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    Coronavirus update: Hopeful vaccine news, recognizing an important symptom

    Experts are having second thoughts on the pandemic’s economy impact

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

    Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,194,922 (7,156,562)

    Total U.S. deaths: 206,252 (205,268)

    Total global cases: 33,719,865 (33,431,133)

    Total global deaths: 1,009,349 (1,003,168)

    More positive vaccine news

    Two pharmaceutical firms, Moderna and Regeneron, are reporting encouraging news about their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine efforts.

    A study shows that Moderna’s vaccine candidate was about as effective in older adults as it was with young people. Researchers said the vaccine also showed minimal side effects.

    Regeneron reported that its COVID-19 antibody cocktail reduced levels of the virus in patients with the illness and eased symptoms in people who had milder forms of the virus. The company reportedly plans to step up efforts to win approval for the drug from regulators.

    Researchers say loss of smell should be an official symptom

    Symptoms of the coronavirus can vary widely, but researchers say one of them is nearly universal. They say four out of five people experiencing a recent loss of smell and/or taste tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

    Of those testing positive, 40 percent did not have cough or fever, according to a new study published in PLOS Medicine by researchers from University College London.

    The researchers say the findings are important for policymakers around the world because most countries do not currently recommend self-isolation and testing based on acute loss of smell/taste. This study suggests that an overreliance on cough and fever as the main symptoms of COVID-19 may be flawed and that loss of smell needs to be urgently recognized globally as a key symptom of virus.

    Maybe the economy isn’t so bad

    The initial reaction to the coronavirus pandemic in March, including a shutdown of the economy for weeks, produced a number of doomsday scenarios from economists. But it’s possible that those worries were overstated.

    The UCLA Anderson Forecast has gone from classifying the event as a “depression-like crisis” in June to this week revising its forecast to say the economy could have “a better than expected outcome.” But a lot depends on whether an effective vaccine is found.

    Meanwhile, layoffs continue to hammer the economy. The Walt Disney Company is laying off 28,000 theme park workers, and cuts continue to the oil and gas industry.

    The pandemic changed hiring practices

    The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop companies from hiring new talent, but it did change the way they went about it, according to a study by staffing firm Robert Half.

    A survey of more than 2,800 senior managers showed that prospective employees were mostly screened and interviewed remotely using video conferencing services like Zoom, taking the place of face-to-face meetings that were standard practice before the pandemic.

    "Despite an overall slowdown in business, companies continue to hire for critical roles during the pandemic," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. "In many cases, employers have adjusted their recruiting strategies to accommodate new, virtual work realities and are seeing immediate benefits, including faster and more successful hires."

    New York City workers slow to return to the office

    New York City is first in a lot of things, but not when it comes to employees returning to offices. The Wall Street Journal reports that many other cities are bouncing back at a faster rate.

    Real Estate brokers say a significant number of bankers have returned to the office. But they say offices housing lawyers, media outlets, publishers, and tech firms are mostly empty. 

    The Journal cites CBRE Group, a commercial real estate services firm, as saying only 10 percent of the city’s office workers had returned by Sept. 18. Nationally, nearly a quarter of American workers are back in the office.

    Around the nation

    • Illinois: Chicago has added four more states to its quarantine list. Travelers from Kentucky, Texas, Wyoming, and Nevada will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine before entering the state.

    • Iowa: Despite a rise in coronavirus cases, Iowa is loosening some mitigation regulations. Residents will no longer have to self-quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to someone with the virus

    • North Carolina: The outlook is uncertain for more than 1,000 bars in the state that have been closed since March. An order requiring them to shut their doors expires this week, but it’s not clear how many are still in business.

    Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,194,922 (7,156,56...
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    Walmart announces sales event to rival Amazon’s Prime Day

    The event will take place in mid-October

    Walmart has announced that it plans to offer its own online deals in October, the same month Amazon is holding its Prime Day sales event. 

    The retailer announced on Monday that it will hold a “Big Save” online sales event Oct. 11-15. During those days, Walmart says it will offer “Black Friday-like savings.” Price cuts will be applied to thousands of items in categories including electronics, toys, beauty items, and more. 

    Walmart said some orders over $35 will be eligible for free two-day shipping, and others may be eligible for free next-day delivery or in-store pickup. 

    Amazon confirmed on Sunday that it’s annual Prime Day event will take place on Oct. 13-14. The event is normally held in July, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced Amazon to postpone this year’s event.  

    Walmart’s rival sales event will kick off Sunday, October 11, at 7 p.m. EST and end Thursday October 15. Some of the deals the company says it will offer include: 

    • JVC 55" 4K HDR Roku Smart LED TV – $248 (was $399, $151 savings)

    • Super Mario Party video game for Nintendo Switch – $39.99 (was $59.88, $19.89 savings)

    • Roku Ultra LT Streaming Media Player – $69 (was $79, $10 savings) 

    • Pioneer Woman 6 Quart Instant Pot – $49 (was $99, $50 savings)

    • Tzumi Ion Robotic Vacuum – $99 (was $179.88, $79.89 savings) 

    • Best Choice Products 250-Piece Kids STEM 3D Magnetic Building Blocks Play Set (Marketplace Item) - $64.99 (was $114.99, $50 savings)

    • Hunter Women's Original Tall Rain Boots (Marketplace Item) – $59.99 (was $79.99, $20 savings)

    • Scoop Women’s Printed Maxi Shirt Dress – $39.99 (was $59, $19.01 savings) 

    Walmart has announced that it plans to offer its own online deals in October, the same month Amazon is holding its Prime Day sales event. The retailer...
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      Seattle approves law to ensure Uber, Lyft drivers make minimum wage

      Ride-hailing firms will be required to pay drivers in the city at least $16.39 per hour

      Under a new law approved by Seattle’s City Council, Uber and Lyft will be forced to pay their drivers a minimum wage of at least $0.56 per minute and $1.33 per mile driven when there’s a passenger in the vehicle. 

      The new law, which is set to go into effect in January, will help to ensure that drivers in Seattle earn the city’s minimum wage of $16.39. The minimum wage requirement assumes that drivers will spend about half their time waiting for ride requests or driving to pick up passengers. 

      “The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our systems of worker protections, leaving many frontline workers like gig workers without a safety net,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement.

      Seattle’s new law will also require Uber and Lyft to give all tips to drivers and not have those tips counted toward the minimum wage. Drivers must also be reimbursed for any gear they had to purchase for health and safety purposes, like masks and other protective equipment. 

      Uber, Lyft oppose the policy

      The new law was passed unanimously by city officials with a vote of 9-0. It was based on a similar law passed in New York in 2018, which implemented new pay rules and put a limit on the number of ride-hailing cars from services like Uber and Lyft that can be on city streets. 

      California has also pushed for better pay and protections for Uber and Lyft drivers by requiring the companies to classify their drivers as employees rather than gig workers. However, the ride-sharing companies have argued that such laws could actually lead to job losses and increased rates for consumers.  

      "The City's plan is deeply flawed and will actually destroy jobs for thousands of people -- as many as 4,000 drivers on Lyft alone -- and drive ride-share companies out of Seattle," Lyft said in a statement.

      In a letter to the Seattle City Council, Uber contended that the policy would have a negative impact on drivers. 

      "Uber may have to make changes in Seattle because of this new law, but the real harm here will not be to Uber," Uber said. "It is the drivers who cannot work and the community members unable to complete essential travel that stand to lose because of the ordinance."

      Under a new law approved by Seattle’s City Council, Uber and Lyft will be forced to pay their drivers a minimum wage of at least $0.56 per minute and $1.33...
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      Ventilation systems could increase consumers' exposure to COVID-19

      Experts worry about how this could affect infection rates during the upcoming winter months

      With outdoor gatherings beginning to dwindle down as the weather changes, experts are thinking about how greater numbers of indoor events will affect the spread of COVID-19

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge found that current ventilation systems could make exposure to the virus more likely. Though these systems are designed to create optimal temperatures, they also contribute to the spread of airborne particles that can carry infections. 

      “As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere and people start spending more time inside, understanding the role of ventilation is critical to estimating the risk of contracting the virus and helping slow its spread,” said researcher Paul Linden. 

      “While direct monitoring of droplets and aerosols in indoor spaces is difficult, we exhale carbon dioxide that can easily be measured and used as an indicator of the risk of infection. Small respiratory aerosols containing the virus are transported along with the carbon dioxide produced by breathing, and are carried around a room by ventilation flows. Insufficient ventilation can lead to high carbon dioxide concentration, which in turn could increase the risk of exposure to the virus.” 

      Tracking air flow

      To better understand how ventilation can affect consumers’ exposure to COVID-19, the researchers analyzed two primary factors: human exhalation and ventilation types. 

      “In order to model how coronavirus or similar viruses spread indoors, you need to know where people’s breath goes when they exhale and how that changes depending on ventilation,” Linden said. “Using these data, we can estimate the risk of catching the virus while indoors.” 

      The researchers assessed how actions like talking or laughing -- both with and without a mask -- can affect air quality. They learned that several variables come into play in indoor settings. For example, though laughing was found to emit the greatest number of potentially infectious particles, opening and closing doors, placement of vents, and increased movement in a space can also increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

      This is why it’s also important to think about ventilation. The researchers explained that displacement ventilation is one of the better alternatives in large indoor spaces, as this allows hot air -- like exhaled breath -- to be filtered out through the top of the room without the risk of other people breathing it in. Though this is ideal, every space is designed differently, and there’s no way to guarantee that ventilation systems will properly filter out airborne infections. 

      Masks are working

      While ventilation systems are out of consumers’ control, the study also found that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to protect against COVID-19. Regardless of any external factors, masks were found to protect consumers from both spreading or contracting any germs. 

      “One thing we could clearly see is that one of the ways that masks work is by stopping the breath’s momentum. While pretty much all masks will have a certain amount of leakage through the top and sides, it doesn’t matter that much, because slowing the momentum of any exhaled contaminants reduces the chance of any direct exchange of aerosols and droplets as the breath remains in the body’s thermal plume and is carried upwards towards the ceiling,” Linden said. 

      “Additionally, masks stop larger droplets, and a three-layered mask decreases the amount of those contaminants that are recirculated through the room by ventilation.” 

      With outdoor gatherings beginning to dwindle down as the weather changes, experts are thinking about how greater numbers of indoor events will affect the s...
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      Treasury Department closes CARES loans for seven major U.S. airlines

      The industry is at the eleventh hour and hoping for an extension of the loan program

      The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it has closed loans to seven major passenger airlines as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

      The seven carriers are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, and United Airlines. 

      Officials say it’s likely that the initial loan amounts the airlines applied for in its pool of $25 billion will be increased because some major airlines may opt to secure financing in the private market instead of through the Treasury Department. 

      “The payroll support and loan programs created by the CARES Act have saved a large number of aviation industry jobs, and kept workers employed and connected to their health care, during an unprecedented time,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin.  

      “We are pleased to conclude loans that will support this critical industry while ensuring appropriate taxpayer compensation. We call on Congress to extend the Payroll Support Program so we can continue to support aviation industry workers as our economy reopens and we continue on the path to recovery.”

      The eleventh hour

      A key element of the CARES loan package -- particularly for airlines -- is a commitment to maintain employee levels through the end of September. Now that the commitment is in its eleventh hour, both airlines and employees are waiting for word of a COVID-19 relief package extension.

      “This is no time for governments to walk away,” Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “The industry is grateful to those governments that have already provided support, but new job-saving measures are needed -- including financial measures that do not add to overstressed balance sheets.”

      The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it has closed loans to seven major passenger airlines as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Econom...
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      Disney to lay off 28,000 employees due to coronavirus impact

      The company called the decision to cut jobs ‘heartbreaking’

      Due to the impact of COVID-19, Disney has announced that it is making the “difficult” decision to lay off 28,000 employees. The lay-offs will mainly affect those working at the company’s U.S. theme parks, but the company will also lay off some employees working at its consumer products division. 

      Josh D’Amaro, head of parks at Disney, said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to months of theme park closures. The closures have led to billions of dollars in operating income loss during the second and third quarters. 

      While Disney’s Florida parks have reopened with new safety measures, Disneyland in California remains shut down. D’Amaro said California’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen has only made Disney’s problems worse. 

      "We have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our Parks, Experiences and Products segment at all levels," D'Amaro said in a statement. 

      Toll of the outbreak

      D’Amaro noted that the open parks are operating under limited visitor capacity. Unfortunately, there is still uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last. 

      “For the last several months, our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the company,” D’Amaro said in a memo to employees on Tuesday. “We’ve cut expenses, suspended capital projects, furloughed our cast members while still paying benefits, and modified our operations to run as efficiently as possible, however, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity.”

      In the memo, D’Amaro called the decision to lay off employees “heartbreaking” but said that it was the “only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business.”

      Disney’s parks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Paris aren’t affected by the announcement.

      Due to the impact of COVID-19, Disney has announced that it is making the “difficult” decision to lay off 28,000 employees. The lay-offs will mainly affect...
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      Consumer confidence took a surprising turn higher in September

      The Conference Board report shows consumers think September was better than August

      Consumers appear to be feeling a lot more confident heading into the fall months, despite an uncertain election season, spiking cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and the prospect of more businesses falling victim to the pandemic.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index for September leaped higher after falling in both July and August. The September index was 101.8 compared to 86.3 in August.

      "Consumer Confidence increased sharply in September, after back-to-back monthly declines, but remains below pre-pandemic levels," said Lynn Franco, senior director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "A more favorable view of current business and labor market conditions, coupled with renewed optimism about the short-term outlook, helped spur this month's rebound in confidence. 

      But where did that confidence come from? During the month, schools wrestled with the question of whether to return children to the classroom, creating more uncertainty for working parents.

      September’s headwinds

      Congress essentially gave up on efforts to reach agreement on a new round of pandemic relief measures after Democrats and Republicans found themselves trillions of dollars apart on how much to spend.  

      Throughout September, there were more than 800,000 Americans each week applying for unemployment benefits, suggesting the labor market wasn’t getting much better.

      Despite all that, consumers expressed greater optimism about their short-term financial prospects, which Franco says may help keep spending from slowing further in the months ahead.

      The report suggests that, from the average consumer’s perspective, September was a lot better than August. The percentage of consumers claiming business conditions are "good" increased from 16 percent to 18.3 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" decreased from 43.3 percent to 37.4 percent. 

      Brighter view of the job market

      Consumers even think the job market is getting better. The percentage saying jobs are "plentiful" increased from 21.4 percent to 22.9 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" decreased from 23.6 percent to 20.0 percent.

      Consumers are even more optimistic about the short-term future. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 29.8 percent to 37.1 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen decreased from 20.7 percent to 15.8 percent. 

      Consumers even expect the labor market will improve in the coming weeks. We’ll find out Friday if the labor market improved in September when the Labor Department releases the month’s employment report. The unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in August.

      Consumers appear to be feeling a lot more confident heading into the fall months, despite an uncertain election season, spiking cases of the coronavirus (C...
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      Ford recalls model year 2020 Mustangs with automatic transmissions

      The brake pedal bracket may fracture

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 38,005 model year 2020 Mustangs with automatic transmissions.

      The brake pedal bracket may fracture during sudden stopping, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the brake pedal bracket assembly free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin November 16, 2020.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S52.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 38,005 model year 2020 Mustangs with automatic transmissions. The brake pedal bracket may fracture during sudden stoppin...
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      Honda recalls Genuine Accessory Tonneau Covers

      The Tonneau Cover panel may detach from the vehicle

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling all Honda Genuine Accessory Tonneau Covers, part number 08Z07-T6Z-100F, sold for installation on 2017-2020 Ridgeline trucks.

      If the tonneau cover is not properly secured in the open or closed position, wind resistance may cause the cover to flip and buckle. If this occurs, the hinges between the center and rear panel may deform, possibly allowing the rear panel to separate from the vehicle.

      A separated panel may become a road hazard, posing the risk of crash or injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify all registered owners of 2017-2020 Honda Ridgelines, and dealers will install tethers onto any Honda Genuine Accessory Tonneau Cover to prevent panel separation and apply warning labels free of charge.

      In addition, an updated accessory user's information manual will be provided.

      The recall is expected to begin October 26, 2020.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is F8M.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling all Honda Genuine Accessory Tonneau Covers, part number 08Z07-T6Z-100F, sold for installation on 2017-2020 Ridgeline ...
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      Coronavirus update: 1 million deaths worldwide, response by most states was lacking early on

      Democrats are outlining another aid package

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,156,562 (7,122,754)

      Total U.S. deaths: 205,268 (204,825)

      Total global cases: 33,431,133 (33,173,176)

      Total global deaths: 1,003,168 (998,867)

      Global deaths top 1 million

      Just days after the U.S. recorded a total of 7 million cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the world’s death toll from the pandemic exceeded the 1 million mark, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University.

      The U.S., by far, has recorded the most coronavirus deaths of any nation, with more than 205,000. Brazil is next, with 142,000 deaths and India is third, with 96,318.

      Deaths have not risen as quickly as new cases of the virus in recent weeks because treatments have improved and doctors have learned more about the virus and how it attacks the body.

      States get poor marks in controlling the coronavirus

      A report by the National Safety Council says 39 states failed to take sufficient action early in the pandemic to protect citizens from COVID-19. Despite the fact that the virus killed more people than accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle crashes, and falls combined, the report uncovered what it calls “an inconsistent approach that has jeopardized safety.”

      Only 12 states received an “on-track” rating in the report, with New Mexico, New York, California, Rhode Island, and Washington leading the pack with the highest overall ratings. Ten states received an 'off-track' rating, with Mississippi and South Dakota receiving the lowest overall ratings. 

      "Many states have shown ingenuity and grit when it comes to protecting citizens, while others fell short," said Lorraine M. Martin, CEO of the National Safety Council. "This report is intended not as a condemnation but as a challenge to states to learn from each other and do better.”

      Democrats take the wraps off another relief package

      Democratic Congressional leaders have unveiled a $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package after approving a $3.5 trillion bill in May that was a non-starter with Republicans. Whether this goes anywhere is unclear.

      House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met today with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to outline the provisions of the bill, which would provide enhanced unemployment benefits and make direct payments to Americans.

      It may be a difficult sell. While the two parties are closer to an agreement, the Trump administration so far has only committed to spend $1.3 trillion.

      Saliva testing promoted as a defense

      Japanese researchers say they have demonstrated a quick and effective mass testing approach using saliva samples that can effectively detect people who have been infected with COVID-19 but are still not showing symptoms. Their findings were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

      "Rapid detection of asymptomatic infected individuals will be critical for preventing COVID-19 outbreaks within communities and hospitals," says Hokkaido University researcher Takanori Teshima, who led the study.

      The researchers say the speed with which the test yields results could help the world avoid a severe second wave of the virus over the winter months.

      Doctors report positive results with laser treatment

      Physicians in Massachusetts say a second COVID-19 patient has responded favorably to laser therapy. They describe what they call a “remarkable decrease” in inflammatory markers, IL-6 and Ferritin, and marked improvement in radiological findings after supportive treatment with Photobiomodulation Therapy (PBMT).

      "Not only did the chest X-ray dramatically clear, but important markers of inflammation, IL-6, and Ferritin, decreased after four days of treatment. Photobiomodulation Therapy is known to have anti-inflammatory effects but in this case, it effectively treated the patient's respiratory symptoms," said Dr. Scott Sigman.

      Sigman said he hopes other physicians with COVID-19 patients will consider PBMT as an adjunct treatment option.

      Around the nation

      • Connecticut: COVID-19 numbers are rising throughout the state again, causing officials to step up preventative measures. However, the rate of positive tests is barely over 1 percent, much lower than in most other states. Connecticut officials say they are receiving 1 million rapid-result tests from Washington.

      • Nevada: The Division of Industrial Relations conducted initial observations of 359 businesses during the week of Sept. 21 to 26, checking on compliance with the state’s coronavirus mitigation rules. It found 94 percent of restaurants were compliant, but only 84 percent of bars met the same standards.

      • Louisiana: Local officials in New Orleans are expressing outrage at a report showing that the state has only paid out $115,000 in rental assistance after receiving $5.6 million for that purpose. Officials say 40,000 people in the city have applied for assistance.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,156,562 (7,122,75...
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      Target announces Oct. 13-14 as dates for Target Deal Days

      Once again, the retailer will go head-to-head with Amazon’s Prime Day event

      Target has announced Oct. 13 and 14 will be the dates for its Target Deal Days, a pre-holiday sale on thousands of items that can be purchased online. If those dates sound a little familiar, they should. On Monday Amazon officially disclosed those dates for its annual Prime Day sales event, delayed from its normal time in July.

      No one should be that surprised that the two retailers chose the same days for their online sales events since the same thing happened last year. Target’s Deal Days debuted in July 2019, coinciding with Prime Day.

      For consumers, the overlap is convenient since shoppers can toggle back and forth between the two platforms comparing prices, availability, and delivery options. Amazon moved Prime Day back this year after a surge in business caused by the pandemic disrupted supply lines and delivery dates.

      ‘Holiday season unlike any other’

      In announcing its sales event, Target said it would feature nearly 1 million more deals than last year and offer Black Friday pricing throughout November.

      "This year, in a holiday season unlike any other, we know it's more important than ever for our guests to get great deals in a convenient and safe shopping environment," said Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Target. “We're letting guests know they don't need to wait or face the crowds to get the best deals, all with no membership fees required."

      Target is using the event to encourage shoppers to sign up for its Target Circle loyalty program, which it says provides access to the best deals. The company also says all the deals will be available both days of the event, giving customers more time to shop.

      With availability and delivery schedules being a potential issue this year, Target is urging shoppers to use the retailer’s contactless drive up and order pickup service. It also says an increased number of items will be available using same-day delivery with Shipt. 

      Target’s Price Match Guarantee is usually offered for a two-week period during the holiday shopping period. This year, the company says it will be in force from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. Shoppers can request a price adjustment for any item advertised as a "Black Friday deal" if it is offered for a lower price at Target or Target.com. 

      Target has announced Oct. 13 and 14 will be the dates for its Target Deal Days, a pre-holiday sale on thousands of items that can be purchased online. If t...
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      Retailers and consumers are both getting a head start on holiday shopping

      A survey shows that October will be a big month for holiday spending

      ConsumerAffairs can report that there was at least one Christmas tree display at a Lowe’s store in Richmond, Va. over the weekend, suggesting retailers are getting an early jump on the 2020 holiday shopping season before the Halloween displays have been put away.

      Analysts at RetailMeNot.com confirm that retailers are wasting no time in trying to attract consumers in what may be the most uncertain holiday shopping season since the financial crisis. But the shopping site predicts that consumers may spend as they normally would, just in different ways.

      Most of the people in the survey said they will probably do most of their shopping online this year, continuing a trend that began with the initial coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. An increased number of shoppers also said they will start shopping earlier than in years past in order to avoid delivery delays and retailers being out of stock.

      An overwhelming number of respondents -- 88 percent -- said they will not shop for traditional door-buster deals on Thanksgiving Day.

      Amazon’s decision to delay Prime Day until Oct. 13 and Target deciding to hold its sales event on the same days may be fortuitous for both the companies and for shoppers. The survey shows that 41 percent of consumers plan to start shopping in October, with some saying they hope to do nearly all of their shopping during that month.

      Little pullback in spending

      While many Americans have been thrown out of work by the pandemic, a surprising number of people in the survey -- 66 percent -- expect to spend the same amount of money, or more, on the holidays this year. In fact, some said it’s important this year to create a sense of normalcy and keep traditions alive.

      To help stretch holiday budgets, RetailMeNot’s shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll suggests taking advantage of sales and paying with a cash back rewards credit card, a way to save money while you’re spending it. 

      If you’re shopping online, she also likes the option of ordering for in-store or curbside pickup instead of having items shipped directly to your home. 

      "With more people shifting to shopping online, an important option to keep in mind is buying online and picking up in-store or curbside,” she said. “With curbside being a safe way for shoppers to handle their holiday shopping this year and staying out of stores, it also helps ensure timely delivery of gifts."

      As with any major purchase, it also pays to check out reviews on sites like ConsumerAffairs, to find out what other consumers have experienced.

      ConsumerAffairs can report that there was at least one Christmas tree display at a Lowe’s store in Richmond, Va. over the weekend, suggesting retailers are...
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      Disney+ launches new co-watching feature

      Participants can synchronize video viewings

      With the pandemic still keeping consumers at home, Disney+ has added a new co-watching feature to enable friends and family to watch movies together while in different places. 

      The streaming platform’s new GroupWatch feature was already in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic, but company officials said they sped up its timeline for deployment in light of the circumstances.  

      The new Disney+ feature will let people synchronize movie viewings, enabling friends and family to stay connected even while physically apart. The technology doesn’t require a browser extension and will work on any device. 

      Watching with other subscribers

      Jerrell Jimerson, chief product officer for Disney’s streaming services, said the co-watching feature was designed to be “super easy for consumers to use.” After selecting “GroupWatch” from the Details menu of a movie or show on Disney+, users can invite up to six other Disney+ subscribers to participate in the viewing. 

      Once the movie or show has started, participants can play, rewind or fast forward the video for the whole group and share emojis in response to what’s happening. Jimerson said that although the feature doesn’t have a chat option, other communication capabilities could soon be added.  

      “There are other opportunities to integrate communication capabilities, but we haven’t shared any timing on those things,” he told TechCrunch.

      The new co-watching feature was launched Tuesday. It works on the Disney+ website, smart TVs and connected devices, and on the Android and iPhone apps. 

      With the pandemic still keeping consumers at home, Disney+ has added a new co-watching feature to enable friends and family to watch movies together while...
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      Google’s acquisition of Fitbit appears likely to receive approval

      The company has made new promises regarding data use in order to appease regulators

      Google appears poised to obtain regulator approval for its acquisition of wearables maker Fitbit after promising not to personalize advertisements based on user data for the next decade. 

      Previously, the company pledged not to use Fitbit health data to aid its ad targeting for five years. Now, reports indicate that the tech giant has extended the data pledge in a bid to receive approval from the European Union.

      Google announced its intention to buy the Fitbit in November 2019. Citing sources familiar with the matter, Reuters reported on Tuesday that Google’s plan to buy the company for $2.1 billion looks set to be approved thanks to the company’s new concessions. 

      ‘About devices, not data’

      In August, the EU launched an investigation into the company’s proposed acquisition of the wearables maker in order to determine whether the deal might allow Google to exploit Fitbit's health and location datasets in order to get an edge over competitors. 

      Fitbit has health data on more than 28 million users. In July, Google assured regulators that the deal was “about devices, not data” and promised not to use Fitbit data if the deal was approved.

      “We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that safeguards consumers’ expectations that Fitbit device data won’t be used for advertising,” Google said in a statement at the time.

      In addition to promising not to use data for ad targeting purposes, Google also reportedly agreed this week to allow other devices to use Fitbit’s health data if a user consents. Additionally, the company said Fitbit devices will still work with competing services, like Map My Run and Strava.

      The EU has until the end of the year to make a formal decision on whether to approve the deal. 

      Google appears poised to obtain regulator approval for its acquisition of wearables maker Fitbit after promising not to personalize advertisements based on...
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