Noah Smith: Imagine the COVID-19 economy before Zoom and Amazon

Economists concerned about slowing productivity have spent the past decade hotly debating the value of free digital services such as Google’s web search and Amazon’s online store. But those online services have proven their worth during the pandemic. And COVID-19 may ultimately push our society to learn new ways of using digital technologies that accelerate productivity growth.

Over the past year I’ve been occasionally bombarded with tweets casting doubt on the value of software companies. The allegation that online services didn’t help with the pandemic came on top of a preexisting concern — prevalent among some economist, as well as critics of the technology industry — that these services add little to the real economy.

But let’s do a scary little thought experiment. Try to imagine what 2020 would have been like without Google, Amazon, Zoom, Slack or any of the other online services. It’s pretty terrifying.

First, because Amazon

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Back to school? Despite CDC recommendations, most major schools going online as COVID-19 cases spike

As COVID-19 cases rise in most states, the prospect of in-person learning this fall at the country’s major school districts is becoming increasingly remote.

So far, nine of the top 15 school systems by enrollment plan to start the fall semester online, with two more currently planning a hybrid of in-person and online classes, according to Education Week magazine’s reopening tracker. Other top districts shifted school schedules later, hoping for cases to decline or for teachers and administrators to have more time to plan for the school year. 

As back-to-school season approaches, it’s highly likely the majority of big districts will start learning remotely while they work out plans for socially distant reopenings, said Annette Anderson, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.

The biggest factor: whether the community where the school is located is seeing infection rates decrease, said Kristi Wilson, superintendent of the

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Online school? In-person? How parents are making their own fall 2020 decisions as COVID-19 squabbles continue

As officials play political football with K-12 school reopenings, parents such as Johanne Davis are formulating their own game plans for the fall.

“To exercise an abundance of caution, I’d like to keep my kids home with me where they’ll study online,” says Davis, a mother of three from Indian Land, South Carolina, one of countless states where COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent weeks.

“Health is the issue, not just for my children, but also school workers,” Davis says. “Teachers shouldn’t have to be front-line soldiers in this pandemic.”

Families across the nation are busy making their own calculations about whether to send children back to school. While Davis seems resolved, many parents are still mulling.

Johanne Davis, left, in a photo with her three children. Davis and her husband say they're both fortunate enough to work from home and can manage the children if they have to spend a lot of next year studying remotely. But she acknowledges that hers is a privileged position not afforded to lower-income parents grappling with child care in order to go off to work.
Johanne Davis, left, in a photo with her three children. Davis and her husband say they’re both fortunate enough to work from home and can manage the children if they have to
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Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses – TechCrunch

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption to their core offerings caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go of hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that

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