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    Netflix raises its monthly subscription price again

    The company’s goal is to become part of the conversation for every video content lover

    It’s full steam ahead at Netflix. After adding 26 million new subscribers worldwide in the first half of the 2020 pandemic, its users are going to have to pony up another dollar or two per month starting soon. 

    On Thursday, the company raised the prices of its standard and premium plans to $13.99 (from $12.99) and $17.99 (from $15.99) per month, about the same jump in price it took in 2019.

    While that price increase might appear incidental, it could sure mean a lot to Netflix’s bottom line. Tacking on a dollar or two per month to its 73 million U.S. subscribers and an estimated 195 million worldwide is a healthy shot of black ink to the company’s bottom line. 

    The changes to expect

    The big change for Netflix is the monthly subscription price, but there a few other items that Netflix users should take note of:

    • When the price will go upSo as not to be surprised when the price increase comes, current Netflix subscribers will be notified 30 days before any rate change happens. They should be ready to see the updated prices on their bill sometime in the next two months, according to a comment Netflix made to CNBC.

    • Basic plan changes. The basic plan holds steady at $8.99 a month, the same price Netflix rolled out in 2019.

    • Free trials. Will there be more free trials? Those appear to be in limbo. While Netflix continues to offer free trials outside of the U.S., it recently closed the lid on the promotion in the U.S. and began emphasizing that it lets subscribers cancel anytime at no cost.

    • Streaming qualityWhile Netflix didn’t mention any changes in quality, ConsumerAffairs reminds Apple Mac users who want to use their computers to stream Netflix 4K (reportedly when Apple’s next system software, macOS Big Sur, is released) that Netflix will only stream in 4K to Macs that have a T2 security chip.

    Becoming part of the conversation

    As ConsumerAffairs read the transcript for its latest earnings call, our biggest takeaway was that Netflix wants to be fundamental in the viewer’s go-to streaming services. 

    Netflix’ co-founder, Wilmot Reed Hastings, said the company has come to realize there are no gimmicks or techniques, but that it’s really about member satisfaction. In his words, “If we please you on a Wednesday night, you're more likely to come back on a Thursday night.”

    “Primarily, what we're trying to do in our marketing is get people to talk about those things that they're watching and got to get it into the conversation … and to excite the fan base so that when they're talking about a movie, they're talking about a Netflix movie. And when they're talking about a TV show, they're talking about a Netflix TV show. And that's the thing that we're building toward every day,” added Theodore A. Sarandos, the company’s Co-CEO, Chief Content Officer & Director.

    It’s full steam ahead at Netflix. After adding 26 million new subscribers worldwide in the first half of the 2020 pandemic, its users are going to have to...
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    Walmart to remove guns and ammunition from display shelves

    The retailer cites concerns about potential civil unrest

    Walmart is removing guns and ammunition from its display shelves, citing concerns about potential civil unrest that could lead to the firearms being stolen.

    A Walmart spokesperson told media outlets that the move is not anything new, that the practice has been observed several times over the last few years. The items will still be available for purchase, however.

    "We have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers," the spokesman said.

    Several Walmart stores were damaged after George Floyd, an African American, died in May while being arrested in Minneapolis. Video of the incident went viral, resulting in criminal charges against the arresting officer and setting off widespread protests that turned violent in many cities.

    A week before the election

    Walmart’s move comes less than a week before a presidential election that has been marked by passion on both sides. Because of the overwhelming number of early ballots cast, due to concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19), results of a close election might not be known for days, increasing the possibility of rising civil tensions.

    Walmart, in recent years, has responded to public pressure and reduced some types of firearms and ammunition sold in its stores. But the company remains an outlet for sporting rifles and shotguns.

    In August, NSSF, the firearm industry trade association, updated its retail sales survey and estimated 5 million Americans purchased a firearm in the first seven months of 2020. Of that number, it estimated 40 percent of the sales went to consumers who had never purchased a gun.

    ‘Tectonic shift’

    Lawrence Keane, NSSF’s senior vice president, called it a “tectonic shift” in the marketplace -- something that promises to transform today’s gun-owning community.

    “These first-time buyers represent a group of people who, until now, were agnostic regarding firearm ownership,” Keane said. “That’s rapidly changing, and these Americans are taking hold of their God-given right to keep and bear arms and protect themselves and their loved ones.”

    NSSF tracks the background checks associated with the sale of a firearm based on the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS). NSSF-adjusted NICS checks for January through July 2020 is a record 12.1 million, which is up 71.7 percent from the 7.1 million NSSF-adjusted NICS January through July 2019. 

    Walmart is removing guns and ammunition from its display shelves, citing concerns about potential civil unrest that could lead to the firearms being stolen...
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      Coronavirus update: Another record number of new cases, hospitals under pressure

      Scammers may have looted a pandemic loan program for small businesses

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 8,955,035 (8,865,697)

      Total U.S. deaths: 228,808 (227,774)

      Total global cases: 44,192,450 (44,644,423)

      Total global deaths: 1,183,400 (1,176,101)

      U.S. records 90,000 cases in a day

      The wave is building. An analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. reported more than 90,000 additional cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in a 24-hour period yesterday. More than 30 states reported at least 1,000 new cases of the virus.

      Despite the one-day record number of cases, deaths from the virus are not keeping pace. A ConsumerAffairs analysis shows COVID-19 deaths are running at about the same rate as in September and below August’s total.

      Thursday’s record number of new cases comes as the U.S. is experiencing the fastest spread of the virus since the early days of the pandemic.

      Leaked report shows where hospitals are filling up

      The U.S. government collects health information from around the country to compile a list of hospitals where COVID-19 patients are rising fastest. NPR has published the list it says it gained through government sources.

      The network says the report dated Oct 27 lists the metro areas of Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Baltimore as places where hospital beds are over 80 percent full. It also lists specific hospitals reaching max capacity, including facilities in Tampa, Birmingham, and New York that are at over 95 percent ICU capacity.

      Health officials interviewed by NPR said making the information about hospitalizations public could help planners keep ahead of expected surges of coronavirus cases.

      Report: scammers stole billions from COVID-19 loan program

      The inspector general of the Small Business Administration (SBA) found scammers raked off billions in loans intended to help businesses stay open and keep employees on the payroll. The report found that more than $78 billion in aid approved for businesses under the agency's Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program may have gone toward potentially fraudulent or ineligible businesses.

      Of that amount, the report said $58 billion was paid in multiple loans to businesses that used the same IP addresses, email addresses, bank accounts, or the same physical addresses. The auditors found that around $13.4 billion went to accounts different from those listed on the original loan applications.

      SBA Management disagreed with the audit findings we report here,” the inspector general’s report noted. 

      Kroger adds rapid antibody testing at all pharmacy locations

      Kroger Health says it is launching rapid antibody testing across its family of pharmacies, a move that expands the company's existing portfolio of in-clinic and at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

      The tests will help inform patients if they have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. It could help fill some data gaps, identifying people who have had the coronavirus but who were never officially diagnosed.

      The tests, which are supplied by Whitmire Medical, are available to Kroger customers for $25 and typically provide results within 15 minutes. The test is only for people who believe they may have previously been infected with COVID-19 but are not currently experiencing symptoms.

      Going to the grocery may be riskier than you think

      A study published in the British medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found about 20 percent of grocery workers were infected with the coronavirus, even though most were asymptomatic. The authors conclude the workers were likely a "significant transmission source" for COVID-19 transmission.

      The analysis studied what it called the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks, and psychological distress of front-line workers, including grocery store employees.

      Researchers said 20 percent is a much higher rate of infection than was seen in the other communities. Even more concerning, the study found workers who interacted directly with customers were five times as likely to test positive for the virus as colleagues in other positions.

      Around the nation

      • California: Some Hollywood celebrities have taken to Twitter to criticize Gov. Gavin Newsom for holiday gathering rules that limit events to no more than three households, with gatherings lasting no more than three hours.

      • Virginia: With cases spiking in the Richmond metro, CVS is expanding its free rapid testing capability in the region. The drug store chain announced four testing sites that it says will give you results within 30 minutes. There’s one in Glen Allen, one in Chester, and two in Richmond. 

      • Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown has extended the state’s emergency order for another 60 days, taking it into 2021. "Extending the COVID-19 state of emergency is not something I do lightly, but we know all too well that not taking action would mean an even greater loss of life," Brown said in a statement.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 8,955,035 (8,865,69...
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      Pending home sales drop 2.2 percent in September

      The summer’s hot housing market has cooled considerably

      After an extremely hot sales summer, home sales cooled significantly in September. Pending home sales, which reflect contracts that were signed during the month, dropped 2.2 percent from August to September.

      Putting that in context, however, is how September sales compared to 12 months earlier. Year-over-year, sales contract signings were up 20.5 percent from September 2019, showing just how active the market has been since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began.

      "The demand for home buying remains super strong, even with a slight monthly pullback in September, and we're still likely to end the year with more homes sold overall in 2020 than in 2019," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "With persistent low mortgage rates and some degree of a continuing jobs recovery, more contract signings are expected in the near future."

      Since May, the pandemic has largely shaped the housing market. Millions of apartment dwellers suddenly working from home began to look for single-family homes. Others sought homes in other cities, convinced they could continue to work remotely. NAR expects that trend to continue.

      "Additionally, a second-order demand will steadily arise as homeowners who had not considered moving before the pandemic begin to enter the market," Yun said. "A number of these owners are contemplating moving into larger homes in less densely populated areas in light of new-found work-from-home flexibility."

      Seattle, Boston, and Los Angeles lead

      Realtor.com's Housing Market Recovery Index, which reveals metro areas where the market has recovered or even exceeded its previous January levels, showed the greatest recoveries as of October 10 were in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.; Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif.; Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev.; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

      A report this week from online real estate marketplace Zillow showed how the pandemic has distorted the housing market. Uncertainty, likely caused by COVID-19, is keeping more than a third of would-be sellers out of the market. Financial anxiety is a big part of that, the Zillow survey found.

      The result is fewer homes for sale, which could be one reason for September’s drop in new sales. Thirty-one percent of current homeowners point to financial worries as a reason to stay in their current home, with 27 percent saying they recently suffered a loss in household income. While they might find ready buyers for their home, they worry about qualifying for a mortgage to purchase a new one.

      After an extremely hot sales summer, home sales cooled significantly in September. Pending home sales, which reflect contracts that were signed during the...
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      Gas prices fall again this week

      Consumers are saving 46 cents a gallon over last year

      A surge in the third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) did nothing to raise gasoline prices this week. The government reports GDP increased 31 percent, but the average gas price went down again.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.14 a gallon, two cents lower than last Friday. Prices are still relatively stable, down four cents a gallon in the last month.

      The average price of premium gas fell by a penny in the last week to $2.76 a gallon. The average price of diesel fuel is the same as last week -- $2.37 a gallon.

      Gasoline demand continues to flatline or dip lower as consumers, for the most part, continue to stay close to home. AAA reports demand in October has been about 14 percent less than last October.

      “The U.S. has a very healthy level of gasoline stocks due to lower demand and that is keeping gas prices low,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson. “The majority of states have cheaper gas prices compared to last month, many paying three to eight cents less. That downward trend at the pump is likely to continue.” 

      Demand, in fact, has fallen as the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases has spiked. Prices at the pump have fallen with lower demand.

      The states with the most expensive gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.26)

      • California ($3.18)

      • Washington ($2.76)

      • Nevada ($2.61)

      • Oregon ($2.57)

      • Alaska ($2.50)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.46)

      • Utah ($2.36)

      • Idaho ($2.34)

      • Illinois ($2.25)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.81)

      • Mississippi ($1.82)

      • Oklahoma ($1.83)

      • Texas ($1.84)

      • Arkansas ($1.85)

      • Louisiana ($1.87)

      • South Carolina ($1.87)

      • Alabama ($1.88)

      • Tennessee ($1.89)

      • Kansas ($1.92)

      A surge in the third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) did nothing to raise gasoline prices this week. The government reports GDP increased 31 percent,...
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      Chrysler recalls Mopar mirrors and replacement glass

      The driver side mirror glass can detach from the backing plate

      Chrysler is recalling 4,768 Mopar Outside Foldaway Heated Power Left Mirrors, part number 68147863AS and Mirror Replacement Glass, part number 68050299AA.

      The driver side mirror glass can detach from the backing plate and no longer provide a reflective surface.

      A missing driver side mirror glass reduces visibility and increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver side mirror or -- if already installed -- replace the glass free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin November 27, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is W71.

      Chrysler is recalling 4,768 Mopar Outside Foldaway Heated Power Left Mirrors, part number 68147863AS and Mirror Replacement Glass, part number 68050299AA. ...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2020 GLB 250s

      The window airbag may not be mounted correctly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling seven model year 2020 GLB 250s.

      The window airbag in the A-pillar area may not be mounted correctly, affecting its performance.

      In a crash that deploys the window airbag, the catch strap could disconnect and increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will check the mounting of the window air bag and correct it -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 8, 2020.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling seven model year 2020 GLB 250s. The window airbag in the A-pillar area may not be mounted correctly, affecting it...
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      Hospital information systems hit by new wave of ransomware attacks

      The FBI is urging health care providers to take additional precautions to secure their networks

      The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned that hospital information systems have been hit by coordinated ransomware attacks, which could possibly lead to disruptions in patient care. 

      In a joint advisory on Wednesday, the FBI and two other federal agencies said malicious groups have levied several data-scrambling extortion attempts against hospitals and healthcare providers over the past few weeks. 

      Officials said they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.” The attacks could lead to “data theft and disruption of healthcare services,” the agencies said. 

      Attack on health care system

      The warning coincides with an uptick in the number of COVID-19 infections nationwide. On Monday, an analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University showed 69,967 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. In just the last week, the seven-day average of new cases has risen 20 percent.

      Officials said the targeted ransomware attacks will likely create issues that will be “particularly challenging for organizations within the COVID-19 pandemic.” Institutions are urged to take precautions to protect their networks. Recommended precautions include regularly updating software, backing up data, and monitoring who is accessing their systems. 

      In September, cyber attackers launched a highly coordinated ransomware attack on a major U.S. hospital chain. The incident forced some hospital employees to revert to using pen and paper to file patient information. 

      In the most recent wave of attacks on hospital networks, malicious groups are using Ryuk ransomware -- software used to encrypt and secure files. The attackers are using the Trickbot network of infected computers to gain access to data, disrupt health care services and demand money from health care facilities in order to decrypt the files. 

      The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned that hospital information systems have been hit by coordinated ransomware attacks, which could possibl...
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      Coronavirus update: Regeneron antibody cocktail shows promise, Fauci says restrictions may extend into 2022

      Moderna is already taking orders for its vaccine

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 8,865,697 (8,790,206)

      Total U.S. deaths: 227,774 (226,864)

      Total global cases: 44,644,423 (44,093,002)

      Total global deaths: 1,176,101 (1,169,052)

      Regeneron antibody cocktail shows promising results

      Regeneron reports some much needed good news when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19). In clinical trials of its antibody treatment, the drug “significantly reduced” the levels of the virus in newly-diagnosed patients.

      Better yet, the company says the treatment reduced the need for hospitalization in 57 percent of the subjects who took the drug. For patients in the “high risk” group, it cut hospitalization by 72 percent.

      It’s the same antibody cocktail used as part of President Trump’s treatment, even though it has yet to be granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company says only 50,000 doses have been produced but it could have as many as 300,000 by next spring.

      Fauci says vaccine won’t end prevention measures

      Once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, you may think life can return to normal. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) doesn’t agree.

      "I think it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality," Fauci said during a webinar with a college in Australia.

      Fauci said restrictions will have to stay in place because it will take several months for enough people to get vaccinated. He said many people may be reluctant to get the vaccine until they see that it is safe and effective.

      Moderna prepares to launch its vaccine

      Moderna is getting ready to launch its coronavirus vaccine candidate and world governments are already lining up to get their share. In its third-quarter earnings report, the pharmaceutical giant says it has already received more than $1 billion in deposits.

      “We are actively preparing for the launch of mRNA-1273 and we have signed a number of supply agreements with governments around the world,” said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel. “Moderna is committed to the highest data quality standards and rigorous scientific research as we continue to work with regulators to advance mRNA-1273.”

      Pandemic causing loss of sleep

      A survey by ValuePenguin found that 26 percent of Americans say they’re getting less sleep at night because of the pandemic. The loss of shuteye has a lot to do with changes in lifestyle and personal habits.

      The authors say some of those habits could have harmful health implications. The survey showed that while a quarter of the population is sleeping less, about 20 percent is drinking more.

      But on the positive side, 49 percent of consumers say they're practicing healthier habits now than they were prior to the pandemic. Though good sleep habits have declined, more consumers are eating vegetables and avoiding fast food.

      Conflicting findings

      One crucial element of the coronavirus is that it doesn’t behave the same way in all people, which can lead to some scientific confusion. As ConsumerAffairs reported this week, British scientists concluded that coronavirus antibodies don’t last that long in the blood, casting doubt on “herd immunity.”

      But researchers at Mt. Siani have reached the opposite conclusion. They found that patients with mild symptoms of the virus had a “robust” level of antibodies in the blood that lasted for about five months.

      “While some reports have come out saying antibodies to this virus go away quickly, we have found just the opposite – that more than 90 percent of people who were mildly or moderately ill produce an antibody response strong enough to neutralize the virus, and the response is maintained for many months,” said Florian Krammer, a senior author of the paper. 

      Around the nation

      • Massachusetts: Massachusetts residents face new travel restrictions, but not from their state government. Two neighboring states, New York and Connecticut have slapped quarantine requirements on Massachusetts residents after a big spike in COVID-19 cases.

      • Colorado: COVID-19 is complicating efforts to battle the state’s raging wildfires. The Colorado Department of Public Health reports 400 outbreaks of the virus, including 45 illnesses among Cameron Peak fire crews.

      • Iowa: The state’s outbreak could have an impact on voters next week since hundreds of polling places have been closed due to the fast-spreading coronavirus. "All of us, we are going to have to look up where we need to go. I mean, I'm not sure which place I would go," Sheena Thomas, a voter in Des Moines, told NPR. "That's going to be an issue for everybody."

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 8,865,697 (8,790,20...
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