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What can we learn from Hawaii’s testing protocols?



What can we learn from Hawaii's testing protocols?

While it had remained closed to visitors throughout much of 2020, Hawaii reopened to tourists in October. Given that tourism is the top moneymaking industry in the 50th state, reopening quickly—but safely—is crucial for businesses of all sizes on every island.

Over the past few months, Hawaii’s state government has imposed entry and quarantine rules that are strict compared with those of other U.S. states; its geographical advantage as an archipelago hasn’t proved to be an especially effective barrier against the virus, with resurgences more akin to those seen in Ireland or Iceland versus near-perfect textbook examples of controlling the virus as seen in New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea.

Nevertheless, Hawaii set up a detailed program this fall that has some travel industry experts suggesting it could serve as a blueprint for reopening international travel, even as approved vaccines start to roll out in the coming months.

“Given the size of our country and rapidly growing infection rate, other countries are very concerned about Americans traveling abroad. Several countries have implemented programs similar to Hawaii’s, requiring a valid PCR test prior to arrival,” says Jason Feldman, cofounder and CEO of Vault Health, which provides mail-in, saliva-based tests (versus a nasal swab) for at-home use with videoconference supervision to ensure the test is taken properly. “Most airlines have done remarkable work to make travel safer, especially with more flights available over the holidays [when] more people will be traveling. Testing before, and after, arrival is smart to keep yourself and others safe.”

Lanai, the secluded 90,000-acre Hawaiian paradise, has become a popular destination for travelers seeking luxury experiences during the holidays.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

And so far, travel industry experts don’t see the stricter requirements as deterrents, but rather just the opposite.

“These rules are very specific, and knowing the state is being so cautious with entry makes travelers feel more comfortable. We know the requirements can also be challenging for travelers,” says Misty Belles, a managing director at luxury travel firm Virtuoso. “For example, having to time their COVID test right before their departure; travelers are taking advantage of airlines that are offering preflight testing. Hawaii is so dependent on tourism—they know if they get this wrong and COVID spreads through the islands, it will take years for it to come back.”

The hope, and the intent, is that Hawaii serves as a blueprint for other parts of the world, Belles says. “We heard about the possibility of travel bubbles and travel corridors early on, but nothing has materialized at this point. If Hawaii gets it right, international destinations could replicate this model, opening up both corporate and leisure travel that is so important to driving economies.”

The key, she continues, is ensuring rigorous standards are maintained at both the entry and exit points. “We can’t have one set of protocols at one destination, with another set of protocols at another destination. Success is dependent upon the cooperation between both countries for this to work.”

Vault Health is working with Infinity BiologiX and Spectrum Solutions to offer at-home saliva testing for the coronavirus.
Courtesy of Vault Health

All international and domestic transpacific travelers to Hawaii are required to submit a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine. (The notable exception is for travelers visiting the island of Kauai, which, as of Dec. 2, is requiring a 14-day quarantine for all visitors—with or without a COVID test.)

However, visitors cannot take just any COVID-19 test. Rather, Hawaii requires a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) from a certified CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) lab that’s provided by one of the state’s designated testing partners. For Americans planning on domestic travel right now, some accepted testing partners include CVS Health, Costco, and Walgreens. But even these major retailers don’t offer COVID-19 testing at every location, making it difficult for some would-be visitors to Hawaii to get tested easily before departure.

Vault’s COVID-19 test is performed under supervision via Zoom video call, eliminating the risk of person-to-person exposure to the virus.
Courtesy of Vault Health

Hawaii has approved less than a handful of health providers that offer at-home COVID-19 tests, with Vault Health among them. “We are working with several state governments who want to unlock testing for their residents and travelers. Hawaii is a unique case as they rely on tourism for their economy,” Vault CEO Feldman says.

Vault Health is also the exclusive mail-in option accepted by the state. Vault’s consultants monitor the saliva collection via Zoom to ensure the sample is properly secured and sealed for accurate results, which is preferred by state governments and airlines. Available for patients of all ages, tests are sent out via FedEx and arrive on doorsteps within 48 hours of ordering. Sent back via Fedex as well, results can be made available within 24 hours. Individual tests cost $119. Vault provides a detailed receipt highlighting the cost of the test that can be submitted to insurance for reimbursement through the CARES Act, and the company also accepts HSA and FSA funds. 

Upon their arrival in Hawaii, visitors will find that hotels and resorts have stepped up their requirements and sanitization protocols considerably to curb the spread.

Under new COVID-19 protocols, each Four Seasons property is appointing a hygiene officer focused on implementing enhancements to already stringent procedures.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

The Four Seasons in Lanai, for example, has experienced a remarkable turnaround in the last quarter. While untouched by the pandemic for months, Lanai sustained a serious outbreak in October. Most of the hotel properties on the island are owned by Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, whose funding has reportedly been critical not only in curbing the virus through investment in testing supplies but also in keeping employees on the payroll as any further pandemic aid flounders in Congress. Lanai has since kept down consistently its daily new-cases average to zero, as of Dec. 15.

Lanai hosts two Four Seasons locations, open at 50% occupancy: the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, a more traditional island resort with a lush pool oasis and four-star restaurants such as Nobu; and Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, which is touted as an ultra-wellness getaway with a guided experience curated to each individual guest based on his or her wellness needs and set mostly outdoors. Aside from the Four Seasons, the 140-square-mile island has a few other tourist-friendly activity sites, such as a horseback riding range and a ferry terminal for local sailing and connections to Maui, as well as a hydroponic farming startup that sells its organic produce across greater Hawaii.

Any outbreaks risk longer-term economic pain for Lanai’s workers and inhabitants, which has inspired the Four Seasons to develop a rigorous health and safety program, Lead With Care. Developed in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine International, the program includes extra employee training, new food handling protocols, and enhancements to ventilation systems and other back-of-the-house operations.

Rooms are disinfected daily with EPA-approved products and will undergo black-light inspection by room attendants. Public areas are cleaned hourly with extra attention to frequented areas, such as front desk counters and public restrooms. Restaurants and bars may operate with reduced capacity and socially distanced seating, and nearly all restaurants must provide à la carte service with digital menus wherever possible. In-room dining means contactless delivery outside guest rooms along with sustainable, single-use packaging. And special kits are placed in each guest room upon arrival, providing masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitization wipes, with additional masks supplied on request from guest services.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai features 213 guest rooms in a series of low-rise buildings spread along the Pacific coastline, providing a private residential experience.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

Even though many resorts like the Four Seasons are also promoting special offers to attract visitors (airfare from Honolulu to Lanai is included in all bookings through March 31), most hotels aren’t offering big discounts compared with the bargain basement airfares currently available from major U.S. carriers. That’s because there is still healthy tourist traffic to Hawaii this winter, and Virtuoso’s Belles says that there is more demand than supply.

“People want to naturally go there. They have been reopening their doors methodically, in a very structured way, to ensure safety,” Belles says. “Beyond standard tourism, Hawaii is being creative by attracting people to come and stay for longer durations, ensuring more money moves through their economy for longer periods of time.”

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Coinbase’s near-term outlook is ‘still grim’, JPMorgan says, while BofA is more positive about firm’s ability to face crypto winter



Coinbase's near-term outlook is 'still grim', JPMorgan says, while BofA is more positive about firm's ability to face crypto winter

Coinbase is well positioned to successfully navigate this crypto winter and take market share, Bank of America said in a research report Tuesday. It maintained its buy recommendation following the exchange’s second-quarter results.

The results warrant “a muted stock reaction,” the report said. Net revenue of $803 million was below the bank’s and consensus estimates, while its adjusted $151 million loss before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization was better than the street expected. Importantly, the company remains “cautiously optimistic” it can reach its goal of no more than $500 million of adjusted EBITDA loss for the full year, the report added.

Coinbase shares fell almost 8% in premarket trading to $80.74.

Bank of America notes that Coinbase had no counterparty exposure to the crypto insolvencies witnessed in the second quarter. The company also has a “history of no credit losses from financing activities, holds customer assets 1:1, and any lending activity of customer crypto is at the discretion of the customer, with 100%+ collateral required.” These rigorous risk-management practices will be a “positive long-term differentiator” for the stock, the bank said.

JPMorgan said Coinbase had endured another challenging quarter, while noting some positives.

Trading volume and revenue were down materially. Subscription revenue was also lower, but would have been much worse were it not for higher interest rates, it said in a research report Wednesday.

The company is taking steps on expense management, and in addition to the June headcount reductions, is scaling back marketing and pausing some product investments, the note said.

The bank says the company’s near-term outlook is “still grim,” noting that the exchange expects a continued decline in 3Q 2022 monthly transacting users (MTUs) and trading volumes, but says Coinbase could take more “cost actions” if crypto prices fall further.

JPMorgan is less optimistic than Bank of America about the company in the near term, saying pressure on revenue from falling crypto markets will have a negative impact on the stock price. Still, it sees positives including higher interest rates, from which the firm will generate revenue. It also sees opportunities for the exchange to grow its user base, leveraging almost $6 billion of cash. The surge in crypto prices in July, and the forthcoming Ethereum Merge are also seen as positive catalysts, it added.

The bank maintained its neutral rating on the stock and raised its price target to $64 from $61.

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Elon Musk sold $6.9B in Tesla stock in case he’s forced to buy Twitter



Elon Musk sold $6.9B in Tesla stock in case he's forced to buy Twitter

Elon Musk sold $6.9 billion of his shares in Tesla Inc., the billionaire’s biggest sale on record, saying he needed cash in case he is forced to go ahead with his aborted deal to buy Twitter Inc.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk tweeted late Tuesday after the sales were disclosed in a series of regulatory filings. 

Asked by followers if he was done selling and would buy Tesla stock again if the $44 billion deal doesn’t close, Musk responded: “Yes.”

Tesla’s chief executive officer offloaded about 7.92 million shares on Aug. 5, according to the new filings. The sale comes just four months after the world’s richest person said he had no further plans to sell Tesla shares after disposing of $8.5 billion of stock in the wake of his initial offer to buy Twitter.  

Musk last month said he was terminating the agreement to buy the social network where he has more than 102 million followers and take it private, claiming the company has made “misleading representations” over the number of spam bots on the service. Twitter has since sued to force Musk to consummate the deal, and a trial in the Delaware Chancery Court has been set for October. 

In May, Musk dropped plans to partially fund the purchase with a margin loan tied to his Tesla stake and increased the size of the equity component of the deal to $33.5 billion. He had previously announced that he secured $7.1 billion of equity commitments from investors including billionaire Larry Ellison, Sequoia Capital, and Binance. 

“I’ll put the odds at 75% that he’s buying Twitter. I’m shocked,” said Gene Munster, a former technology analyst who’s now a managing partner at venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. “This is going to be a headwind for Tesla in the near term. In the long term, all that matters is deliveries and gross margin.”

At the weekend, Musk tweeted that if Twitter provided its method of sampling accounts to determine the number of bots and how they are confirmed to be real, “the deal should proceed on original terms.” 

Musk, 51, has now sold around $32 billion worth of stock in Tesla over the past 10 months. The disposals started in November after Musk, a prolific Twitter user, polled users of the platform on whether he should trim his stake. The purpose of the latest sales wasn’t immediately clear.  

Tesla shares have risen about 35% from recent lows reached in May, though are still down about 20% this year. 

With a $250.2 billion fortune, Musk is the world’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but his wealth has fallen around $20 billion this year as Tesla shares declined.    

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The rent is too d*mn high for Gen Z: Younger generations are ‘squeezed the most’ by higher rents, BofA says



The rent is too d*mn high for Gen Z: Younger generations are 'squeezed the most' by higher rents, BofA says

Most of Gen Z is too young to remember the 2010 New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan.

But over a decade later, they would probably agree with his signature issue (and catchphrase): the rent is too damn high.

This July, median rent payments were 7.4% higher than during the same period last year, according to a Bank of America report released Tuesday. 

The national median price for a one-bedroom apartment has been hitting new highs nearly every month this summer. It was $1,450 for July, according to rental platform Zumper. In the country’s largest city, New York, average rent exceeded a shocking $5,000 a month for the first time ever in June. 

But inflation in the rental market hasn’t hit each generation equally, and no one is getting squeezed harder by the higher monthly payments as Gen Z. Those born after 1996 have seen their median rent payment go up 16% since last July, compared to just a 3% increase for Baby Boomers, BofA internal data shows. 
“Younger consumers are getting squeezed the most by higher rent inflation,” BofA wrote.

The great rent comeback

Early in the pandemic, landlords slashed rents and gave significant COVID discounts to entice tenants to stay instead of leaving urban areas. Once those deals started expiring in 2021, many landlords suddenly raised payments once again, sometimes asking for over double their pandemic value. 

Young people across the board have been hit hard, and rent burdens compared to age can be seen even within a single generation. Younger millennials had their median rent payment grow 11% from last year, while the median payment for older millennials rose 7%. Gen X experienced a 5% median rent increase, according to BofA. 

It’s not a surprise, then, that Gen Z feels so strapped for cash. The majority of young people, 61%, said they want to receive their wages daily instead of twice a week, a practice typically reserved for workers living paycheck to paycheck, according to a report from the Center for Generational Kinetics, which specializes in research across the generations. Rising rent inflation has even priced nearly a third of Gen Zers out of the apartment search altogether. Around 29% of them have resorted to living at home as a “long-term housing solution,” according to a June survey from personal finance company Credit Karma.

It’s no wonder—the rent really is too high.

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