Drug overdose deaths among seniors have more than tripled in 2 decades

Deaths from drug and alcohol use are rising among America’s seniors.

Drug overdose deaths more than tripled among people age 65 and older during the past two decades while deaths from alcohol abuse increased more than 18% from 2019 to 2020, according to data published Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics.

More than 800,000 seniors suffered from drug addiction and 2.7 million suffered from alcohol addiction in 2020, according to separate data from the Health and Human Services Department.

In total, more than 5,000 seniors died of drug overdoses in 2020 and more than 11,600 succumbed to alcohol, according to the NCHS data. Though drug overdose death rates are lower for seniors than other age groups, they have increased substantially from 2.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 8.8 per 100,000 in 2020.

“We’ve got a public health problem coming at our door — these trends have been increasing for a long time now,” said Alexis Kuerbis, a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work and an expert on substance use among older adults.

Seniors today are baby boomers, a generation that had a much more open attitude toward drugs and alcohol than their parents, Kuerbis said. Some baby boomers have carried alcohol and drug habits from their youth and middle age into their later years when their bodies are no longer able to tolerate them, she said.

“Baby boomers obviously are very different generation than the silent generation or the World War II generation,” Kuerbis said. “Baby boomers were far more open to using alcohol and drugs during their younger years but also through their middle-aged years and now they are older adults,” she said.

Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids increased 53% among seniors from 2019 to 2020, according to the data. Kuerbis said there’s some evidence to suggest people who were prescribed opioids in their middle age for an injury later switched to fentanyl once it became harder to get a prescription.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in distress, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

While some drug deaths among seniors are from accidental misuse of drugs, many are suicides from overdosing on opioids, Kuerbis said. Although seniors tend to be happier than younger adults, they also have a higher prevalence of chronic pain, terminal illness and dementia, she said.

Some older adults also use drugs or alcohol to cope with major life changes such as retirement, grief and loss, or a change in their living situation, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Drug overdose deaths were highest among Black seniors. The death rate from drugs among Black men ages 65 to 74 was more than four times higher than Hispanic or white men in that age group, according to the data. Black women ages 65 to 74 died more often from drug overdoses than white and Hispanic women. White women older than 75 had a higher death rate from drugs than Black and Hispanic women.

Alcohol deaths were highest among American Indian seniors followed by Hispanics, white Americans, Black Americans and Asian Americans, according to the data.

Elon Musk may be luring Apple into a fight with Republicans

Tim Cook walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Over the past week, Twitter owner Elon Musk has been poking Apple, the big bear of Silicon Valley, which controls app distribution to every iPhone.

Musk has been taking aim at the iPhone maker over a number of topics, including its reduced spending on Twitter advertising and its 30% cut of all digital sales made through apps. He also accused Apple of threatening to pull the Twitter app from the App Store.

In one deleted tweet, Musk suggested he was “going to war.” In another, he asked if Apple hates free speech. Over the weekend, he mused he’d make his own smartphone.

Elon Musk is as 'wrong as you can get' on Apple criticism, says Jim Cramer

Apple has remained a sleeping bear in the face of Musk’s provocations. It has not commented, nor has CEO Tim Cook, and while its app review moderation staffers may be talking to Twitter behind the scenes over questionable content, Apple hasn’t pulled the app. In fact, Twitter got an update through app review last week.

Twitter is not that important to Apple from a business perspective. It’s just one of a vast number of apps on the App Store, and it isn’t a huge moneymaker for Apple through in-app purchases.

But on Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, both Republicans, made remarks about Apple’s situation that show how Musk could put Apple in a tough spot.

Here’s one way it could go:

  • Musk makes a change to Twitter in order to bypass Apple’s 30% fees, such as allowing users to plug their credit cards in to the app to subscribe to Twitter Blue or other new features.
  • Apple pulls the app because of these violations.
  • Musk frames the dispute with Apple as an issue over free speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
  • Apple gets caught up in a nationwide debate over free speech and monopoly power focusing on its App Store.

How things could play out

On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that if Apple were to kick Twitter off, it would show that Apple has monopolistic power and that Congress should look into it. DeSantis framed it as an issue of free speech — many conservatives believe that social networks, including Twitter, generally discriminate against conservative viewpoints.

“You also hear reports Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store because Elon Musk is actually opening it up for free speech, and is restoring a lot of accounts that were unfairly and illegitimately suspended for putting out accurate information about Covid,” DeSantis said.

“If Apple responds to that by nuking them from the app store, I think that would be a huge, huge mistake, and it would be a really raw exercise of monopolistic power,” he continued.

Vance framed the situation similarly in a tweet, saying that if Apple pulled Twitter, “This would be the most raw exercise of monopoly power in a century, and no civilized country should allow it.”

In fact, Apple’s app review department is unlikely to pull Twitter over content. While Apple regularly bans apps over questionable content, they are rarely big brand names such as Twitter — they’re usually smaller, lesser-known apps. Apple’s rules for apps with significant user-generated content, such as Twitter, focus less on specific kinds of infringing content and more on whether the app has a content filtering system or content moderation procedures. Twitter has both, although Musk’s recent cuts to Twitter’s staff could hurt its ability to flag problem posts.

But Apple would be much more likely to pull the Twitter app if Twitter tries to cut Apple out of its platform fees.

It’s happened before. In 2020, Fortnite added a system inside its iPhone app that allowed users to buy in-game coins directly from Epic Games, cutting out the 30% of sales that Apple typically takes. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store the same day. The episode kicked off a legal battle, which Apple won on most counts but is currently in appeals.

Google takes a similar cut for Android apps sold through its Play Store but also allows other Android app stores to exist and allows people to “sideload” apps directly onto their phones, while Apple has an exclusive lock on all iPhone app distribution.

Musk has good business reasons to pick this fight.

In particular, Musk wants Twitter to make much more money from direct subscriptions and not advertising. But Apple’s 30% cut of purchases made inside apps is a major hurdle for a company that is slashing costs and has a significant debt load.

So Musk could pull an Epic Games move and enable direct billing, spurring Apple to take action, while at the same time framing the debate around free speech. If that happened, as DeSantis suggested, perhaps Congress would start asking questions. Apple would become a football in political debates. Executives could be forced to testify or provide written responses.

At the very least, you’d have lawmakers such as Vance using the words “monopoly” and “Apple” in the same sentence. That’s a risk to Apple’s brand. Debate over these topics could reenergize pending regulation such as the Open Markets Act which threatens its control over the App Store and its significant profits.

The last time Apple pulled an app that was popular with conservatives for lack of content moderation was Parler in January 2021. It was restored in April.

In the interim, Apple faced official inquiries from Republican Sens. Ken Buck and Mike Lee about why Parler was removed from the App Store. Cook appeared on Fox News to defend the company’s decision.

Twitter is a significantly more important and well-known social network than Parler was and would grab more attention.

It’s probably most valuable for Apple if Twitter remains on the platform. The controversy-averse iPhone maker would probably like this whole Elon Musk narrative to go away.

Indeed, it could play out this way: Apple remains silent, working with Twitter behind the scenes on its app, and Musk tweets about the 30% cut when it irks him. Nothing really changes.

But Musk is unpredictable, and if he does really want to “go to war” over 30% fees, Apple could be forced into a tough spot.

Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cramer says he likes stocks in these 4 industries over tech right now

Jim Cramer on how Roku stock's decline exemplifies the turmoil in tech

CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Tuesday offered investors a list of industries they should eye over tech when managing their portfolios.

Here is his list:

  1. Industrials
  2. Foods
  3. Pharmaceuticals
  4. Oils 

“Why rubberneck when you can invest in stocks of companies that have a lot going for them? I think that’s much better than sifting through the wreckage of tech simply because their stocks are down a great deal,” he said.

Tech stocks have been battered this year by persistent inflation, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid lockdowns in China. 

While some tech firms remain profitable and their stock looks like bargains, investors are better off positioning themselves elsewhere, according to Cramer. His advice on Tuesday echoes his urging last month for investors to buy recession-resilient stocks rather than stick with struggling tech companies.

“Their stocks are down so much that people figure, ‘Well, they can’t possibly go any lower.’ But that’s not true. It can always go lower until it gets to zero,” he said.

He added that while it’s true that the stocks have come down enough that owning them isn’t as risky as it would’ve been earlier this year, tech companies need to reevaluate their priorities before their stocks can start to recover.

“They won’t truly be de-risked until management decides to pivot from a growth at all costs mindset … to a profitability at some costs mindset,” Cramer said.

Jim Cramer says he likes stocks in these 4 industries over tech

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Kroger and Albertsons executives defend proposed merger at hearing

Albertsons and Kroger supermarkets

Bridget Bennett | Bloomberg | Getty Images; Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The battle over whether grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons should be allowed to combine is heating up.

On Tuesday, leaders of the two companies defended their proposed merger at a congressional hearing in Washington, where they faced a series of questions about how the deal could shake up the competitive landscape — and potentially the prices that consumers pay at the store.

“I just don’t see less competition going forward,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said at the hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. “It’s easy for customers to make a right turn or a left turn.”

Kroger announced plans in October to acquire Albertsons in a deal valued at $24.6 billion. The Cincinnati-based company is the second-largest grocer by market share in the United States, behind Walmart, and Albertsons is fourth, after Costco, according to market researcher Numerator. Together, Kroger and Albertsons would be a closer second to Walmart.

At the hearing Tuesday, McMullen said that the combined company could help lower food prices and improve the customer experience, especially at a time when grocers are racing to adapt to changes like online shopping. He said retailers have to keep reinventing themselves to stay relevant and convince customers to drive to their stores.

Yet the proposed merger has faced intense pushback from elected officials of both political parties and opposition from the United Food and Commercial Workers, a major grocery union that represents thousands of the grocers’ employees.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, led the hearing Tuesday along with Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah. Both challenged the companies on their actions, including Kroger’s $1 billion in share buybacks announced last year and plans to pay dividends to shareholders as well as previous deals, such as Albertsons’ acquisition of Safeway.

They emphasized that the proposed deal comes at a time when groceries are taking up more of American families’ budgets. Food prices have surged as inflation hovers near four-decade highs. Prices of everyday items, including butter, eggs, poultry and milk have jumped by double-digits from the year-ago period as of October, according to the most recent federal data available.

Skeptical senators, workers

The hearing offers a preview of the bigger antitrust battle ahead.

For Kroger and Albertsons, the argument is clear: combining will help them weather dramatic industry changes. Online grocery sales are eating into already thin margins. New players, such as deep discounters like Aldi and e-commerce players like Amazon, are also pressuring traditional grocers.

“The marketplace for groceries over the past decade has completely transformed making the competition for consumers fierce,” said Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran said at the hearing. “The best way to compete with mega stores like Walmart and highly capitalized online companies like Amazon will be through a merger with Kroger.”

He argued that even as a combined company, Kroger and Albertsons will still be small compared to Walmart, Costco and Amazon.

Ahead of the hearing, members of the UCFW — which represents over 100,000 Kroger and Albertsons workers — shared their worries at a press conference on Capitol Hill. Their concerns ranged from the potential loss of their pension plans to higher food prices to job losses.

Albertsons employees who belong to the union remembered the impact of past mergers. Judy Wood, a longtime cake decorator for the grocery giant, said she and her coworkers were shocked by the store closures that resulted after Safeway’s merger with Albertsons, which was announced in 2014.

Union members also railed against the private equity firms that will benefit from the proposed $4 per share special dividend for Albertsons shareholders announced in conjunction with the deal. Cerberus Capital Management owns a 28.4% stake in Albertsons, according to Factset. For now, the dividend payout is on hold until at least Dec. 9 due to a ruling in Washington state court.

McMullen said on Tuesday that the company does not plan to close stores or lay off employees, but said it will work with the Federal Trade Commission, if needed, to spin off stores for competitive reasons.

As part of its original proposal, Kroger said it already had a plan to overcome concerns about the merger − divesting between 100 and 375 stores in a spinoff. Kroger and Albertsons would work together — and with the FTC — to decide which stores would be part of the spinoff company.

On Tuesday, McMullen said the company is in “active conversations” with unions about the deal and what it means for its workforce. He said the deal would ultimately expand opportunities for employees. Kroger will also spend $1 billion on higher wages and better benefits for store employees after the deal closes, he said.

“A successful business is what creates his job security,” he said. “And we believe we’ll have an incredibly successful business that creates job security.”

Some grocery competitors and industry experts also opposed the deal at the hearing.

Michael Needler, chief executive officer of Fresh Encounter, an independent grocery chain based in Northwest Ohio, said companies like Walmart and Amazon use their size to pressure suppliers for lower prices and better terms. Instead of creating an even playing field, he said, the Kroger-Albertsons deal would create yet another power player who makes it difficult — if not impossible — for smaller grocers to compete.

For instance, he said, larger grocers have run predatory campaigns against his own chain by offering coupons for free groceries.

“I don’t know any other way to point out predatory pricing than buying your competition,” he said.

Sumit Sharma, a senior researcher who specializes in antitrust matters and competition at Consumer Reports, also said at the hearing that he does not see any benefits to combining the companies. Instead, he said retailers would have less reason to increase employee wages. Shoppers would have fewer choices and more sticker shock.

“Even if they sell a few stores, that is going to take competition out of the market,” he said. “So prices will go up.”

CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

Netflix’s plan kept ‘Glass Onion’ from more box office millions

Netflix probably left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table by not keeping Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” in theaters.

The sequel to Johnson’s critically acclaimed “Knives Out” opened in nearly 700 theaters, the largest release of any Netflix original film to date, last Wednesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. “Glass Onion” leaves theaters Tuesday. It will arrive on Netflix Dec. 23.

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The movie snared an estimated $13 million to $15 million during the five-day stretch, a solid opening for a film released in only a limited number of theaters.

Box office analysts, however, say that figure could have been much higher if Netflix had opted for a traditional wide release of 2,000 to 4,000 theaters. The truncated run for “Glass Onion” also prompted industry insiders to again question the streamer’s theatrical release strategy. Netflix has backtracked on its previous policies, including by introducing an ad-supported subscription option, leading many to wonder whether the company should rethink its resistance to the traditional Hollywood movie release model as it looks for new ways to grow revenue.

“With a traditional wide release, premium screen spread, and full marketing campaign, I think ‘Glass Onion’ could have generated at least $50 million to $60 million to lead the entire market,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

Instead, Disney and Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” continued to lead the box office, tallying $45.9 million in domestic ticket sales during the regular three-day weekend and $64 million for the five-day holiday period.

Netflix declined to provide box office receipts for the film, breaking with standard procedures other studios adhere to each weekend, so it is unclear what “Glass Onion” generated in ticket sales Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But in 2019, “Knives Out” snared $312 million globally on a budget of just $40 million. The first film’s performance at the box office has provoked questions about why Netflix has limited the release of “Glass Onion” to just one week in a limited number of theaters. After all, the streamer reportedly shelled out $400 million for the rights to two sequels.

Box office analysts predicted the film could have hauled in more than $200 million in ticket sales before the end of its run if it had been given a wider global release.

“This is exactly the kind of movie adults want to see in theaters right now,” said Robbins. “The family element made ‘Knives Out’ a perfect Thanksgiving release for audiences across the country three years ago. Daniel Craig’s return as Benoit Blanc, Rian Johnson’s sharp storytelling, and another round of positive reviews for ‘Glass Onion’ are building on the excellent goodwill from the prior film as this semi-sequel reaps some rewards, but it arguably could have achieved even more.”

Word of mouth was a huge factor in the success of “Knives Out,” as evidenced by the film’s low drop in ticket sales from week to week after its opening. Typically, films will see weekend sales drop by 50% or more in each week after its opening. But “Knives Out” ticket sales declines remained consistently under 40% until Christmas, when sales got a 50% boost, and then only fell between 10% and 30% weekly until February.

This indicates that audiences were talking about the film and encouraging others to go out and see it, leading to a strong hold in ticket sales.

“Glass Onion” earned a 93% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 238 reviews and an audience score of 92%, suggesting that it too could have generated the same kind of word of mouth.

Some executives within Netflix reportedly lobbied co-CEO Ted Sarandos earlier this year to consider longer stints in theaters and wider releases for some films, but Sarandos nixed the idea. Top brass at the company have said repeatedly that the future of entertainment is streaming.

The company’s strategy in the past with limited theatrical releases — such as with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” — has been to build buzz for subscribers before the film arrives on its service. That’s the play here, too, the company said during last quarter’s earnings video.

“We’re in the business of entertaining our members with Netflix movies on Netflix,” Sarandos said during the call.

He said that Netflix has brought films to festivals and has given them limited runs in theaters because filmmakers have demanded it.

“There [are] all kinds of debates all the time, back and forth, but there’s no question internally that we make our movies for our members and we really want them to watch them on Netflix,” he said.

Netflix declined to comment further.

While Sarandos and co-CEO Reed Hastings have remained adamant that subscribers don’t want Netflix content in theaters, some Wall Street analysts don’t think that’s the case.

“Subscribers don’t care at all,” said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush. “The talent, on the other hand, cares a lot. … The talent needs that to help negotiate future deals, and thrives on the prestige of awards nominations.”

“Netflix did not do this for the money,” he added. “They did it because of pressure from the talent.”

To others, like streaming expert Dan Rayburn, Netflix’s cross-platform promotion of putting “Glass Onion” in theaters for a week to tease its release on the streamer a month later “makes a lot of sense.”

The streaming giant would have also had to shell out more in marketing costs to promote the film over time. Additionally, Netflix’s business model relies on new films and TV shows to decrease subscriber churn and lure in new audiences to its platform. The fact that “Glass Onion” drew patrons to theaters is a sign to Netflix that there is demand for the film and it will likely perform well once it debuts on the streaming service.

Still, it’s hard for investors to see all the money left on the table — especially when Netflix continues to spend heavily on content as subscriber numbers slow.

In recent years, the streamer has spent big on flashy, blockbuster-style action movies like “The Gray Man” and “Red Notice,” which cost the company $200 million each. The films are the first steps in bids to spark event-level franchises. But they’re costly, and it’s unclear how positive they have been for Netflix’s bottom line.

Unlike rival studios Universal and Disney, Netflix doesn’t have a wide breadth of sources to generate revenue. Its only option, until recently, for recouping its spending has been through subscription growth. The company is hoping its ad-tier will help generate more funds to subsidize its $17 billion annual spending on content.

Box office analysts and Wall Street see theatrical releases as a smart way for Netflix to market its content and spark revenue growth.

“Here’s hoping ‘Knives Out 3’ is given the chance to build further on this watershed moment of cooperation between Netflix and theatrical exhibitors,” Robbins said. “It would be a win-win for the entire industry.” 

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

Shopper turnout hit record over Black Friday weekend, trade group says

A customer searches for shoe products inside a Macy’s store during Black Friday sales on November 25, 2022 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Kena Betancur | Getty Images

A record number of holiday shoppers – 196.7 million – flocked back to stores and hunted for deals from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, which tracks the figure for in-person and online shopping.

The trade group did not estimate spending over the weekend, but said Tuesday that sales for the overall holiday shopping season are on track to meet its forecast. It anticipates that holiday sales will rise by 6% to 8% from last year to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Some of that increase will come from nearly four-decade high inflation.

The National Retail Federation defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31. The sales forecast excludes spending at automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

Shoppers spent an average of about $325 on holiday-related purchases over the weekend. That’s higher than last year’s average of $301.

NRF CEO Matt Shay said the weekend’s biggest takeaways are that Americans are eager to shop in-person again and that they’re hungry for big bargains. More than 122.7 million people visited brick-and-mortar stores over the weekend, a jump of 17% from 2021.

As inflation hits Americans’ wallets, he said, promotions have become a important motivator.

“Consumers are out shopping, but they’re out shopping when they see deals and when they get the promotions that meet what it is they’re looking for, and so you can get them engaged, but you’ve got to deliver value and price,” he said on a call with reporters.

Retailers have nevertheless been cautious about their holiday outlooks, particularly as families feel the pinch of inflation. Walmart has spoken about customers skipping over discretionary items and trading down to cheaper proteins like hot dogs and peanut butter. Target cut its forecast for the holiday quarter. And Best Buy said customers have had a higher interest in shopping during sales events.

So far, though, industry-watchers have reported a strong start to the shopping season. Figures from Adobe Analytics showed that online spending hit record highs on key days during the holiday shopping weekend. Black Friday sales hit $9.12 billion and Cyber Monday sales hit $11.3 billion, according to the company, which tracks sales on retailers’ websites.

On average, consumers said in the NRF survey that they are about halfway done with holiday shopping. That means retailers can expect more purchases in the weeks ahead, Shay said.

NRF said Tuesday that its tally of shoppers over the holiday weekend topped last year’s turnout of 179 million during the same period last year. The group, which began tracking the figure in 2017, had forecast a turnout of 166.3 million for this year.

A bigger turnout and record spending this holiday season could be a result of a variety of factors. It could indicate that consumers are willing to buy − but only if items are on deep discount. It could also signal a return to the pre-pandemic timetable of holiday shopping, with people concentrating their gift-buying around Black Friday and in the final sprint before Christmas Day.

Or it could portend a more challenging 2023. If Americans are funding shopping spree by slashing savings rates and tallying up big balances on credit cards or through ‘Buy Now Pay Later,’ that could leave them with less to spend in the months ahead.

The National Retail Federation, a major trade group, has taken a bullish stance on consumer spending — saying a strong job market has encouraged Americans to keep spending.

Shay also shook off concerns about a recession on Tuesday, but acknowledged another risk for retailers: the threat of a railway strike. While retailers may have most of their holiday merchandise, he said a work stoppage could be a blow to consumer confidence.

“We think that the holiday season would be the worst possible time,” he said.

We haven't seen a drop in demand over inflation concerns, says Ledbury CEO

Flu hospitalizations increase nearly 30% as U.S. enters holiday season

Susana Sanchez, a Nurse Practitioner, administers a flu vaccination to Loisy Barrera at a CVS pharmacy and MinuteClinic in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Flu hospitalizations have increased nearly 30% in a week as the spread of respiratory illnesses remains high across most of the U.S.

More than 11,200 people were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending Nov. 19, compared to about 8,700 patients admitted during the prior week, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department.

Flu has hit unusually hard and early this season, putting pressure on emergency departments across the nation. Flu activity normally picks up after Thanksgiving, but hospitalizations were already at a decade high in early November.

Scientists and public health experts are worried flu hospitalizations will surge even more after millions traveled to see family and friends for Thanksgiving. Christmas is also just weeks away, giving the flu with another opportunity to spread widely.

About 11 people out of every 100,000 have been hospitalized with the flu since early October, the highest level in a decade. More than 6.2 million people have fallen ill, 53,000 have been hospitalized, and 2,900 have died this season, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The fact that we’re already at this high level going into the holiday season makes me nervous,” said Scott Hensley, a microbiologist and flu expert at the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Hensley said flu is hitting harder earlier this year because population immunity is probably at its lowest level in recent history. Flu basically didn’t circulate for two years due to the masking and social distancing measures put in place during Covid, he said. As a result, large swaths of the population didn’t get an immunity boost from infection so they may be more vulnerable to flu this year than in past seasons.

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Seniors and children under age five are the most vulnerable, with hospitalization rates about double the national average. A flu variant that’s more severe for the elderly is also dominant right now, which means the U.S. could be in for a tough season. More than 60% of flu samples tested by public health labs were positive for the influenza A(H3N2) strain, according to CDC.

“It is a well described phenomenon. H3N2 has a more severe impact on older persons so more hospitalization, ICU admissions and deaths,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Flu vaccines typically aren’t as effective against H3N2, though there’s hope that this season might prove different. The majority of flu viruses tested are similar to the strains included in this year’s vaccine, according to the CDC.

Vaccine efficacy data hasn’t been published yet, but the shots normally perform better when they are matched well to the circulating variants. Flu vaccine efficacy has ranged widely from 19% to 60% in past seasons depending on how well the shots were matched to the strains circulating.

“From what we can see, it looks like the vaccines are pretty darn good matches to what’s circulating,” Hensley said. “If there’s ever a time to get vaccinated, this is the year to do it,” he said.

Flu activity was highest in the Southeast in past weeks, but most of the country is now seeing high levels of illness, according to CDC.

Flu activity is moderate or low in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Disney CEO Bob Iger talks ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ LGBTQ inclusion at town hall

Bob Iger poses with Mickey Mouse attends Mickey’s 90th Spectacular at The Shrine Auditorium on October 6, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Valerie Macon | AFP | Getty Images

Following criticism of its past handling of LGBTQ issues, Disney CEO Bob Iger on Monday told employees that inclusion and acceptance are among the “core values” of the company’s storytelling.

The remarks come after Disney had faced criticism under previous CEO Bob Chapek for its handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Disney’s recent inclusion of unambiguously gay characters in animated films has also drawn criticism from anti-LGBTQ activists.

“This company has been telling stories for 100 years, and those stories have had a meaningful, positive impact on the world, and one of the reasons they have had a meaningful, positive impact is because one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion and acceptance and tolerance, and we can’t lose that,” Iger said Monday.

Florida-Disney battle could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion

Iger also said that some subjects that have proven to be controversial shouldn’t be considered political.

“I don’t think when you are telling stories and attempting to be a good citizen of the world that that’s political,” he said according to sources who heard the event and asked to remain anonymous because it was not open to the public.

With the Florida bill, Chapek has said he had initially decided not to speak out on the measure because he wanted to work “behind the scenes” to engage with lawmakers. However, his silence led many opponents of the bill to believe Disney was being complacent.

When Chapek did later come out against the bill, his statements angered Florida lawmakers, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, leading the state to pass a bill that would dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was established in 1967 so that the company could develop infrastructure and be primarily responsible for the cost of municipal services such as power, water and fire protection.

The retaliatory action, set to take effect in June 2023, means Disney will now have to go through the local counties for approval of construction projects such as hotels and theme park expansions. It also means the local counties would become responsible for all of the district’s municipal services and debt.

On Monday, Iger told employees that he is still getting up to speed on the upcoming dissolution Reedy Creek district.

“I was sorry to see us dragged into the that battle, and I have no idea exactly what its ramifications are,” he told employees.

Additionally, Iger addressed the company’s previously announced plans to relocate more than 2,000 jobs from California to Florida, noting that the move has been delayed until 2026 and that the company is still finalizing details about which jobs will be transferred. He said that he isn’t reversing the decision to move these jobs, but is looking into the proposed relocation.

Another big controversy has involved Disney’s animation studios, which have started including more LGBTQ characters as part of Pixar and Disney Animation’s efforts to produce stories that include a more diverse swath of characters and cultures.

Ahead of the June release of “Lightyear,” the company made headlines after Pixar creatives managed to reinstate a same-sex kiss that had been cut from the film. Its newest animated release, “Strange World,” also includes a main character who is gay and has a crush on a boy in the film.

Disney was praised for its inclusion of such characters, but many felt the company did not do enough to support the decisions when they received backlash from some conservative critics.

On Monday, Iger pointed to films like “Black Panther” and “Coco” as examples of Disney projects that “changed the world for good.” Iger said that the company’s creative decisions won’t make everyone happy, but that its studios will not lessen their core values.

“It’s complicated, and there’s a balance,” he said.

Iger also announced plans during the town hall to keep the company’s hiring freeze in place, concentrate on making its streaming platforms profitable and reevaluate the company’s overall organizational structure.

Strong labor report could bring bigger Fed hikes

Cramer's week ahead: Strong labor report could lead to more aggressive rate hikes

CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Monday told investors that a key labor report could help drive the Federal Reserve’s inflation strategy.

“We need to see the unemployment rate go higher, while wages remain stable and we get meaningful layoffs in some industries. If that doesn’t happen, if the numbers are truly strong, then the Fed heads will come out of the woodwork and start talking about how we need more enormous rate hikes,” he said.

Stocks slid on Monday to start the week, weighed down by protests against Covid restrictions in China that erupted over the weekend. 

The Labor Department is set to release the November nonfarm payrolls report on Friday and could cap off what could be a tough week for the market, according to Cramer. “Seasonally, it tends to be a little bit weaker, before things really take off again come December,” he said.

He also previewed next week’s slate of earnings. All earnings and revenue estimates are courtesy of FactSet.

Tuesday: Workday, CrowdStrike

Workday

  • Q3 2023 earnings release at 4 p.m. ET; conference call at 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 84 cents
  • Projected revenue: $1.59 billion

Cramer predicted it’ll be difficult for the company to top its last “spectacular” quarter.

CrowdStrike

  • Q3 2023 earnings release at 4:05 p.m. ET; conference call at 5 p.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 48 cents
  • Projected revenue: $788 million

He said he’s interested in seeing if the company can change from a pure growth play to a profitable growth name.

Wednesday: Hormel Foods, Petco, Salesforce, Okta

Hormel Foods

  • Q4 2022 earnings release at 6:30 a.m. ET; conference call at 9 a.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 50 cents
  • Projected revenue: $3.38 billion

Hormel might follow other food stocks that have stopped going down, Cramer said.

Petco

  • Q3 2022 earnings release at 7:30 a.m. ET; conference call at 8:30 a.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 16 cents
  • Projected revenue: $1.49 billion

He said he’s worried the company will report disappointing results.

Salesforce

  • Q3 2023 earnings release at 4:05 p.m. ET; conference call at 5 p.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: $1.22
  • Projected revenue: $7.83 billion

Cramer said he doesn’t expect co-CEO Marc Benioff to “tolerate” the fact that the stock is one of the worst performers in the Dow Jones Industrial Index.

Okta

  • Q3 2023 earnings release at 4:05 p.m. ET; conference call at 5 p.m. ET
  • Projected loss: loss of 8 cents per share
  • Projected revenue: $591 million

“Like so many companies in Silicon Valley, I think Okta’s going to have to learn to live with less [workers],” he said.

Thursday: Dollar General, Kroger, Ulta Beauty, Marvell Technology

Dollar General

  • Q3 2022 earnings release at 6:55 a.m. ET; conference call at 10 a.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: $2.54
  • Projected revenue: $9.42 billion

Cramer pointed out that while analysts love the stock, products at the company’s stores are more expensive than they used to be.

Kroger

  • Q3 2022 earnings release at 8 a.m. ET; conference call at 9 a.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 82 cents
  • Projected revenue: $33.99 billion

While the company will likely deliver a good quarter, people will only care about the status of the company’s planned merger with Albertsons, he said.

Ulta Beauty

  • Q3 2022 earnings release at 4 p.m. ET; conference call at 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: $4.13
  • Projected revenue: $2.21 billion

Cramer said he expects a huge earnings beat from the company.

Marvell Technology

  • Q3 2023 earnings release at 4:05 p.m. ET; conference call at 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Projected EPS: 71 cents
  • Projected revenue: $1.80 billion

While he’s a believer in the stock, it likely won’t soar until the industry-wide chip glut becomes resolved, he said.

Disclaimer: Cramer’s Charitable Trust owns shares of Salesforce.

Cramer's game plan for the trading week of Nov. 28

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Elon Musk claims Apple has threatened to remove the Twitter app

Big Technology’s Alex Kantrowitz and Platformer’s Casey Newton break down Elon Musk's issue with Apple

Twitter owner Elon Musk claimed on Monday in a series of tweets that Apple had threatened to remove the Twitter app from the App Store as part of its app review moderation process.

“Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Musk tweeted.

In other tweets fired off on Monday morning, he called Apple’s App Store fees a “secret 30% tax,” and ran a poll asking if “Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.” He also claimed that Apple has pulled most of its advertising from Twitter.

Apple’s App Store is the only way to distribute software to iPhones. If the Twitter app were pulled, the social network would lose one of its main distribution platforms, although the service is available for the web.

Elon Musk said that his company SpaceX cannot fund the Starlink service in Ukraine “indefinitely.”

Michael Gonzalez | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In addition, Apple requires iPhone app makers to pay between 15% and 30% of any digital goods sold through their apps. Musk has said one of his plans for Twitter is to raise billions of dollars from subscriptions, such as Twitter Blue, which is offered through the iPhone app. If it were to grow to Musk’s goals, Apple would collect hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Apple has faced challenges to its App Store fees and policies from companies such as Spotify and Epic Games, but Musk is no stranger to attracting worldwide attention, and may represent Apple’s biggest challenge to its control over iPhone app distribution so far.

Apple declined to comment about Musk’s tweets.

But there are signs that Apple is watching the social network closely to see if it violates any App Store policies.

Representatives for unnamed app stores, which include Apple’s App Store as well as Google Play for Android devices, reached out to Twitter earlier this month after Musk took over and the site saw a wave of hate speech, according to a New York Times op-ed by Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s former chief marketer who oversees App Review, apparently deleted his Twitter account earlier this month after Musk took over.

Phillip Shoemaker, the former head of Apple’s app review and current CEO of Identity.com, said Schiller’s move to delete his account reminded him of a company making moves to “prepare for war.” He believes that Apple’s app review department is keeping a close eye on Twitter’s content moderation under Musk to see if more questionable content, such as porn, slips through.

Apple’s recent moves are “like when you remove troops from a country before you attack,” Shoemaker said. “You’re thinking you’re going to have to pull these apps from the store.”

Where Twitter might fall afoul of Apple’s rules

There are two primary reasons why Apple’s App Store might take a closer look at Twitter under its public guidelines:

  • Apple requires apps with user-generated content such as Twitter to have strong content moderation systems in place. Insufficient content moderation was the reason why Apple booted Parler, a smaller Twitter competitor, in 2020. Musk has reportedly vastly downsized Twitter’s content moderation workforce.
  • Apple requires apps to pay fees between 30% and 15% for digital purchases. When Epic Games put in a system to get around Apple’s cut, Apple removed it. If Twitter were to pull a similar move, it might force Apple’s hand.

There are also other reasons why Twitter might fall afoul of Apple’s rules, including its insistence that adult content not be discoverable by default. Twitter remains one of the most prominent social networks that allows adult content, opening up gray areas for App Store delays or issues.

Apple’s App Store uses employees to review each app and update that goes on the platform. The app reviewers often send short responses highlighting issues without being explicit about what apps need to do to pass, CNBC previously reported.

Musk has tweaked Apple for years, and seems to enjoy doing so. He has complained about Apple’s app store fees in the past, although the Tesla app doesn’t allow in-app purchases. He has also sparred with Apple’s purported plan to build electric cars, although Apple’s secretive project has never shipped a car.

In 2015, Musk teased Apple saying that it only hires rejected Tesla employees and that he calls Apple the “Tesla Graveyard.”

But Musk’s moves on Monday go beyond teasing and rivalry, and suggest that he may be prepared to fight a lengthy public relations battle over Apple’s rules. In one tweet, he posted a meme in which a car veers off the highway under a road sign offering two choices: “Pay 30%” and “Go to war.” The car was choosing the latter option.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Phillip Shoemaker’s name.