Ascena, which also operates Ann Taylor Loft, Lou & Grey, Catherines and Cacique, is slated to close all of its Catherines stores, in addition to closing a “significant number” of its Justice stores and a “select number” of Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant and Lou & Grey stores, the company said in a press release after filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
“The meaningful progress we have made driving sustainable growth, improving our operating margins and strengthening our financial foundation has been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ascena interim executive chair Carrie W. Teffner said in a statement. “As a result, we took a strategic step forward today to protect the future of the business for all of our stakeholders.”
Ascena has become the latest retailer seeking relief in bankruptcy court after the pandemic hobbled the industry. The announcement comes just weeks after the over 200-year-old retailer Brooks Brothers announced it was seeking financial relief, joining companies including Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J.Crew Group Inc. and J.C. Penney Co.
FILE – A customer stands outside an Ann Taylor store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 19, 2006. (Photo by Jb Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Through its retail brands, Ascena operates e-commerce websites and approximately 2,800 stores throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
Prior to closing all of its stores on March 18, Ascena reported that its in-store sales represented approximately 60 percent of the company’s total revenue. Over the course of three months ending in May, the company saw sales decline 45 percent compared to the prior year, according to an earnings report.
In order to offset some of its losses, the company furloughed over 90 percent of its associates and “significantly reduced base salaries for associates earning above a certain level,” the company said in the earnings report.
However, despite its “aggressive actions to preserve liquidity,” Ascena said in May that the pandemic significantly reduced the company’s earnings and cash flow, leading to an increase in the company’s debt.
As a result, the company was required to “evaluate all options available to protect the business and its stakeholders,” Ascena said in May.
The overall number of store closes will be “determined based on the ability of Ascena and its landlords to reach agreement on sustainable lease structures.”
The company believes the restructuring plan will be in the best interest of landlords in the long term.
“The optimization of Ascena’s brand portfolio and store fleet will allow the Company to stabilize its financial position in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and move forward as a strong, profitable business,” the company said.
A major research effort is under way to understand whether Covid-19 can spread through tiny airborne particles that are released by infected people and remain suspended in the air for hours.
Scientists are working alongside sanitary engineers at the World Health Organization to investigate how tiny aerosols bearing the virus may be released into the environment; whether they are spread around rooms by air-conditioning units; and how infectious the particles may be.
Among the studies being conducted are experiments with caged hamsters to assess whether viruses wafting through the air in hospitals and other high-risk settings are sufficiently potent to spread infections.
In an open letter published on Monday, the scientists implied that the WHO was underplaying the risk of airborne transmission, prompting the organisation to concede that the possibility could not be ruled out, particularly in crowded, enclosed and poorly vented spaces.
But Prof David Heymann, who advises the WHO on infectious hazards, said the organisation needed to see results from well-designed studies before it could consider advice on new strategies for containing the virus.
“It’s ironic that many of the people who signed the letter are contributing to many of the different WHO groups investigating this,” he said during a video conference on Wednesday held by the thinktank Chatham House, where he is head of the Centre on Global Health Security.
The key control measures in place for coronavirus, such as physical distancing, regular hand-washing and mask-wearing, are rooted in the assumption that the infection is largely spread by larger droplets ejected from people’s mouths and noses when they cough, sneeze, shout or sing. These droplets can infect people directly if they contaminate the eyes, nose or mouth, but are thought to fall to the ground within the space of one or two metres. The droplets are also thought to be infectious if they are picked up from doorknobs and other surfaces.
The authors of the open letter believe that a number of outbreaks, including several in meat processing plants, suggest that airborne transmission is important in settings where the virus can build up in the air, or where air is circulated by unfiltered air-conditioning units. If that is the case, further protection is likely to be needed to prevent infections spreading.
“There is a possibility that there’s airborne transmission in closed spaces,” said Heymann. “An air-conditioning unit, especially one on the wall, might be able to pick up an aerosol and put it back out, if it’s not filtered, and circulate it through the room.”
The hypothesis has been put forward to explain a cluster of infections at a Chinese restaurant where people became infected despite being some distance from one another, but there is as yet no hard proof.
Other evidence, however, suggests that airborne transmission is not a major issue. In some countries, such as Switzerland, where lockdown restrictions have been eased and people have returned to restaurants and bars, there has been no increase in transmission.
“There’s evidence in what’s happening that this virus doesn’t act as a virus that would be airborne,” Heymann said. “There are studies going on now and the WHO is waiting to see the results. If there is airborne transmission, we need to better understand it before we can put interventions in place.”
Adding to other scientific studies, the WHO has convened a group of sanitary engineers to investigate what mechanisms may propel virus-carrying aerosols into the air. “That will give us information as to whether or not this virus is spreading in airborne transmission further than closed spaces, which is where we believe airborne transmission can occur now,” Heymann said.
Vera Lynn, the British singer whose songs provided hope for Allied troops during World War II, died Thursday at 103.
“The family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers at the age of 103,” the singer’s family said in a statement. “Dame Vera Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, passed away earlier today, 18 June 2020, surrounded by her close family.”
Lynn was most known for her songs “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again,” the latter serving as the melody in the ending montage of Stanley Kubrick’s famed movie, “Dr. Strangelove.”
Singer Vera Lynn poses outside Buckingham Palace after being invested a Dame Commander of the British Empire on Dec. 2, 1975. The family of World War II forces sweetheart Vera Lynn says she has died. Her passing was reported on Thursday, June 18, 2020. She was 103. (PA via AP, File)
She was described as the “forces sweetheart” as her songs reached millions while echoing messages of optimism to both troops and civilians back at home during the war.
Lynn spent her years during the war entertaining the troops, performing in hospitals and army camps, even traveling as far as India and Burma.
CAIRO — Forces of Libya’s U.N.-backed government seized control of the last remaining western stronghold of militia commander Khalifa Hifter on Friday, dealing a major setback to his ambitions to wrest control of the country.
Pro-government fighters backed by Turkey reached the center of Tarhuna, roughly 40 miles southeast of the capital, Tripoli, on Friday morning after Hifter’s forces retreated, according to military commanders and security analysts. Videos posted on social media showed pickup trucks mounted with machine guns rolling into enclaves and fighters flashing victory signs.
Mohammed Gnounou, a military spokesman for the Tripoli government, said in a statement that its fighters entered the city from four directions and gave Hifter’s forces a “lesson they will not forget.” Hifter’s military office did not respond to a request for comment.
By the afternoon, pro-government forces were reported to be pushing eastward to other Hifter-controlled areas.
The swift capture of Tarhuna came a day after the forces of the 76-year-old strongman retreated from their last positions in Tripoli. Hifter, based in eastern Libya, launched an offensive on the capital 15 months ago in an attempt to oust the government and install himself as Libya’s ruler.
Hifter’s defeat in western Libya leaves his future uncertain but appears unlikely to end the violent contest over lucrative oil and gas resources, territory, ideology and geographical dominance. Hifter still controls Libya’s east and south, as well as many of the oil fields.
“The fall of Tarhuna spells the end of Hifter’s offensive on Tripoli,” said Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “He now no longer has a realistic chance to seize power.”
“This will have major ripple effects on his alliance, which was based on the idea that he would sweep to power,” Lacher added. “Now that his forces have been routed, many in his alliance will reconsider their loyalties.”
A year ago, few observers would have predicted such a stunning military reversal.
Hifter, a dual U.S.-Libyan citizen and former CIA asset who lived for years in Northern Virginia, received heavy weaponry and other military support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other regional powers in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. Russia printed billions in Libyan dinars to finance his war, pay his fighters’ salaries and bribe local tribes to support him, according to diplomats and analysts. France and other European powers elevated his stature diplomatically and politically inside and outside Libya.
In September, hundreds of Kremlin-linked Russian mercenaries emerged on Tripoli’s front lines, bolstering his forces. Then the Tripoli government, known as the Government of National Accord (GNA), inked deals with Turkey giving it access to Mediterranean Sea gas fields in exchange for military aid that included drones, Syrian mercenaries and armored vehicles.
By last month, GNA-aligned militias backed by Turkish drones and defense systems, took town after town from Hifter’s forces, including capturing a strategic air base. That prompted Russia to dispatch 14 fighter jets to eastern Libya, the Pentagon said, in an apparent effort to help Hifter and send a warning to Turkey.
But then the Russian mercenaries withdrew from the front lines and headed to Hifter’s eastern strongholds, apparently in a deal with Turkey, leaving Hifter’s forces vulnerable in Tripoli. And the GNA forces took advantage.
Tarhuna had been vital to Hifter’s Tripoli offensive, a crucial base where his fighters resupplied themselves and where he had the support of powerful local tribes and a brutal militia known as the Kaniyat. On Thursday, the Kaniyat fled the city and Hifter’s other alliances also unraveled, underscoring the extent to which the commander depended on his foreign backers.
“What Hifter did in the first months of 2019 will be difficult for someone else to do again,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya analyst at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
With his defeat, Hifter could face challenges to his authority in the south and east. The commander has already alienated some eastern tribes and politicians by a recent declaration that he was in full control of eastern Libya.
“The LNA, as a defense apparatus, is unlikely to survive in [eastern Libya] without Russia’s military and political help,” added Harchaoui. “The Persian Gulf states and Egypt aren’t quite able to stop Turkey in Libya.”
But Russia never fully supported Hifter’s all-or-nothing gamble for Tripoli, analysts said. In recent weeks, Moscow appeared to be looking for alternatives to Hifter by backing the political initiative of Aguila Saleh, a prominent lawmaker for a rival government in the east.
“For Russia, a weakened Hifter dependent on Russian military support may be an even more attractive partner than a Hifter who is close to seizing power and can choose between numerous foreign sponsors,” said Lacher.
Longtime Libya watchers sense a pivotal moment.
“Hifter’s game is over, ” tweeted Peter Millett, former British ambassador to Libya. “Next steps by the main Libyan actors will be vital. There will be many voices arguing for more fighting & rejecting reconciliation. Important to bring all Libyans together behind a comprehensive plan.”
But in the scramble to dominate Libya, that will depend on the two nations that, more than ever, control Libya’s fate.
“Turkey now has an opportunity to firmly establish its influence in western Libya,” Lacher said. “It’s not yet clear whether Turkey and Russia have agreed on where the lines of their spheres of influence should be drawn. Negotiating those might involve more conflict between their Libyan proxies.”
Dr. Nader Pouratian implanted matchbook-sized devices into the brains of four blind volunteers more than two years ago.
Since then, the participants in the neurosurgeon’s pioneering study have visited his UCLA lab each week to let him hone a system that could give them a rudimentary form of vision. Pouratian hoped to expand his experiment next year to include dozens of people around the country, and eventually make the treatment available to blind people everywhere.
Then the coronavirus came along.
Now seven years of work have ground to a sudden halt. Regular life will resume someday, but Pouratian’s project may not.
“Our first concern obviously has to be the well-being of the people we work with,” he said. “But as a scientist, it is hard to just stop cold like this.”
Hardly a facet of life remains untouched by the sweeping effort to slow the coronavirus’ spread. Researchers like Pouratian are facing more than lost income and social isolation.
The abrupt stoppage of a vast array of exploration and experimentation at universities and other research institutions has left scientists wondering about the discoveries that may never be made, the sick people who will miss the chance at a breakthrough cure and the careers that may never be launched.
The longer the emergency measures remain in place, the more scientists stand to lose. Cell lines specially engineered for particular experiments get older every day. Distant stars cycle out of view of even the largest telescopes. Valuable data is lost before it can be collected.
When the orders came down to close their laboratories, scientists scrambled to mothball their experiments in ways that would maximize their chances of being revived. Those who need only a computer and an internet connection to run simulations or crunch complex numbers continued their work from home.
Now almost everyone is barred from their labs. Exceptions have been granted to the relatively few scientists who could show they’d lose irreplaceable work if their research couldn’t continue and those running clinical trials that provided critical care to patients. The rest have relied on skeletal staffs to tend to the animals, cells and expensive equipment that were suddenly abandoned.
People who were investigating the new coronavirus or possible treatments for COVID-19, the disease it causes, were exempt from the shutdown orders.
A hiatus of several weeks isn’t likely to result in irreparable harm, said Randy Katz, vice chancellor for research at UC Berkeley. If the restrictions stay in place for months, however, losses will become increasingly difficult to avoid.
For example, mice that have been bred to have a particular genetic condition or disease must begin an experiment at a particular age, giving scientists a narrow window for conducting their experiments.
“Animals don’t live forever,” Katz said.
California’s stay-at-home order has complicated efforts by Berkeley scientists to measure the state’s snowpack at field stations in theSierra Nevada, Katz said. State officials rely on that data to determine how much water will be available for drinking and for irrigating crops.
“We obviously need to go when there is snow,” Katz said. “If we wait too long, the opportunity is lost.”
UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko figured he was in the clear when he got special dispensation for a last look at several celestial objects, including a group of supernovas that could help scientists determine the current expansion rate of the universe.
He settled in at a remote observing room on campus that connected to one of the 10-meter telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. But on the first night of his observing run, he got the news: The telescope was shutting down.
Filippenko scrambled to reprioritize. He dropped plans to watch another type of supernova that could reveal more about how stars explode and the chemical elements they forge. By the time he’s able to look again, these stellar phenomena will have long since faded away, he said.
Caltech geobiologist Victoria Orphan had recently returned from a research cruise with a trove of deep-sea microbes when word came down that nonessential experiments would have to stop.
Orphan’s work with extremophiles — organisms that survive under extreme conditions like high pressure or a complete lack of sunlight — could shed light on the origins of life on Earth and the potential for life on other worlds,among other things. And because these microbes live in these extreme environments, they’re not easy to collect. Orphan didn’t want to lose them.
Handling the delicate microbes in the oxygen-free conditions they’re used to can be tricky, she said, so one of her grad students wrote out detailed instructions for a lab manager who is still going on campus to take care of the living things left behind. Some of the high-pressure experiments she had in mind were moved to the back burner since they couldn’t be monitored from home, but if the microbes are still hearty when the stay-at-home order ends, she’ll give them a try then, she said.
And Saul Villeda, a neuroscientist and stem cell biologist at UC San Francisco, said his “head is still kind of spinning” after he was told last month that all nonessential work would be suspended within about 72 hours. “It was incredibly fast,” he said.
Villeda’s research on aging has turned up compounds in the blood of young mice that may help reverse cognitive decline in older animals. When the shutdown order came, he gathered his team on a video conference to make quick decisions no scientist ever wants to consider: What tissues could they harvest? Which ones could be preserved, and which would have to be discarded?
“It was just this overwhelming feeling because you’re not sure how you’re going to make it work,” said Villeda, who managed to freeze his most precious samples.”And then, of course, you make it work.”
Researchers running trials on experimental medical treatments have been granted reprieves if participants in their studies are dependent on the treatments. Pouratian’s work at UCLA did not meet this high bar, so it had to shut down.
The system to create a type of artificial vision, which he helped a medical technology company develop, requires subjects to wear special glasses with small embedded video cameras that connect wirelessly to the brain implants. The implants then translate the video footage into patterns of stimulation that the brain interprets as flashes of light, allowing the person to discern motion such as whether someone is approaching them or walking away. Much work remains to fully understand how a brain’s visual cortex and the device interact.
After being designated a “breakthrough device” by the Food and Drug Administration, the invention had been on an expedited track toward regulatory approval for widespread use. But now everything is on hold, and the company that produced the device is shutting down, an economic casualty of of the pandemic.
There is confusion about other sources of funding as well. Government agencies and private groups dole out billions of dollars in grant money each year — but it usually has to be spent during a limited period of time and requires researchers to finish projects on a strict schedule.
Matthew Fenton, director of the extramural activities division for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said his agency has been fielding urgent questions from anxious researchers who fear their end-of-year reports won’t show enough progress.
“We assure them that that is not the case at all,” Fenton said. “We’re there to support them as much as we can to get through this.”
Perhaps the most vulnerable researchers are those just starting out in their careers who don’t have a track record of success to fall back on. For newly minted doctorates, advancing up the scientific ranks is a challenge in normal times. Now many fear it will be all but impossible as their laboratory work — and the coveted academic publications that should follow — enters a sort of purgatory it may never escape.
Karla Satchell, a microbiologist studying cholera and cancers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said she was particularly concerned for three of the graduate students working in her lab. One of them was set to get his doctorate this summer but can’t complete experiments he needs for his thesis.
“It’s really tough on these trainees,” Satchell said. “You sort of get a momentum in graduate school and you keep that momentum going.”
To be sure, many scientists whose work is primarily computer-based have been able to continue analyzing their data and running simulations as they shelter at home, albeit with more distractions than usual.
That’s little consolation for people like Pouratian, who sees a promising breakthrough possibly slip away.
His thoughts keep returning to the four volunteers who agreed to have brain surgery for the sake of his experiment.
“They did it not only for themselves, but because it might help others down the road,” he said. “And, now, they’re just sitting at home.”