of CRISPR for gene editing on humans or animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should have kept companies from selling DIY gene-editing kits,” Wadhwa added.

In April 2015, Chinese researchers genetically engineered human embryos, and this was followed by a failed attempt to genetically modify two babies to be HIV-resistant in 2018.

The scientist involved in the latter experiment, He Jiankui, was eventually sentenced to three years in prison.

There is still much research to be done on CRISPR, which has not yet been declared safe for use and has previously caused concern due to potential links with cancer.

Although this was largely dismissed as an “overreaction”, there is no clear consensus among scientists, with geneticist Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Center saying the effects of CRISPR had been “seriously underestimated.”

Gene editing DNA
CRISPR gene editing enables scientists to ‘cut and paste’ genetic information.

Could this lead to a pandemic created by bioterrorists?

From board games simulating a bioterrorist attack to a bipartisan report declaring the US to be “significantly underprepared” for bioterrorism, it seems a bioterrorism pandemic could well be in our future.

“The bad is just too terrible to think about,” said Wadha, who maintained “the only solution is to accelerate the good side of these technologies while building our defenses.”

Piers Millett, of the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, is more optimistic than Wadhwa.

Speaking to Future of Life, he said gene editing was not a significant step forward for biowarfare, and pinned the possibilities of bioterrorist attacks on “states” rather than lone actors.

He did, however, concede that the intentional creation of a harmful pathogen would be “amongst the most dangerous things on the planet.”

In 2018 the John Hopkins Center for Health Security ran a simulation exercise with US policymakers, testing their reactions and decisions in the face of a bioterrorist attack involving a highly contagious disease, according to Vox.

Vox reported that the results showed worldwide deaths in excess of 150 million and a 90% tumble for the Dow Jones.

“It is now too late to stop the global spread of these technologies – the genie is out of the bottle,” Wadhwa said.

Their potential harmful impact will depend on how quickly a counter-response can be formed. If used for good, however, these technologies could be the answer to curing “all disease.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Restaurants are buying less food than before the pandemic as they struggle to stay afloat

indoor  dining nyc
A waiter delivers food to a table at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on October 1, 2020 in New York.

  • Spending levels at 40,000 restaurants nationwide dropped significantly last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Restaurants in some states, including Wyoming and Wisconsin, had spending levels similar to those before the pandemic.
  • Restaurant operators were spending more on carryout boxes and bags as the demand for takeout and delivery increased during COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Restaurants nationwide spent significantly less on food and other supplies last year as the coronavirus pandemic forced many eateries to temporarily shut down and host fewer in-store customers, new data shows. 

Around 40,000 restaurants nationwide spent 24.5% less on food and other items per quarter in 2020 than than they did prior to the pandemic, according to a report by Buyers Edge Platform, a digital procurement network for foodservice that tracked and analyzed restaurant purchases. 

Restaurants spent $2,700 each week purchasing food and products from their suppliers during the start of the pandemic last spring, down from $5,220 per week in the months prior.

Spending on food and supplies was at its lowest level during the week ending March 22, falling 67.5%, as stay-home orders were enacted and restaurants temporarily closed to in-person dining, leading to mass layoffs. By the end of 2020, there had been a rebound, with restaurants spending $4,531 per week on food orders and other items.

Spending levels had dropped to around 30% by the start of 2021, as COVID-19 cases surged across the country. 

“The real challenge for operators was the uncertainty of managing labor and operating expenses,” said John Davie, CEO of Buyers Edge Platform in the report. 

Read More: 85% of independent restaurants may go out of business by the end of 2020, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition

The report also analyzed the purchasing habits of 5,000 restaurants in ten states experiencing the highest drops in spending levels, including independent restaurants and large chains.

Buyers Edge Platform said the steepest declines were in Nevada and Hawaii, two states whose economies heavily rely on hospitality. Average weekly food orders during the pandemic dropped 65.1% in Nevada and around 59% in Hawaii.

Order levels also fell in Washington by around 41%, Vermont by 40.1%, Connecticut by 35.8%, and Colorado by 33.8%, Arizona by 32.5%, Illinois by 31.8%, New Hampshire by around 31%, and Alaska by 30.3%. 

Read More: New Trump rule could cost waiters more than $700 million in lost wages by allowing employers to take more of their tips to pay other workers

Restaurants’ spending levels dropped due to the in-door dining restrictions and job losses across the foodservice industry during the pandemic, according to the digital procurement network. Chain restaurants combined have permanently closed more than 1,500 locations since the pandemic began.

Buyers Edge Platform said that the numbers slowly improved and orders were slightly exceeding pre-pandemic levels as dining restrictions loosened last year, but those levels dropped again as restrictions went back into place.

Read More: These 38 retailers and restaurant companies have filed for bankruptcy or liquidation in 2020

Restaurants in Wisconsin, Wyoming, and South Carolina ordered more food, however. The average weekly restaurant orders during the pandemic were 1.8% higher in Wisconsin, 4.2% in Wyoming, and 7% higher in South Carolina compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Restaurants were stranded with a stock of food in their refrigerators in March that they were unable to profit from as bills piled up, according to Davie. Some restaurants kept their staff on payroll for longer than they needed because owners found it difficult to navigate the Payroll Protection Program, part of a federal relief package for business owners.

Restaurant operators also changed their buying habits as they focused on obtaining certain products during the pandemic. Orders for frozen dessert products increased 145%, but orders for hotel products fell 69% and slumped 57% for fresh fish and frozen crab meat orders. Pen orders also declined by 67% as in-person dining that involved in-person check-signing decreased.

Read More: 12 restaurant chains have filed for bankruptcy in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic

The demand for carryout boxes and bags increased during the pandemic, according to the analysis, as consumers were heavily relying on takeout and food delivery. 

During the period between February and December of 2020, Restaurants’ orders of disposable bags soared 115%, while orders for disposable boxes increased 114% and disposable lid orders spiked 96%.

Additionally, orders for health and food safety products increased by 81% during the same period.

In December, a new rule was rolled out that allows restaurants to pull tips from their waitstaff to pay cooks and other employees. The 148-page regulation published by the Department of Labor is expanding on employers’ ability to pool tips and share them among employees who usually receive them.

Read the original article on Business Insider