“The Company has begun the process of re-opening stores in Italy, Germany, Austria and the states of South Carolina and Georgia and is preparing for the potential to re-open in other operating countries and states in the coming weeks,” GameStop wrote in a business update. The company has temporarily closed more than 30% of its stores, with the rest only accepting customers for curbside pickup of purchases. The company has also announced an executive pay cut, ostensibly to ensure that employees get paid, but that seems like nonsense when you’re risking the public health.
For context, COVID-19 has killed more than 45,000 people in the US, the primary market for GameStop. The USA also leads global infection counts with more than 800,000 confirmed cases. Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than 2.5 million people and led to more than 177,000 deaths. So one could be forgiven for thinking it’s really freaking dumb to have a video games store be considered as an essential service during this time of an active disease outbreak.
But I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what GameStop tried to do last month as the infections spread across the globe. GameStop was seemingly so desperate to make money that they tried to defy the growing trend for lockdowns and closures by self-classifying as an essential service. The retailer even went so far as to encourage employees to direct police that would inevitably show up to force them to close to call the GameStop corporate offices. To make matters worse, GameStop also failed to provide adequate cleaning supplies to employees, meaning that they could not possibly control the spread of disease in these stores that were perplexingly still open.
The problem with opening so soon is that the US states where these openings are happening do NOT have the testing for COVID-19 that they need to detect both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases. In fact, 48 US states are dangerously far below where they should be in testing for the virus. Only 4 million tests have been performed in a country with 330 million people.
To put it another way, every US state needs to test at a rate of ~150 per 100,000 people to detect the majority of COVID-19 cases and quarantine them. Only two states, New York and Lousiana, are testing at rates above 100 per 100,000 people. The average across the other 48 states is in the low 20s. Further danger to containment efforts is posed by the fact that US testing rates appear to have plateaued.
And to put the issue another way, reports from California and New York suggest that infection numbers are 40-80 times greater than reported based on antibody tests, which detect asymptomatic carriers. In short, GameStop should not be opening stores right now.
So why the heck is GameStop doing this? It’s simple, they’re incredibly desperate to make money. The company has closed hundreds of stores across 2019, and closed even more in 2020. The retailer planned to close at least 300 stores this year. This was happening as the company continued to hemorrhage money and lost stock value, dipping to its lowest trading price ever last year. All of this signals a company very much in decline, and the trend of their response to COVID-19 signals a refusal to accept reality.
GameStop has attempted to pivot into new markets and differing stock in their stores, but the prospects for success look very grim indeed. And for the employees, a simple question. Is that paycheck worth the lives of you, your friends or your family? Seriously GameStop execs, if you want your employees to walk off or strike, this is the kind of dumb stuff that makes them do it.