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(NEW YORK) — There's been a flurry of news about vaccine "passports" of late. New York State created its own digital pass; Florida and Texas attempted to outlaw them; and Baltimore's former health commissioner wrote that we shouldn't be using the word "passport" at all, which she called a divisive phrase that and could trigger backlash against vaccinations.

So what exactly are these credentials?

What is a vaccine 'passport?'

While we typically think of passports as government-issued travel documents, many people are using the same term to refer to digital certificates to prove vaccination status, used to gain entry into events or businesses, such as a QR code on a smartphone that you would show before entering a stadium.

When used to describe domestic health certificates, the term "passport" is already controversial because of connotations of authoritarian government and fears of Big Brother. The idea, however, is not new. Vaccines have long been required for travel, to attend public school and work in certain industries, like health care.

"There is no domestic passport," said Arthur Caplan, founding director of New York University's Division of Medical Ethics. Misconceptions about vaccine passes could potentially scare people, he explained, leading them to believe they'll be pulled over or stopped and asked to show vaccine papers, which isn't the case.

"That's what makes people nervous, and it's a term that we should stop using domestically," said Caplan, who uses "vaccine authentication" and "certification" to describe digital proof of vaccination.

The White House has distanced itself from any sort of federal vaccine certification or pass, preferring instead to leave the issue to private businesses and states. Vaccines are currently in use under emergency use authorization, meaning that they are not mandated by the federal government -- although they can be by state and local governments as well as employers per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- so encouraging people to get the shots is a priority for public health officials.

"There will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a March press briefing. "We believe it will be driven by the private sector," Psaki added.

New York became the first state to offer digital proof of vaccination. The Excelsior Pass smartphone app allows fully vaccinated residents to show a QR code to businesses as proof of their vaccination status. People with recent negative COVID-19 tests can similarly use the app to enter events. "Participation in Excelsior Pass is voluntary," the state notes. "New Yorkers can always show alternate proof of vaccination or testing, like another mobile application or paper form, directly at a business or venue."

The Vaccination Credential Initiative, a group of public and private organizations, is working to provide guidelines for digital proof of vaccination to businesses like airlines.

As for not centralizing federal vaccine data, Caplan thinks that's a misstep. "We'd be moronic not to set up a system that doesn't permit re-accessing who might need a booster shot," he said.

What are the benefits showing proof of vaccination to enter businesses?

In short, a chance to resume to life a bit more normally in certain settings.

"They're digital opportunities to demonstrate that people have been vaccinated, so as to gain access to places where it's perceived that that's going to increase safety," said Eric Feldman, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Vaccine certification could also benefit beleaguered businesses, which may be able to open at higher capacity if patrons and staff are vaccinated.

As for legal issues related to denying a customer entry into a restaurant, Fedman noted that private establishments currently set all kinds of rules about who can enter the premises. "So long as those rules are not in violation of clear categories that would represent discrimination, my guess is that they're on fairly solid footing," he said.

Colleges and universities, including Cornell University and Rutgers University have already announced that they'll require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for in-person students enrolling in the fall.

"They're saying if you want to come to school here and hang out on campus, you have to get vaccinated," Feldman said. "Do they have a good public health justification for that? I think they do."

With only a quarter of U.S. adults fully vaccinated, vaccine certifications "are going to be essential to keep people safe and help those that have taken the steps to protect themselves and others get back to things they love," said Dr. Jay Bhatt, an internal medicine physician and instructor at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and ABC News contributor.

"We are in an arms race between vaccines and variants," Bhatt added. "We can't afford to have unvaccinated people be in environments where the virus wins, leading to surges."

Why is this controversial?

Critics on both sides of the aisle have concerns.

The governors of Texas and Florida issued executive orders attempting to bar state entities and in some instances, private businesses, from requiring vaccination proof to receive services, on the grounds that such requirements infringe on individual freedom and privacy.

"Unfortunately, it's just another instance of the degree to which public health around COVID-19 has been so extraordinarily politicized," Feldman noted. Still, he's worried about states and businesses pushing people too hard to comply with public health directives.

"We've seen what happens with mask mandates, where reluctance turns into outright refusal, revolution and fury among people who feel like their civil liberties and their fundamental rights to make decisions about their own health and well-being are being challenged," he said.

Others have suggested that requiring proof of vaccination might deepen existing inequities and worsen the digital divide.

"Vaccine passports can pose an ethical and moral issue for BIPOC and other at-risk communities that have difficulty getting the vaccine because of access, their work times, and other life responsibilities," Bhatt said, noting that workplaces should provide support and time off or on-site vaccinations for vulnerable populations.

The potential for creating a two-tier system, where individuals with better access to the vaccine are able to gain access to restaurants and sporting events, creates an ethical predicament, according to Feldman.

"That may turn out to be a litigated issue as a civil rights matter," he said.

Caplan brushed off the equity argument on the grounds that increased vaccine supply should enable everyone in the U.S. who wants a vaccine to be able to get one in the coming months.

"This isn't to penalize those who don't vaccinate," Caplan said. "It's to reward those who do and for the government to be able to keep track so we can respond if there's a new outbreak or we need boosters.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(BESSEMER, Ala.) -- Amazon has secured an apparent victory as warehouse workers in Alabama voted not to form a labor union.

Of the some 3,200 votes cast in the closely-watched union election, a total of 1,798 votes were against unionization, compared to 738 in favor of it, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Even accounting for the 505 challenged ballots, Amazon has cinched enough "no" votes to defeat the organizing efforts.

Workers needed a majority of "yes" votes in order to form the union.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which workers were seeking to be represented by, said Friday that it plans to file objections to Amazon's conduct surrounding the election with the NLRB.

"We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote," union president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement Friday morning.

Appelbaum accused Amazon of requiring employees to attend lectures where the company demanded they oppose the union, as well as "spreading misinformation" online and other alleged union-busting tactics.

"We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon's behavior in corrupting this election," he added.

Amazon issued a statement Friday thanking employees for participating in the election.

"It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us," the company said. "And Amazon didn’t win -- our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union."

"Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace," Amazon added. "We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day."

The organizing efforts at the Bessemer Amazon facility drew the attention of lawmakers and even President Joe Biden. It would have marked the first time Amazon workers in the U.S. formed a labor union if the bid had been successful.

A total of 3,215 workers participated in the landmark vote, the RWDSU said in a statement earlier this week. There are some 5,800 workers at the Amazon facility, meaning voter turnout was approximately 55%.

The RWDSU also said hundreds of ballots have been challenged, "mostly by the employer," that will need to be addressed after the public count.

Many labor experts viewed the historic and closely-watched unionizing efforts at one of the largest employers in the U.S. as potentially influencing workers elsewhere if it were successful, and possibly having a chilling effect on organized labor efforts if not.

The organized labor movement has languished in the U.S. in recent decades.

In 2020, the percentage of wage and salary workers in the U.S. who were members of unions was 10.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, the first year comparable union data is available, the union membership rate in the U.S. was 20.1%.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Nearly four years ago, a photo tweeted from the Bahamian island of Exuma of two flimsy cheese slices laying lifeless atop some whole wheat bread with a soggy-looking side salad went viral and perfectly captured the failed Fyre Festival experience.

Now, Trevor DeHaas, an attendee who rose to overnight internet notoriety for that less-than-appetizing snapshot, is attempting to cash in for a good cause on the digital piece of history just weeks before the anniversary by auctioning it as an NFT (non-fungible token).

"Meme. Cultural touchstone. Cheese sandwich," the NFT description reads on Flipkick's auction page. ‍"From an inauspicious dinner, photographer Trevor DeHaas captured the most iconic image from 2017's most famous debacle -- the Fyre Festival. Two limp white slices on wheat bread lay, like the lifeless body of Icarus, bemoaning the hubris of man. A timeless image of inestimable cultural import, sold now as a singular NFT."

"This tweet NFT includes a transfer of copyright to the buyer. The winning bidder or their representative should contact Flipkick of New York to execute transfer agreement," the company wrote.

DeHaas told Good Morning America that the digital investment opportunity was inspired by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who recently sold his first tweet for $2.9 million.

"With NFTs being in a red-hot market and someone willing to pay over $2 million for a tweet, I knew I had to use the opportunity to my advantage. I immediately thought of my viral tweet of the cheese sandwich from Fyre Festival," he said. "As a photographer, it will never feel normal that a picture I took with an iPhone 6 using flash is the most valuable/viral picture I've taken to date," he added with a laugh.

But DeHaas also said there's a greater underlying motivation for the upcoming blockchain sale -- to help cover ongoing medical expenses for his decades long battle with IgA nephropathy, or Berger's disease, and a possible upcoming surgery.

"I'm currently on the waitlist in the Bay Area for a kidney transplant. Even with medical insurance, a transplant will still be costly," DeHaas said, pointing out the surgery would be added to an already growing list of expenses with daily dialysis, weekly blood tests, weekly nephrologist visits and transplant evaluations. "I'm hoping to get at least $50,000 from the NFT sale, and that would all go towards my current medical expenses and future transplant expenses."

"Even if the NFT doesn't sell, that's OK with me. I would be disappointed, but seeing all these stories about me helping shed light and bring awareness for the need for organ donors in the country will make it all worth it," he explained. "I've been using my platform for years to talk about the need for deceased and living organ donors. While most people might be interested in the NFT sale, if I can get at least one person to become an organ donor, the attempt to sell the NFT will all be worth it."

DeHaas originally listed the NFT himself, but quickly partnered with Flipkick, a company that helps digital and traditional artists monetize their work through NFTs, after he saw the sale involving another Fyre-related NFT from the festival's co-founder, Ja Rule.

"[I thought], if they are helping Ja Rule with his Fyre Fest NFT, maybe they would be willing to help me," DeHaas said, adding that he later found out the rapper is also a partial owner of the company.

"Ja Rule is not selling the cheese sandwich NFT. I am. Flipkickio, which Ja is a partner in, and myself have teamed up to sell the NFT. I do understand why the media is phrasing it as if Ja is selling the NFT but that’s not telling the full story," he clarified in a tweet.

While Flipkick will get a commission fee from the sale, DeHaas said he would receive "most of the proceeds" and reiterated "the proceeds will also be used to make sure my kidney donor doesn't experience any financial hardship from saving my life with their donation."

"Like I said, this NFT might not even sell, but at least I'm helping educate others on the need for deceased and living organ donors in our country."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(SEATTLE) -- Starbucks' latest initiative is a simple concept to help reduce single-use plastic -- simply order, sip, return and repeat.

The coffee chain announced a new two-month borrow-and-return trial program launching at five Seattle store locations that will allow customers to order a beverage in a reusable cup, which will replace the use of up to 30 disposable cups.

Starbucks partnered with Ridwell, a Seattle-based recycling service, to offer customers an at-home option to return their borrowed cup.

Michael Kobori, Starbucks' chief sustainability officer, explained in a press release that this will bolster their efforts in a commitment to promote reusability.

"We understand the interdependency of human and planetary health, and we believe it is our responsibility to reduce single-use cup waste," he said. "We will lead the transition to a circular economy."

This program marks the latest step in the company's target goal to reduce 50% of waste and single-use cups sent to landfills by 2030.

How it works

1. Order your beverage in a reusable cup and pay a deposit.

Customers can order any beverage that will come in the newly designed reusable cup in-person at a participating Starbucks café or drive-thru. If a customer wants their drink in a reusable cup, they tell the barista and pay a $1 refundable deposit.

2. Return the cup and receive a credit and bonus stars.

After the customer is finished with the drink, they scan their cup at a contactless return kiosk, which will be located in the lobby or drive-thru at participating locations, and drop the cup in the designated opening. After that, simply scan their Starbucks App to have the $1 credit and 10 Bonus Stars applied to their account.

3. Each cup is professionally cleaned and sanitized.

Starbucks has partnered with GO Box, a reuse system operator and service provider, to collect borrowed cups from stores daily that are then professionally cleaned and sanitized with commercial-grade dishwashing equipment, and put back into circulation within 48 hours.

The new pilot effort and sanitizing standards are done in addition to the coffee chain's cleaning protocols that follow public health guidelines to help to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the company said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Citigroup said it has incorporated environmental, social and governance scores (ESG) to its securities services data platform to let clients better analyze the sustainability exposure of their investments.

The major update comes to Citi Velocity Clarity, the bank's online data and analytics platform that aims to help users stay up to date on the latest metrics about their investments.

The sustainability measures will be provided daily by data firm Arabesque S-Ray, according to the bank, and include visualization tools to better analyze ESG information.

"The ability to understand ESG exposure has become imperative across the entire industry as investors, advisors and regulators are increasingly asking for transparency from asset managers and asset owners," Fiona Horsewill, the global head of data for Citi Securities Services, said in a statement.

"With this latest addition to Citi Velocity Clarity, we offer our clients the ability to understand their ESG exposures inherent within their portfolios and report on their investments from a sustainability perspective," Horsewill added.

Elree Winnett Seelig, the global head of ESG for markets and securities services at Citi added that "providing access to data is a critical foundation" when looking at ways to facilitate the transparency of ESG factors in the market.

ESG has become the latest buzzword in the investing world, as consumers put more pressure on businesses to operate sustainably.

Larry Fink, the CEO of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, called climate change a business and investing priority in his 2021 letter to company leaders released earlier this year.

"Over the course of 2020, we have seen how purposeful companies, with better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) profiles, have outperformed their peers," Fink wrote, citing internal data.

"But the story goes deeper. It’s not just that broad-market ESG indexes are outperforming counterparts," Fink added. "It’s that within industries -- from automobiles to banks to oil and gas companies -- we are seeing another divergence: companies with better ESG profiles are performing better than their peers, enjoying a 'sustainability premium.'"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


JJ Gouin/iStock

 (NEW YORK) -- Americans saved or paid off debt with most of their pandemic stimulus payments, according to surveys from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

For the second round of relief checks that gave $600 to eligible Americans and were issued at the end of December, survey respondents said they spent or planned to spend 25.5% of the total. Respondents said the other 74% went or would go toward paying down debts (37.4%) or savings (37.1%).

Respondents on average reported that 16% of the checks went toward essential spending, 6% toward non-essential spending and 3% toward donations.

For the third round of stimulus checks, which gave $1,400 to eligible Americans in March, respondents said they spent or expect to spend 24.7% of the total, save 41.6% and use 33.7% to pay down debt. Of the amount used for spending, an average of 13% is expected for essential items and an average of 8% on non-essential items.

The latest data on the second and third checks is in line with results from an earlier survey from the New York Fed on the first round of relief payments issued last year -- where respondents said they spent 29.2%, saved 36.4% and used 34.5% to pay down debt.

The fresh data on the second round of checks skewed slightly based on income levels, the researchers added, with lower-income households reporting higher amounts of their second stimulus checks to pay down debt (44% of the total) than higher-income households (32%). Similarly, lower-income households reported spending slightly higher amounts (27%) compared to higher-income households (24%).

Moreover, lower-income households reported spending 20% of their second checks on essentials, versus 12% for higher-income households.

The findings were drawn from the New York Fed's monthly Survey of Consumer Expectations, a nationally representative online survey of about 1,300 U.S. households. Data for the second and third checks were based on the January and March 2021 surveys, which respectively had 1,062 and 1,007 respondents. Data on the first round of checks was from the June 2020 survey, which was based on 1,423 respondents.

New York Fed economists said in a blog post announcing their findings that the results of the survey indicate an environment that continues to be marked by high unemployment and high uncertainty over the duration and economic impact of the pandemic.

"As the economy reopens and fear and uncertainty recede, the high levels of saving should facilitate more spending in the future," the researchers added. "However, a great deal of uncertainty and discussion exists about the pace of this spending increase and the extent of pent-up demand."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sundry Photography/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- In the weeks leading up to Earth Day shoppers will see messages about companies' commitment to combating climate change or even products claiming to have a more positive impact on the environment than others by generating less waste or being produced with less energy.

And it can be hard to tell which of those statements are true.

One study from an international consumer protection group called ICEPN found as many as 40% of company claims about sustainability were misleading or overstate their impact on the environment -- a practice commonly known as "greenwashing."

And as the Biden administration continues to push for climate change to be a top priority more advocacy groups and businesses are honing in on greenwashing as a problem the government needs to address.

Companies like Patagonia, the popular outerwear business known for its commitment to sustainability, say those claims not only hurt consumers and the reputation of brands trying to minimize their environmental impacts, but also delay action seriously needed to address the climate crisis.

Jenna Johnson, the head of Patagonia's apparel division, said the company has always emphasized having as little impact on the planet as possible since it was founded by Yvon Choinard in 1973.

She said even a company like Patagonia struggles to sort through greenwashing from potential suppliers and other companies claiming they follow the best practices for the environment.

"It happens a lot. There's a lot of really strong marketing claims and a lot of products out there that feel fantastic and like they're moving in the right direction in terms of responsibility. But as you dig in, you find sometimes that it's more talk than actual actions," she told ABC News.

Johnson said this is a problem not only because it hurts consumers and companies that have robust environmental programs in place, but also because it delays real action on climate change.

"You could imagine if the oil and gas companies, for example, if they actually were funding and putting in place the actions that they're talking about around environmental and social goals, if they were truly driving impact within their organizations to move in that direction, we wouldn't be in the climate catastrophe that we're in today," she said.

"So saying is one thing, we can educate customers through marketing campaigns for sure that's important, but if we don't have action to back it up, we lose the trust and the confidence of the customer. And for those of us who are really working hard -- diligently every day to be honest -- and transparent and make progress, it erodes trust and credibility across the board, across brands."

The Biden administration is talking about taking more action to crack down on greenwashing, including creating new climate change units at financial agencies like the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Three environmental groups, including Greenpeace, filed the first-ever greenwashing complaint to the Federal Trade Commission last year against the oil company Chevron. They accuse Chevron of violating advertising guidelines from FTC known as the "Green Guide" that define how certain terms should be used and tells companies not to exaggerate or be overly vague about how their work impacts the environment.

Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign manager for Greenpeace USA, said they see the Biden administration's focus on climate change as a signal they could be more receptive to complaints about greenwashing.

"The Biden administration has been pretty committed to tackling the climate crisis and we believe that the FTC under the Biden administration will be receptive to this complaint and would take Greenwashing seriously," said Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign manager for Greenpeace USA.

The complaint accuses Chevron of producing ads about the company's commitment to new energy technology while not acknowledging the damage caused by burning fossil fuels and that clean energy investments make up less than 0.2 percent of its capital expenditures.

Narayanan said Greenpeace sees greenwashing as part of a bigger problem of people using talk about climate change to delay taking action, including drastically reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

"It's delaying action from happening, so it allows Chevron to operate business as usual and continue to burn fossil fuels. And then it distracts the public and consumers from seeing the real solutions we already have at hand to tackle the climate crisis and build a renewable energy future," she said.

Chevron called the allegations "frivolous" in a statement to ABC News and said they plan to invest $3 billion between 2021 and 2028 to advance the transition to cleaner sources of energy.

"We are taking action to reduce the carbon intensity of our operations and assets, increase the use of renewables and offsets in support of our business and invest in low-carbon technologies to enable commercial solutions," a Chevron spokesman said in the statement.

An FTC spokesman declined to comment on the complaint. As an enforcement agency, the FTC can investigate or bring complaints against companies accused of misleading consumers but cannot set new regulations on advertising.

Greenwashing doesn't only involve advertising, companies handling investments on Wall Street have also been accused of capitalizing on investors' desire to do good without actually taking steps to improve their impact on society or the environment.

Tariq Fancy is the former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, which manages nearly $9 trillion in assets. He said it was clear to him after working there that sustainable investing was more about marketing.

"My concern is that when they say that they're doing a bunch of things that are really helpful and the public believes that, it creates a placebo effect where we delay action -- and every year matters at this point," he told ABC News.

Fancy said he thinks the only way to push companies into action and avoid greenwashing is if the government gets more involved, including enacting regulations like a price on carbon and requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

BlackRock agreed the government should do more to regulate greenwashing. The company recently hired a former top climate official from the Obama administration, Paul Bodnar, to lead their sustainable investing efforts and CEO Larry Fink said he thinks coordinated involvement of governments all over the world will be necessary to decrease emissions and limit global warming.

"BlackRock believes greenwashing is a risk to investors and detrimental to the asset management industry's credibility, which is why we strongly support regulatory initiatives to set consistent standards and increase transparency for sustainable portfolios," a company spokesman said in a statement to ABC News.

Under the Biden administration the SEC could be poised to get more involved in what companies claim about their investments based on environmental or social values, a practice called Environmental, Social and Governance or ESG investing.

Acting SEC Chair Alison Lee said last month that the events during 2020, from the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd's death and the connection between racial justice and climate risk have proven that social values cannot be separated from the business world.

"Human capital, human rights, climate change -- these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues. We see that unmistakably in shifts in capital toward ESG investing, we see it in investor demands for disclosure on these issues, we see it increasingly reflected on corporate proxy ballots, and we see it in corporate recognition that consumers and investors alike are watching corporate responses to these issues more closely than ever," Lee said recently in remarks to the Center for American Progress. "That's why climate and ESG are front and center for the SEC."

Patagonia's Johnson said even though regulations can be challenging and expensive for companies to deal with, holding companies accountable for their statements is the right thing to do when it comes to the environment.

"It's expensive business and the government, alongside civil society, working together, working in tandem," Johnson said. "That is how we are going to save the planet."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- As restaurants continue to welcome back diners across the U.S. there is increased demand for data when it comes to choosing where to eat or drink.

To help, OpenTable launched Back to the Table, a new information hub with tools and insights that are designed for diners to easily navigate this new era of eating out.

"Dining is coming back, over 80% of restaurants on OpenTable in certain states all across the U.S., like Colorado, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Kansas and Utah, have reopened," OpenTable CEO Debby Soo said in a statement. "Local restrictions are changing quickly and we want to make sure diners are easily able to see what restaurants are open near them and help them choose a restaurant that meets their needs and comfort level."

The hub includes four key areas to explore data from participating restaurants supported by the digital dining and reservation platform.

A reopening heat map shows a state-by-state breakdown of the latest restaurant restrictions and reopening status.

The "Open Near Me" tool allows users to find geo-targeted data on local restaurants that are open for dine-in, takeout or delivery nearby.

"Popular Restaurant Picks" are curated based on diner feedback into top lists including the Top 25 Restaurants for Outdoor Dining, Top 25 Most Kid-Friendly, Top 25 Restaurants Offering Experiences and more.

"Rebound Stories from Restaurateurs," is a catalog of unique pandemic recovery stories on everything from firsthand accounts of weathering the trials and tribulations amid the pandemic, to reopenings, complete with behind-the-scenes content from crowd favorites nationwide.

This new hub comes at a crucial time, especially for small, independently owned restaurants that were hard-hit by nearly a year of government restrictions, closures and limited service options.

As more people across the country get vaccinated and operators prepare to serve diners in the warm months ahead, there is demand for limited, and in some cases, timed seatings

OpenTable has collected data since March 2020 for its state of the industry site to illustrate how COVID-19 has impacted restaurants around the globe.

The data most recently updated on March 11, 2021, reported that diners using its platform have already neared 2019 levels. Moreover, the data showed that 54% of Americans plan to dine out at least once a week or more in 2021.

The company also released a consumer hub for its restaurant partners with everything they need "to rebound and reconnect" with guests.

Resources include interactive guidance to help drive demand and fill seats, operate efficiently, maximize revenue, how to set and meet diner expectations and customer retention.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Nearly one year after Microsoft launched a global skills initiative aimed at helping people acquire the digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy, the company -- together with LinkedIn -- is extending its commitment to help job seekers in 2021.

Microsoft said it will work to help 250,000 companies like Gap and TaskRabbit make hires based on skills over qualifications.

In a blog post written by Microsoft president Brad Smith, the next steps of its global skills initiative is part of its “vision of what is needed for a more inclusive post-pandemic recovery.”

“COVID-19 has led to record unemployment numbers, disrupting livelihoods of people around the world,” Smith said. “We are doubling down at LinkedIn and across Microsoft with new work to support a more inclusive skills-based labor market, creating more alternatives, greater flexibility and accessible learning paths that connect these more readily with new jobs.”

The focus on skills over qualifications opens the doors for both employers and job seekers, according to LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher. For employers, Fisher told Good Morning America that skills-based hiring introduces them to more candidates.

“If you look at food servers, they actually have about 71% of the skills needed for customer service,” Fisher said. “So when companies are looking to hire and we hear this all the time for the company, the industries that are hiring like crazy, they can’t find enough people. It’s because they’ve been looking the wrong way … It’s really looking at the skills as opposed to education or the network, more of those traditional ways of seeking out candidates.”

And for people looking to switch career paths or apply for jobs in a different industry, this method is also beneficial because candidates are able to show off what they can contribute to that job, Fisher said.

“The good news is it’s not about the experience, it’s about the skills that you have,” Fisher said. “The first thing you want to do is take inventory of all the skills that you have. Look at those job descriptions of the roles that seem interesting to you in those industries and do an assessment and the job description is going to give you some clues.”

To help reach the goals of its initiative, Microsoft is providing an extension to its current course curriculum through programs for K-12 students as well as higher education students aimed at helping them discover and guide their career paths.

For example, Career Coach -- which is available in May -- will help higher education students navigate their career journey by identifying career goals aligned with their interests and strengths.

Courses that were made available last year through Microsoft’s global skills initiative have worked for many already, including Rachelle Katchenago, a mom of two who gained new certifications through free online courses on LinkedIn. She said she was able to complete them all on her own time.

“I would log into my LinkedIn Learning, press play on a video while drinking my coffee,” Katchenago told GMA. “Even the quizzes in between each video to gain that certificate was only two to three questions, which I found really not even intimidating.”

Through the courses she took, Katchenago was able to land a full-time job as a customer service representative.

“It’s great to know that there’s programs out there like the generator upskilling and the Global Initiative to make sure that people like me can transition and we can live these lives that we dream of, that we worked so hard for the stability and to be able to provide for our family,” she added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bentonville Schools

(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) -- A 7-year-old's request for Old Navy to make girls' jeans with real front pockets has been answered after she wrote a letter to the brand's corporate office.

Kamryn Gardner, a first grader at Evening Star Elementary School in Bentonville, Arkansas, sent the note in mid-January which read the following:

Dear Old Navy,

I do not like that the front pockets of the girls jeans are fake. I want front pockets because I want to put my hands in them. I also would like to put things in them. Would you consider making girls jeans with front pockets that are not fake. Thank you for reading my request.

Kamryn wrote the letter after participating in a persuasive writing unit where her class sends a letter to principal Ashley Williams.

This year, Kamryn and her fellow students asked for new playground equipment.

Kimberly Gardner, who is Kamryn's mom and also a first grade teacher at Evening Star, said Kamryn had the idea after seeing that her brother had pockets in his jeans.

The clothing company does make girls' jeans with pockets, though Gardner said she purchased the ones without.

"She was frustrated her jeans didn't have pockets, so I suggested and encouraged her, 'What do we need to do?'" Gardner told Good Morning America.

"She's very passionate about life ... and uses her voice," she added.

Gardner helped her daughter send the handwritten note to Old Navy.

The Old Navy Kids Product Team recently replied to Kamryn's letter, writing it "appreciates your information and feedback for us as we develop new products."

The team included a gift for Kamryn -- four pairs of jeans in her size which included pockets. Gardner said Old Navy emailed her prior asking for Kamryn's size.

Kamryn's teacher, Ellie Jayne, described her as "unstoppable."

"It's really exciting to see the world get a glimpse of her, fall in love with her and be inspired by her passion," Jayne told GMA.

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(ANAHEIM, Calif.) -- With its April 30 reopening date approaching, Disneyland Resort has announced details of how it plans to safely welcome guests for the first time in over a year.

The reopening plan includes new rules regarding ticket reservations as well as enhanced health and safety measures.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests only needed a valid admission ticket to visit the park. Now, guests ages 3 and older visiting either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure will need both a theme park reservation and valid admission ticket for the exact date they’d like to go.

Before making a reservation, guests need to have a theme park ticket; those with existing theme park tickets can start making reservations when the system launches on April 12 at 8 a.m. Anyone without a theme park ticket will have to wait until April 15, when sales resume.

Several offerings will be unavailable as the park reopens, such as FASTPASS, MaxPass, Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour, which are suspended until further notice. Character meet and greets and large-gathering attractions, like parades, are also temporarily unavailable.

The park will also be operating at limited capacity in order to comply with government regulations. Only California residents will be allowed entry and proof of residency will be required.

To further promote social distancing, the park is limiting group sizes to no bigger than three households, adding new signage and ground markings to help with traffic flow, installing physical barriers at certain locations and training staff to interact with guests safely without contact.

All guests and staff must wear facial coverings and temperature screenings will be required for entry into certain areas.

Maintenance staff will be cleaning highly trafficked areas with extra care and attention, which includes elevators, benches, tables and restrooms. There will also be additional hand sanitizer and hand-washing locations throughout the park.

Disneyland closed the doors to all of its parks on March 14, 2020, in response to the pandemic. Downtown Disney District has been open in a limited capacity since July of last year while Disney California Adventure started a limited-ticket experience on March 18.

Disney World in Florida has been open since last July.

For more information on Disneyland's reopening, visit here.

Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News.

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(NEW YORK) -- Despite a global pandemic and economic downturn, the total wealth of the world's richest has increased by more than $5 trillion over the past year, according to data compiled by Forbes for its annual billionaires list.

Forbes' 35th annual billionaires list, released Tuesday, revealed there are a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires in the world in 2021. Of those, there are 493 new billionaires on the list this year that didn't make the cut in 2020.

The combined wealth of the world's billionaires as of March 2021 is some $13.1 trillion -- up from $8 trillion total in March 2020.

"This was a record-breaking year in multiple ways, with more newcomers than ever before and more billionaires globally," Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes' assistant managing editor for wealth, said in a statement Tuesday.

"It was also the first time that the combined net worth of the world’s billions crossed into double-digit trillions," Dolan added. "The pace at which huge fortunes have been created is astonishing."

With a net worth of $177 billion, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos topped this year's list for the fourth year in a row. Tesla CEO Elon Musk came in at the No. 2 spot at $151 billion, skyrocketing up from 31st on the list last year. The remaining billionaires in the top five spots are: Bernard Arnault (with a net worth of $150 billion) at No. 3, Bill Gates ($124 billion) at No. 4, and Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion) at No. 5.

This is the first year since 1993 that Warren Buffet, who is No. 6, has not made the Forbes' top five billionaires list. His net worth is $96 billion.

The wealth of the ultra-elite is closely tied to the stock market, which suffered early in the pandemic but has since rebounded to new heights despite pains persisting elsewhere in the economy. Notably, Forbes methodology used stock prices and exchange rates from March 5, 2021, to calculate net worth for this year's list. For last year's list, wealth was measured on March 18, 2020, very close to when the stock market bottomed.

Many economists have warned that the pandemic has widened America's wealth gap, exacerbating income inequality as low-wage service workers in industries requiring face-to-face contact lost their jobs while white collar workers could continue to work remotely.

The unemployment rate in the U.S. last month was 6%. Prior to the COVID-19 shock to the labor market, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was at a historic low of 3.5% in February 2020.

Forbes identified some 1,975 billionaires this year as "self-made," in contrast to 281 billionaires who inherited their wealth and 499 billionaires who inherited a substantial amount of wealth and then grew it further.

The U.S. has more billionaires than any other country (a total of 724), but China is not far behind (with 698 billionaires), according to the Forbes analysis. While the vast majority are still men, there are 328 women billionaires this year, compared to 241 in 2020.

Another notable trend from this year's report was that of the nearly 500 new billionaires in 2021, Forbes said some of the common ways they acquired their wealth was through cryptocurrency, SPACs, traditional IPOs and COVID-related health care.

Finally, among the notable people who appeared on the 2020 billionaires list but did not make the cut in 2021 is reality TV star and makeup entrepreneur Kylie Jenner. Her sister Kim Kardashian, however, made the billionaires list for the first time this year.

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(BETHESDA, Md.) -- A baby bath seat sold exclusively on Amazon has been recalled due to drowning concerns.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said about 5,000 BATTOP Foldable Infant Bath Seats are being recalled after the product failed to meet the federal safety standard for baby bath seats.

No incidents or injuries were reported, but the seats failed federal requirements for stability and can tip over while in use, presenting a drowning hazard to babies, according to the CPSC.

The seats were sold on Amazon from July 2020 through October 2020 for roughly $40. The model number BB2206 can be found on the sticker on the back along with a statement that reads, "Advertisement - Warning NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD UNATTENDED."

Consumers can find the following information on the product packaging: "BATTOP Foldable bath seat, Model: BB2206, Manufacturer: DONGGUAN BABYCARE PRODUCTS CO., LTD., Made in China."

Parents and caregivers should immediately stop using the recalled product and contact BATTOP on how to return with free shipping to receive a full refund.

"Amazon, on behalf of BATTOP, is contacting all known purchasers directly," the CPSC said.

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(NEW YORK) -- Costs are climbing on groceries and staple goods both online and in-stores due to changes amid the pandemic, but there are a couple ways to offset the increase and find new ways to save.

Patrick Penfield, professor of practice-supply chain management at the Whitman School of Management for Syracuse University, told ABC News' Good Morning America earlier this year that he expected prices to steadily rise for the next several months.

"We had a suspicion that prices were going to go up. But I don't think we realized how bad it was going to be," he said. "The whole supply chain is increasing and nobody wants to absorb that cost. So unfortunately the person or people that are going to bear it are the consumers."

The price U.S. consumers pay for groceries is up 3.5% over the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' February Consumer Price Index data. For a family of four, that could be as much as $500 more per year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated for that family size.

Everything from cereal to dairy, meats and eggs have seen a spike in prices and analysts believe that on top of the pandemic factors like truck driver shortages and severe storms have only exacerbated the issue.

"I don't think anybody realized -- the magnitude of issues that we're seeing within the supply chain right now," Penfield added. "And that's something that we'll get through."

Many major consumer-packaged goods have recently hiked prices on their popular products. Cheerios maker General Mills, for example, announced it's raising prices to offset freight manufacturing and commodity prices.

Hormel has raised prices on products like Jennie-O ground turkey in light of higher grain costs to feed the poultry.

Even a jar of JIF peanut butter is pricier than last year, because the J.M. Smucker Company said its costs are "meaningfully higher."

Experts also said there are ways to keep shopping costs low by stocking up and striking when the price is right.

"If you want to stay on budget, you've got to think about what you routinely use. And if you see it on sale, you certainly need to buy it in bulk," Amy Keating, a registered dietitian who tests food for Consumer Reports, told GMA.

Additionally, she said to think outside the big box brands and shop for items on sale, as well as go check prices at smaller stores.
"Other grocery stores that you may have not even considered, like smaller groceries, even drugstores sometimes have sales," Keating said.

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(WASHINGTON) -- In the multi-billion Supreme Court clash between two titans of tech, Google emerged as the victor on Monday.

In a 6-2 opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said that Google's use of 11,000 lines of code -- copied without permission from Oracle's Java program -- to create the Android smartphone operating system -- constitutes fair use as a matter of law and does not require compensation.

"We assume, for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable. But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law," Breyer wrote.

The decision reversed a lower court ruling in favor of Oracle, which had sought $9 billion in damages from Google for copyright infringement.

The stakes in the case -- dubbed the "copyright case of the century" -- are significant for both companies, the software industry and everyday American investors. Millions of Americans' 401k retirement savings plans include investments in Google.

Experts have said a decision in favor of Google, allowing the copying of code as "fair use," could facilitate more rapid development of new consumer products and technological innovation -- essentially allowing companies to build on each other.

But there could be a downside: Some start-up companies fear the decision could harm their ability to turn a profit if giants like Google can swoop in and copy without compensation.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito, blasted the decision as "anything but fair."

"Oracle spent years developing a programming library that successfully attracted software developers, thus enhancing the value of Oracle’s products. Google sought a license to use the library in Android, the operating system it was developing for mobile phones. But when the companies could not agree on terms, Google simply copied verbatim 11,500 lines of code from the library," Thomas wrote.

"By copying Oracle’s work, Google decimated Oracle’s market and created a mobile operating system now in over 2.5 billion actively used devices, earning tens of billions of dollars every year. If these effects on Oracle’s potential market favor Google, something is very wrong with our fair use analysis," he wrote.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the decision as she was confirmed to the bench after the case was argued.

"The Supreme Court’s clear ruling is a victory for consumers, interoperability, and computer science," Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, said in a statement. "The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers."

“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater," Dorian Daley, Oracle's executive vice president and general counsel, said in response. "The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google's business practices."

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