U.S. city and state authorities have pledged to avoid the COVID-19 closures that have caused economic upheaval in the pandemic’s first year. But a wave of cases and the spread of the omicron variant has left some restaurants, entertainment venues and schools with no choice but to close their doors.
In New York City, mayor-elect Eric Adams rescinded his 3,000-person inauguration at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. The Rockettes wrapped up their Christmas special at Radio City Music Hall and more than a dozen Broadway shows, including “Hamilton” and “Aladdin,” have canceled shows. Restaurants there and in Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, have closed amid staff outbreaks. And school systems like Prince George County, outside of Washington, DC, have referred students to distance learning.
There were no government orders or local restrictions causing the closures this time around. Instead, businesses have been forced to shut down due to too many staff members receiving COVID – or as a precaution that staying open amid the upsurge in cases could contribute to the spread of the disease.
“No one saw this coming,” said Amanda McMillan, general manager of Four Horsemen, a Michelin-starred wine bar in Brooklyn that closed on Dec. 14 when a number of employees tested positive. “It had been a while since we last put on our public health hat. “
McMillan, which plans to reopen before the New Year’s holidays, said she had flashbacks to the early days of the pandemic, when the restaurant laid off 44 people. “I feel a huge responsibility to get things done. The first time around, there was payroll protection money and stimulus money; this time around, I don’t think it’s going to happen. We have to keep walking now, ”she said.
Businesses are closing in on the sheer number of COVID cases. The seven-day average of new cases in the United States increased 43% in one month. In New York, they have more than six-fold.
But thanks to vaccinations, mask adherence and therapeutic breakthroughs, public health officials say hospitalizations and deaths have not risen to near the case rate. And so, despite the rapid spread of omicron, the United States has focused on persuading people to get vaccinated and boosted.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced new measures to fight the virus, including sending 500 million free COVID tests to homes and sending the military to help overwhelmed hospitals. He said those vaccinated should continue with Christmas plans and rejected the lockdown measures. Cases are expected to peak in January, as they did a year ago.
“Even though the numbers are higher, we are in much better shape this year than last year,” said Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist in New York City. “It doesn’t matter if people test positive, as long as they aren’t hospitalized or die.”
Yet omicron is highly contagious whether one is vaccinated or not, Parikh said, and this has resulted in more groundbreaking cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises anyone with a positive test to isolate for 10 days and close contacts to quarantine during the same period – creating staff shortages in hospitals, schools, restaurants and cultural places.
Labor shortages on Wednesday led CityMD to shut down 19 of 150 sites in New York and New Jersey. “We hope that closing the sites now will do the best we can to avoid future closures as this wave continues,” the operator of the emergency care center said on its website.
In Massachusetts, the American Repertory Theater has canceled all performances of the show “Wild” with Idina Menzel until Jan. 2 after landmark cases in the production crew. “My heart is breaking that we can’t keep playing,” artistic director Diane Paulus said in an email to ticket holders.
In Atlanta, Chris Hall closed Local Three Kitchen & Bar on December 19 after several employees tested positive. The shutdown came at the worst possible time, a well-booked holiday weekend with big Christmas parties, said Hall, partner chef at Local Three and three other restaurants. “It wasn’t exactly the best of times, but it was the right thing to do,” he said.
The mayor of Atlanta reinstated a mask requirement on Tuesday in response to the increase in cases. New York City instituted a private sector vaccination mandate that goes into effect today in addition to vaccine requirements for entry to restaurants, shows and other indoor venues. Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has made vaccination mandatory to enter restaurants starting Jan. 3.
“The last thing I want to do is stand in front of you on a podium like this and announce that we are shutting down our city,” Lightfoot said on Tuesday. “It would be devastating. I don’t want to have to take this step. But again, it really depends on the unvaccinated.
The Goodman Theater in Chicago doesn’t wait. On Tuesday, he suspended performances of “A Christmas Carol” until Friday after three members of the performance society tested positive for COVID-19. The theater allows ticket holders to watch a videotaped performance at home, a throwback to darker days.
“It was clear what we needed to do,” said Roche Schulfer, executive director and CEO of the theater. “The safety of the business, staff and the public is paramount.”
The break marked the first time The Goodman has suspended paid performances since it reopened on July 30 after it closed on March 13, 2020, due to the pandemic. The classic Christmas tale starring Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit premiered on November 20.
There were 646 COVID-related K-12 school closings last week, up from 356 the week before, according to Burbio, a data service that aggregates calendars nationwide. At the college level, Cornell University and Princeton University are among those that closed early amid outbreaks, while others, including Harvard University, are already planning distance learning in January to follow. protect against a wave of COVID.
In anticipation of a bigger wave of COVID, some sporting and cultural events have been postponed. Los Angeles has decided to cancel its in-person New Years Eve celebration at Grand Park. The county was already requiring masking in public places and businesses, and vaccinations for indoor dining and some other businesses like theaters, nail salons, gymnasiums, museums and performance halls.
But many other companies are staying the course. MSG Entertainment said last week that big events like a four-night Phish Run at the Garden on December 29 will continue. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who on Tuesday offered a $ 100 incentive for residents to receive booster shots by Dec.31, said the massive in-person New Years celebration of the town was still going.
“No more stops,” de Blasio said. “We went through them, they were devastating. We cannot see them again.