THE DAILY SCOPE, 12/30/21: Even as the East Coast remains an Omicron hot spot, we can all still agree that 2021 was better than 2020. More on that in just a bit, but first: COVID-19 cases across the United States reached a new all-time high of 267,305 on December 28th, which is up from the previous peak of 250,000 cases in January of 2021. The number of cases in the United States has shown an exponential spike since the start of December due to the Omicron variant working its way across the country. Hot spots are popping up across major cities on the East Coast in a trend that is eerily similar to the course the original COVID-19 virus took back in March 2020.
Many cities including New York and Boston have instituted vaccine mandates on private businesses and their patrons to quell the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. These cities are also using tech as a platform to ease the city-wide facilitation of these vaccine mandates. NYC, for example, has launched the Key to NYC app, which allows users to upload proof of vaccination straight to their mobile phones and eliminates the inconvenience of carrying around a cumbersome (and easy-to-lose) vaccine card.
Despite these measures, this latest COVID-19 wave is having negative effects on CE retailers across the country. Stores across the East Coast are being forced to close their doors as COVID-19 spreads rapidly including the Walmart Supercenter in Linden, New Jersey. Apple has reported that more than 20 of its U.S. retail stores have closed down due to outbreaks among employees that left the outlets unsafe and understaffed. As of Monday, Apple announced the closure of in-store traffic, outside of limited drop-in services, to all of its New York City stores due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in the metropolitan area. The move, which affects all 11 of NYC’s apple stores, leaves the stores open to bare bones operations such as allowing customers to order online and pick up products outside of stores. The major electronics retailer has also closed five stores in Washington State, as well as some stores in North Carolina and California.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Reuters reports that the states with the highest increase of in-store retail, with a sales growth of over 10 percent over the holiday from November 1st to December 24th, are those with low vaccination rates. Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia all have vaccination rates of under 55 percent, which seems to correlate with the increased confidence of consumers in those states for shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, for better or worse. It’s not clear yet how deeply these stats reflect Omicron versus pre-Omicron sales figures, but the Apple Stores in both Kentucky and Arkansas are still open, so presumably, the variant has not been an issue there of late. Even so, some brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as the Ashland, Kentucky Walmart, closed down temporarily due to outbreaks of the virus earlier this month.
Testing is far and away the most effective method we as a country have towards stopping the spread of COVID-19, as a more informed populace allows people to take precautionary measures. Currently, two types of COVID-19 tests exist on the market and are available to consumers. Antigen tests, which can be bought at your local pharmacy, are quick and easy to use, but they lack the precision that comes from taking a PCR test. However, these PCR tests need to be sent to a lab for analysis and can take up to 3-4 days to get results back. Luckily, at-home technology is now making testing for COVID-19 easier and more precise than ever. Detect is an at-home testing gadget that provides lab-quality results with antigen test level convenience. The system utilizes a molecular RT-LAMP test that is 97.3 percent accurate, putting it on par with PCR tests. The Detect system comprises a hub that processes the sample, a test kit, and a corresponding mobile app that gives you step-by-step instructions. The test itself is simple to use. All the user needs to do is collect the sample and place it in the detect hub. When the test has been fully processed, the Detect hub beeps and updates the consumer in the mobile app, which also allows the user to keep track of their results. Detect also comes with a $20 extra add-on CDC verified test that works for travel. At a price point of $75, timely products such as these would be good additions to the shelves at consumer electronics retailers, especially considering the current consumer demand for at-home testing solutions, which is so high that CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Amazon are all limiting the amount of at-home testing kits that can be purchased per order.
In other news, yesterday, Roku announced new additions to the Roku TV Ready Certification program, which is designed to make it easy for A/V companies to create products that seamlessly integrate with Roku TVs. The certification program promotes single remote operations, easy access to home theater settings via the Roku TV, and includes a software development kit for partner companies. Current members of the program include Bose, Hisense, TCL North America, and Sound United with Element, JVC, Pheanoo, and Philips being added throughout 2021. Polk Audio and Westinghouse are also set to join the program in early 2022. Also, JLab, the audio solutions manufacturer, will be unveiling its new GO Air TONES collection of wireless earbuds at CES 2022. These super-affordable $20 earbuds, which are the brainchild of JLab’s collaboration with ORLY Color Labs, are available in warm, neutral colors specifically designed to look less obtrusive when being worn.
That’s it for 2021. Make sure to check out our picks for the best and worst of the year below. The Daily Scope will be back on Monday of next week with up-to-date news from CES 2022 and the consumer technology and retail space in general. Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve and Day and see you next year!
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