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Current Events in August 2020

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    IRS to send stimulus checks to 50,000 spouses that never received one

    Taxpayers left out by the mistake should receive their checks by mid-September

    There’s cause for celebration for some 50,000 Americans whose portion of the economic impact payments (EIP) -- aka the stimulus check -- was rerouted to pay their spouse's past-due child support. 

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says that the catch-up payments are scheduled to be issued sometime in early-to-mid-September. The checks will be mailed to any eligible spouse who submitted Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation when they submitted their 2019 (and, in some situations, their 2018) federal income tax return. The IRS said that it will automatically issue the portion of the EIP that was applied to the other spouse's debt.

    Didn’t file a Form 8379?

    The IRS says that there were some taxpayers who failed to file a Form 8379, and because of that, they did not receive their portion of the EIP. 

    “These individuals also do not need to take any action and do not need to submit a Form 8379,” the IRS said. The agency noted that it “does not yet have a timeframe but will automatically issue the portion of the EIP that was applied to the other spouse's debt at a later date.”

    Taxpayers who were affected by the mistake can keep tabs on where their check is in the IRS’ pipeline by using the agency’s Get My Payment tool. For more information, the IRS suggests reading the Receiving My Payment section of the Frequently Asked Questions in the Economic Payment Information Center on IRS.gov.

    There’s cause for celebration for some 50,000 Americans whose portion of the economic impact payments (EIP) -- aka the stimulus check -- was rerouted to pa...
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      Bed Bath & Beyond to lay off 2,800 workers as part of restructuring plan

      The action comes after the retailer closed 200 stores last month

      Bed Bath & Beyond is continuing its restructuring efforts by eliminating thousands of positions at corporate headquarters and across its retail businesses. 

      In a press release, the company announced that it was reducing its workforce by 2,800 roles, effective immediately. Company officials say the move will help it save up to $350 million over the next two-to-three years as it tries to reorganize and become more profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

      “Saying goodbye to colleagues and friends is incredibly difficult, but this component of our comprehensive restructuring program is critical to rebuild the foundation of our business, construct a modern, balanced and durable business model, and meet the structural shift in customer shopping and service preferences that we have seen accelerate as a result of COVID-19,” said Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton. 

      Trending towards success?

      Tritton goes on to say that reducing the company’s workforce will help simplify its operations and help it emerge as a stronger competitor when the pandemic is finally over. He points to “significant progress” that the company has already made in 2020 as a sign of good things to come. 

      “As we work to re-establish our authority in Home, Baby, Beauty and Wellness, we are encouraged by the strong customer response to new services such as BOPIS and Curbside Pickup, and the continued strength in our digital channels as we improve the curation of our product assortment, enhance the ease and convenience of the shopping experience, and make it easier to feel at home," he said.

      Despite Tritton’s rosy outlook, Bed Bath & Beyond’s recent actions show just how much the retailer has been struggling in the current retail landscape. Last month, the company closed 200 stores after sales plunged by 48 percent. At the time, Tritton told CNBC that company officials saw many stores that were “dragging us down.”

      Bed Bath & Beyond is continuing its restructuring efforts by eliminating thousands of positions at corporate headquarters and across its retail businesses....
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      CDC says people exposed to COVID-19 who show no symptoms may not need to be tested

      Experts are concerned about the shift in policy

      ​The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines to state that people without symptoms of the virus don’t need to be tested if they were in contact with someone known to have the virus. 

      Under its previous guidelines, the agency recommended that “all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection” be tested. The CDC said prompt testing would help quickly identify the virus in the event that the exposed individual was asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. 

      On Monday, the CDC changed its website to reflect a different recommendation for people exposed to the virus. 

      "If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one,” the agency’s website now says. 

      "Not everyone needs to be tested," the new guidelines state. "If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional."

      Experts say policy change ‘will kill’

      Infectious disease experts have expression confusion and concern over the policy change, which wasn’t explained by the CDC. Alison Galvani, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at Yale School of Medicine, said testing people without symptoms is crucial. 

      “Our work on the ‘silent’ spread underscored the importance of testing people who have been exposed to COVID-19 regardless of symptoms,” Galvani tweeted. “This change in policy will kill.”

      Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, told CNN that the new guidelines threaten to derail contact tracing efforts. 

      "I'm concerned that these recommendations suggest someone who has had substantial exposure to a person with Covid-19 now doesn't need to get tested," Wen said. "This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50% of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms. One wonders why these guidelines were changed -- is it to justify continued deficit of testing?"

      ​The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines to state that people without symptoms of the virus don’t...
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      McDonald’s to roll out two new menu items to bolster sales

      Spicy McNuggets and a new McFlurry will be available September 16 for a limited time

      In an effort to offset the drop in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, McDonald’s will soon introduce two new menu items. The fast-food chain has announced that it will add Spicy McNuggets and a Chips Ahoy McFlurry to its menu for a limited time starting September 16. 

      “This is the first time we’ve introduced a new flavor of our classic Chicken McNuggets in the U.S. since they came to menus in 1983,” said Vice President of Menu Innovation, Linda VanGosen in a statement. “As our customers have been asking for Spicy McNuggets for some time now, we couldn’t think of a better time to bring them to our menus. We can’t wait for McNuggets fans to get a taste of these new spicy options.”

      McDonald’s said the new Spicy McNuggets will be made with a tempura coating that includes cayenne and chili peppers. The nuggets will be complemented by a new “Mighty Hot Sauce,” which McDonald’s says will boast a “powerful blend of crushed red peppers and spicy chilis.”

      The Chips Ahoy McFlurry, meanwhile, will include crushed cookies and caramel swirls. 

      “This delicious treat features vanilla soft-serve, caramel topping and Chips Ahoy! cookie pieces blended throughout,” the company said in a statement. “The Chips Ahoy! McFlurry will be available in Snack and Regular sizes for a limited time at participating U.S. restaurants nationwide beginning September 16.” 

      COVID-19 safety measures

      To help customers feel safe, McDonald’s is highlighting its new COVID-19 related safety measures. The fast-food giant says it has worked with the Mayo Clinic to ensure proper sanitation protocols are followed in restaurants and at the drive-thru. 

      McDonald’s is also requiring staff and all customers who enter U.S. restaurants to wear a face covering.

      “While nearly 82% of our restaurants are in states or localities that require facial coverings for both crew and customers today, it’s important we protect the safety of all employees and customers,” the company said. “We cannot emphasize enough the importance of continuing to follow PPE procedures including proper mask use by crew.” 

      In an effort to offset the drop in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, McDonald’s will soon introduce two new menu items. The fast-food chain has announ...
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      Consumer confidence drops sharply in August

      Economic reality may have begun to set in for consumers this month

      Consumers’ attitudes about the economy took a sharp turn this month on the heels of declining confidence recorded in July.

      The Conference Board reports that its Consumer Confidence Index for August fell to 84.8 from 91.7 in July. Consumers appear to be most concerned about current conditions, with the Present Situation Index falling nearly 11 points to 84.2.

      The Expectations Index -- based on consumers' short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions -- also fell, but not by much; it dropped from 88.9 in July to 85.2 this month.

      "The Present Situation Index decreased sharply, with consumers stating that both business and employment conditions had deteriorated over the past month,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers' optimism about the short-term outlook, and their financial prospects, also declined and continues on a downward path.”

      Something else may be at work. The expiration of some benefits under the CARES Act -- particularly the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits -- likely weighed heavily on consumers’ economic concerns.

      Those benefits, plus the $1,200 direct payment to every adult in the second quarter, could have buoyed consumers’ confidence in the early months that they were going to navigate the financial turmoil caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

      Reality check

      The fact that Congress was unable to reach an agreement on extending some of the benefits before leaving on a month-long vacation may have served as a reality check for struggling small business owners and employees thrown out of work.

      Franco says the data presents a mixed picture. On one hand, consumers are still behaving as though things are under control. The latest survey suggests that could change in the weeks ahead.

      “Consumer spending has rebounded in recent months but increasing concerns amongst consumers about the economic outlook and their financial well-being will likely cause spending to cool in the months ahead," Franco said.

      Consumers are also expressing growing doubts about the job market. The percentage of consumers saying jobs are "plentiful" declined from 22.3 percent to 21.5 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" increased from 20.1 percent to 25.2 percent.

      Consumers’ attitudes about the economy took a sharp turn this month on the heels of declining confidence recorded in July.The Conference Board reports...
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      Kroger Delta Division recalls cheese dips

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Kroger Delta Division is recalling cheese dips sold in the stores' deli departments.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      A list of products, sold in plastic containers from May 15, 2020, to August 6, 2020 in West Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky (Murray, Paducah) and Missouri (Poplar Bluff) may be found here.

      What to do          

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to a store for a full refund or replacement.

      Consumers with questions may contact Kroger at (800) 576-4377.

      Kroger Delta Division is recalling cheese dips sold in the stores' deli departments. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. A list of prod...
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      6 household improvements for Baby Safety Month

      These items can help you keep your little one safe

      September isn't just the start of pumpkin spice season — it's also Baby Safety Month. Childproofing your home is essential if you have or expect a little bundle of joy (or maybe several!). It isn't easy to think of everything when making your home safe for babies and toddlers, so here is a selection of items to help.

      1. Safety straps for furniture

      You might be surprised by the number of accidents that kids can have because of furniture — TVs and dressers tipping are just a few of the most common mishaps. Make sure your furniture is secured with a product like these easy-to-use safety straps.

      • 10 pack
      • Earthquake resistant

      Buy on Amazon

      2. Cord safety wraps

      Window blinds are also dangerous to babies and toddlers — the blind cord is an extreme choking hazard. Use a cord wrap to keep them neatly organized and tucked out of reach of your child.

      • Contains 12 cord cleats and 24 screws
      • Mounts to window frame

      Buy on Amazon

      3. Toilet lock

      Another place that tiny hands love to explore is the toilet, which is not an ideal situation. Secure your toilet lid to prevent mishaps, injuries and drowning risks.

      • 30-day hassle-free guarantee
      • Eco-friendly

      Buy on Amazon

      4. Corner guards

      Sharp corners are everywhere! Protect your children’s heads and bodies by making sure your furniture's edges aren't risks and using corner guards to make your furniture safer.

      • 24-pack
      • 30-day guarantee

      Buy on Amazon

      5. Stove knob covers

      Toddlers love exploring the kitchen! Small children might see their parents switching a burner on or off and want to try it. Keep your stovetop safe by putting a baby-safe cover over the knobs to prevent little hands from turning on hot surfaces.

      • No tools need for installation
      • Temperature resistance up to 248 degrees

      Buy on Amazon

      6. A safe spot to play

      Letting a baby crawl around on the floor while adults are cooking or chatting can be dangerous. There may be small choking hazards on the floor, or they could wander into harm. Instead, let your baby bounce and play on this Jumperoo, which keeps your baby entertained and off the floor.

      • Seat spins 360 degrees
      • Removable, machine-washable seat pad

      Buy on Amazon

      Don't be intimidated by all of the potential hazards around the house for toddlers and babies. Get lower to the ground and analyze your home. Are there small accessories that are easy to grab? Or sharp corners that you wouldn't usually notice? Our list of baby safety products can help you find the products you need to babyproof your home. And if you're looking to take your baby out for some fresh air, check out our baby carrier and sling guide.

      Here are some great baby safety products you may not have crossed your mind....
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      Airlines say furloughs and layoffs are likely if more federal aid isn't received by October

      Thousands of competing airline workers may soon be out of a job

      If Congress can’t come through with an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program soon, tens of thousands of airline employees could see themselves without a job come October 1.

      The first flare went up on Tuesday at the headquarters of American Airlines when the company announced that it will cut 19,000 employees from its payroll when the federal aid that protected those jobs expires. 

      The 19,000 American employees include 17,500 flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics, plus 1,500 administration and management jobs. All told -- when combined with pink slips American handed out earlier and the 39,000 employees who opted for voluntary leave or early retirement -- American’s total workforce is about 41 percent smaller than the total workforce it had at the onset of the pandemic

      “We have come to you many times throughout the pandemic, often with sobering updates on a world none of us could have imagined,” wrote American Airlines CEO Doug Parker along with the company’s president, Robert Isom, in a note to its staff announcing the cuts. 

      Expect other airlines to follow suit

      American isn’t the only airline trying to keep itself afloat. On Monday, Delta Air Lines also announced that it will have to furlough 2,000 pilots if it can’t get some relief from its labor union.

      In June, United Airlines did its best to get ahead of the situation by coming to terms with the pilots union over early retirements and voluntary furloughs.

      Southwest -- which has enough money in the bank to survive the pandemic for at least two years -- said it doesn’t foresee cutting jobs in 2020 because a fourth of its workers have signed up for either a buyout package or voluntary leave. 

      Holding out for hope

      While the $25 billion in payroll support the CARES Act provided U.S. airlines evaporates on October 1, there’s some hope that there could be an extension of that support.

      A couple of weeks ago, 16 Republican senators wrote a letter urging Congress to consider a “clean extension” of the payroll support for airline employees who were included in the CARES package. There are reports that the rallying cry has also received support from some Democrats as well.

      If Congress can’t come through with an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program soon, tens of thousands of airline employees could see themselves witho...
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      Coronavirus update: Rushing a vaccine could be counterproductive, but AstraZeneca is ready to start producing its vaccine

      Doctors worry patients are putting off cancer screening

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 5,746,940 (5,709,839)

      Total U.S. deaths: 177,536 (176,901)

      Total global cases: 23,694,646 (23,472,067)

      Total global deaths: 814,354 (809,747)

      Fauci: Don’t rush a vaccine

      Nearly a dozen pharmaceutical companies are working at increased speed to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19), but one health expert is advising caution.

      Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), says giving emergency approval to a vaccine that has not been thoroughly tested in clinical trials is not a good idea. He said it could disrupt trials on other vaccines that might prove to be more effective.

      “The one thing that you would not want to see with a vaccine is getting an EUA (emergency use authorization) before you have a signal of efficacy,” Fauci told Reuters

      AstraZeneca ramps up vaccine production

      Drugmaker AstraZeneca’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine, AZD7442, is still in clinical trials, but the company is so confident in it that plans for production of large quantities of the vaccine have already begun. 

      Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants approval, the pharmaceutical giant says it will have the capacity to produce 3 billion doses for widespread distribution.

      The vaccine is currently in a Phase I clinical trial. Should AZD7442 prove to be tolerated and have a favorable safety profile in the trial, AstraZeneca said it will progress it into larger late-stage Phase II and Phase III trials to evaluate its efficacy as a potential preventative and treatment approach against COVID-19.

      COVID-19 appears to be altering cancer screening

      Doctors are increasingly worried about the ways COVID-19 has had a negative impact on treatment and screening for other diseases, particularly cancer. A team of international researchers has concluded that some important cancer screenings are being delayed.

      Among the negative impacts has been a 30 percent decrease in melanoma checks in Victoria, Australia. The researchers have also identified the suspension of clinical trial activities as another downside risk.

      “In light of physical distancing restrictions due to COVID-19, standard cancer procedures are being altered or delayed, including surveillance imaging; non-emergency surgical procedures; and clinical trials,” said health sociologist Alex Broom.

      EPA approves American Airlines’ new disinfectant

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted emergency authorization for American Airlines’ new disinfectant, used to sanitize its aircraft cabins to kill the coronavirus. 

      EPA Commissioner Andrew Wheeler said the product, called SurfaceWise2, can kill viruses and bacteria for up to seven days after being applied. However, it’s important to note that it does not combat airborne particles of the virus.

      The airline said it plans to eventually use the disinfectant on all its aircraft. Chief operating officer David Seymour says he hopes the extra step will go a long way in making consumers more comfortable with air travel.

      From now on, use a napkin

      In the age of the coronavirus, you’re not supposed to even touch your face, so it goes without saying that no one should be encouraged to lick their fingers. That’s the thinking at KFC, which has retired its famous slogan, “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good!”

      In a press release, the fast-food franchise admitted its slogan doesn’t feel quite right for the times. 

      “We find ourselves in a unique situation—having an iconic slogan that doesn’t quite fit in the current environment. While we are pausing the use of It’s Finger-Lickin’ Good, rest assured the food craved by so many people around the world isn’t changing one bit,” said Catherine Tan-Gillespie, global chief marketing officer at KFC.

      Around the nation

      • New Jersey: New Jersey remains in shutdown mode as a recent spike in coronavirus cases put off reopening plans. But Gov. Phil Murphy said this week that there may be light at the end of the tunnel. “The data is unquestionably good of late,” Murphy said, suggesting there could be news coming on gyms and indoor dining.

      • Georgia: Despite criticism of the state’s mitigation rules, the numbers appear to be moving in the right direction. State health officials report new cases declined by 11 percent between August 10 and 17. The seven-day average is down 30 percent.

      • Colorado: School has been in session for at least two weeks, but a number of districts have already canceled classes because of outbreaks of COVID-19. “I don’t want anybody to be surprised in our state when classes, and even schools, do need to be shut down,” said Gov. Jared Polis.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 5,746,940 (5,709,83...
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      California Assembly votes to ban flavored tobacco products

      The measure seeks to reduce rates of use among minors

      On Monday, a flavored tobacco product ban (SB 793) was unanimously approved by the California Assembly. 

      SB 793 will prohibit the retail sale of flavored tobacco products, flavored e-cigarettes, and flavored vaping products in the state. The legislation is part of a larger effort to curb rates of flavored tobacco use among children, to whom the products tend to appeal.

      Supporters of the legislation said it would help reduce rates of smoking and vaping among children and teenagers who use them specifically because they come in flavors like menthol, cotton candy, and gummy bears. 

      Health experts have raised concerns that the high rate of flavored tobacco use among minors threatens to derail progress in curbing overall smoking rates. 

      “These flavors are marketed to kids and people of color to ensure tobacco companies have a clientele on the hook for life,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

      Exemption for some products 

      During the legislative process, the bill was modified to include an exemption for some premium cigars. The bill defines “premium” as “any cigar that is handmade, is not mass produced by use of mechanization, has a wrapper that is made entirely from whole tobacco leaf, and has a wholesale price of no less than twelve dollars ($12). A premium cigar does not have a filter, tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece and is capped by hand.”

      “It’s the most deadly consumer product ever created,” Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) said during Monday’s floor debate. “In a perfect world, there would be no exemptions to this bill, but we all know we don’t live in a perfect world.”

      Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon) said exempting cigars, hookah products, and cannabis threatens to leave open a loophole that could put kids at risk. 

      “If we actually cared about the kids, we would deal with some of the other industries as well,” he said.

      The measure -- which is supported by the American Lung Association in California, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society -- now faces one more vote in the Senate before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. 

      On Monday, a flavored tobacco product ban (SB 793) was unanimously approved by the California Assembly. SB 793 will prohibit the retail sale of flavore...
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      EPA gives American Airlines approval for new long-lasting surface disinfectant

      The new tool doesn’t combat airborne particles, so proper cleaning and hygiene is still necessary

      The age-old axiom of “no good deed goes unpunished'' has come true for American Airlines. The company was able to get an emergency authorization from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a new antimicrobial product designed to protect against COVID-19 on aircraft surfaces. 

      The good news is that the product -- SurfaceWise2 -- has been proven to last up to seven days and is the longest-lasting surface protectant that has earned the EPA’s blessing. The bad news is that while it protects against transmission on surfaces like tray tables, the coronavirus is widely believed to spread predominantly through close contact between people.

      The emergency authorization is currently limited to the state of Texas, with the state permitting American Airlines airport facilities and planes to use the disinfectant at specific locations. 

      Personal hygiene still rules the day

      While the EPA stated that SurfaceWise2 may help “address the current national emergency” and “increase consumer confidence,” it also noted that the disinfectant is not a substitute for proper cleaning practices.

      “This product is not a replacement for routine cleaning and disinfection with products from EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. EPA recommends that facilities continue to follow the cleaning and disinfection recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the agency wrote.

      The agency went on to remind people that a sanitizer by itself is not the be-all and end-all for COVID-19.

      “Please note that according to the CDC, while ‘it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,’ the virus is thought to spread mainly through close contact between individuals.”

      Officials say that the approved emergency use is only good for a year. As new data emerges, it’s possible that the agency may alter the approval of the product’s emergency use.

      The age-old axiom of “no good deed goes unpunished'' has come true for American Airlines. The company was able to get an emergency authorization from the E...
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