Restaurants and theaters begin to close as omicron grips U.S.

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City and state officials across the U.S. have pledged to avoid the COVID-19 shutdowns that caused an economic upheaval in the first year of the pandemic. But a surge of cases and the spread of the omicron variant is leaving some restaurants, shows and schools no choice but to close their doors.

In New York City, Mayor-elect Eric Adams canceled his 3,000-person inauguration at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. The Rockettes ended their Christmas special at Radio City Music Hall, and more than a dozen Broadway shows including “Hamilton” and “Aladdin” canceled shows. Restaurants there and in Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., closed amid staff outbreaks. And school systems like Prince George’s County, outside of Washington, D.C., sent students back to remote learning.

There were no government orders or local restrictions prompting the closures this time around. Rather, businesses were forced to close due to too many staffers getting COVID—or out of caution that staying open amid the case surge could contribute to the disease’s spread.

“No one saw this coming,” said Amanda McMillan, general manager of Four Horsemen, a Michelin star wine bar in Brooklyn that closed on Dec. 14 when a number of employees tested positive. “It had been a while since we had our public-health-scare hat on.”

McMillan, who plans to reopen ahead of the New Year’s Eve holiday, said she got flashbacks to the early days of the pandemic, when the restaurant laid off 44 people. “I feel a huge responsibility to keep things going. The first time there was Payroll Protection money and stimulus money; this time I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have to trudge along now,” she said.

The businesses are closing in the face of daunting COVID case numbers. The seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. has surged 43% in a month. In New York City, they have jumped more than sixfold.

But thanks to vaccinations, mask adherence and treatment breakthroughs, public health officials say hospitalizations and deaths haven’t climbed at anywhere near the rate of cases. And so, despite omicron’s rapid spread, the U.S. focus has been on persuading people to get vaccinated and boosted.

President Joe Biden announced new measures on Tuesday to curb the virus, including sending 500 million free COVID tests to homes and dispatching the military to help overwhelmed hospitals. He said the vaccinated should proceed with Christmas plans, and has rejected lockdown measures. Cases are expected to peak in January, as they did a year ago.

“Even though the numbers are higher, we’re in much better shape this year than last year,” said Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist in New York. “It’s OK if people are testing positive, as long as they’re not being hospitalized or dying.”

Still, omicron is highly contagious, whether one is vaccinated or not, Parikh said, and it has resulted in more breakthrough cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises someone with a positive test to isolate for 10 days and close contacts to quarantine for the same period — which is creating staffing shortages at hospitals, schools, restaurants and cultural venues.

On Wednesday, worker shortages led CityMD to close 19 of 150 sites in New York and New Jersey. “It is our hope that closing sites now will best allow us to avoid future closures as this surge continues,” the urgent-care center operator said on its website.

In Massachusetts, the American Repertory Theater canceled all performances of the “Wild” show starring Idina Menzel through Jan. 2 after breakthrough cases in the production team. “My heart is breaking that we are unable to continue to perform,” artistic director Diane Paulus said in an email to ticketholders.

In Atlanta, Chris Hall shut Local Three Kitchen & Bar on Saturday morning after several employees tested positive. The closing came at the worst possible time, a holiday weekend booked solid with large Christmas parties, said Hall, chef-partner at Local Three and three other restaurants. “It was not exactly the best-case scenario, but it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Atlanta’s mayor on Tuesday reenacted a mask requirement in response to the surging cases. New York City instituted a private-sector vaccine mandate that goes into effect on Dec. 27 in addition to vaccine requirements for entry to restaurants, shows and other indoor settings. Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot mandated vaccinations to enter restaurants starting Jan. 3.

“The last thing I want to do is stand before you at a podium like this and announce that we’re shutting our city back down,” Lightfoot said Tuesday. “That would be devastating. I don’t want to have to take that step. But again, it really depends on the unvaccinated.”

Chicago’s Goodman Theatre isn’t waiting around. On Tuesday, it suspended performances of “A Christmas Carol” through Friday after three members of the performance company tested positive for COVID-19. The theater is letting ticket-holders watch a recorded performance on video at home, a throwback to darker days.

“It was clear what we needed to do,” said Roche Schulfer, the theater’s executive director and CEO. “The safety of the company and the staff and the audience is paramount.”

The pause marked the first time the Goodman suspended paid performances since it reopened July 30 after shutting down March 13, 2020, because of the pandemic. The classic Christmas tale featuring Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit opened on Nov. 20.

Heisler Hospitality temporarily closed its eight Chicago bars and restaurants, which include Lone Wolf Tavern and The Revel Room, “out of an abundance of caution,” a social media post said. “We will be closed Monday and Tuesday to get tested and make sure our staff is healthy.”

There were 646 COVID-related K-12 school closings this 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, already are planning remote learning in January to protect against a COVID surge.

In anticipation of a greater COVID surge, some sports and cultural events were postponed. Los Angeles decided to cancel its in-person New Year’s Eve celebration at Grand Park. The county already required masking in public settings and businesses, and vaccinations for indoor dining and some other businesses like theaters, nail salons, gyms, museums and performance venues.

But many other businesses are staying the course. MSG Entertainment said this week that big events like the WWE Live Holiday Tour on Dec. 26 and a four-night Phish run at The Garden on Dec. 29 will go on. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who on Tuesday offered $100 incentives for residents to get booster shots by Dec. 31, said the city’s massive in-person New Year’s Eve celebration was still on.

“No more shutdowns,” de Blasio said. “We’ve been through them, they were devastating. We can’t go through them again.”

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5 thoughts on “Restaurants and theaters begin to close as omicron grips U.S.

  1. Demonizing the unvaxxed is not the answer. Doing so is either dull or ill-advised. Virus must run its course and herd immunity is the only true way out. Vaccines are bandaid surgery as Pfizer effects wear off in 201 days while Moderna is done at 121

    1. They should be demonized. Their acceptance of misinformation and refusal to get vaccinated is crushing our health care system and holding us all hostage.

      I agree the virus should run it’s course, and it will over the next two months. Those of us who got vax’d and boostered (the answer to your vaccine misinformation) will get COVID and most have a cold, if any symptoms. Those who didn’t or believe natural immunity alone will save them will face much worse symptoms and clog the hospitals.

      Send the unvaccinated elsewhere to die, have hospitals focus on the easier breakthrough cases, and let the rest of the herd move on. There, I agree with you.

  2. And, ladies and gentleman, for those who wondered how Weimar-era Germany shifted so quickly to the Third Reich, look no further than the virulent hatred of Joe Bluepill.

    Here’s a man who devotes hours each day to regurgitating the messaging from his beloved, dying legacy media sources–who seemed practical if somewhat arrogant a year ago, now reduced to his own hyperpartisan “news” sources (The Guardian, Media Matters for crying out loud). Imagine such moral narcissism that you belittle other people for their confirmation bias–for gravitating toward news sources that reaffirm their existing beliefs–while thinking yourself too good and too smart to be susceptible to confirmation bias as well.

    Now imagine this moral narcissism writ large, spread across an entire society, and you see how a country as affluent and Germany could get steeped in doo-doo back in the 1930s. It’s a common fallacy, that prejudice and discrimination are directly a byproduct of poor education. Yet Weimar Germany was the among the wealthiest countries in the world at the time (possibly #1), and it had achieved a near-perfect literacy rate, which was the golden standard for educational attainment. Still went full Not-See. And let’s not forget that Mr. Adolf himself was quite well read and had numerous leading academics among his inner circle. So steeped in collectivistic humiliation (after losing WWI and recovering through unstable economics), the German people took Nietzschean ideals of the “ubermensch” combined with Marxist class struggle and foisted it into a new context, placing all the blame on an entrepreneurial subgroup who lacked any real institutional protection. But sure, the Jews CHOSE to retain their religion–they could have avoided all this trouble if they marched along with the hive.

    Joe, we’ve had one death from Omicron recorded thus far in the US and one in the UK. One. South Africa (country of origin) has decided to eliminate contract tracing and quarantining because it just isn’t serious enough. As for the vax, well, it’s the best we can do if you’re old and/or fat, but it’s pretty mediocre. Gibraltar is a micro-nation that is 160% vaccinated (completely vaxxed and 2/3ds with boosters) that still saw a surge in cases this fall, enough to prompt more tyrannical winter lockdowns and they have a death rate ahead of the US. And a normie like Trevor Noah (whose country of origin is South Africa) dares to question the pharmaceutical companies’ conflicts of interest and gets shot down by the COVID cultists.

    Keep citing MSN and Guardian! And keep cheering for the death of the untermensch. You’re so eager to promulgate the narrative (how many times a day do you post?!) that one might almost think you also work for Big Pharma. I wonder.