COVID-19

Facing omicron, businesses stick to COVID-19 protocols and hope for the best

Kristin Schwab Dec 17, 2021
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With fewer safety nets and little new guidance, businesses are sticking with existing protocols and grappling with how to address the new, highly transmissible omicron variant. Cindy Ord via Getty Images
COVID-19

Facing omicron, businesses stick to COVID-19 protocols and hope for the best

Kristin Schwab Dec 17, 2021
Heard on:
With fewer safety nets and little new guidance, businesses are sticking with existing protocols and grappling with how to address the new, highly transmissible omicron variant. Cindy Ord via Getty Images
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In a White House briefing on Friday, the Biden administration gave a stern warning to unvaccinated Americans about omicron. The variant is spreading quickly and putting a lot of people — and businesses — on edge.

In the past few days, Broadway shows have closed and universities have shut down campuses.

So how are industries making decisions in an ever-changing pandemic environment like this one?

John McNulty knew it was bound to happen. And last week, it finally did. “One of my employees said he had been exposed,” McNulty said.

Exposed to COVID. So McNulty, who owns a bar in Brooklyn called Thief, told the employee to stay home and get tested. That test came back positive. There ended up being multiple cases among his staff, all of which were mild. The bar closed down for two days and lost $10,000. 

“It’s kinda … it’s a bit scary,” McNulty said.

All of McNulty’s employees are vaccinated; you have to be to work in a bar or restaurant in New York City. But now he’s considering mandating boosters. He also wants to start testing workers weekly — if he can get his hands on enough rapid kits, that is.

“We check vaccinations. I feel like I do everything I can do. I mask my staff,” he said.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, with an aggressive new variant, there’s little new guidance for businesses on COVID protocols.

“Because we don’t know for sure what the risk is, we don’t know for sure what the standard practices should be,” said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton.

There’s also far less of a financial safety net for businesses that close now compared to during last year’s federal grants, which helped keep businesses afloat. Fear of closure can deter owners from testing employees, Cappelli said.

“Frankly, I think not every employer wants to know to be honest,” he said.

And the holidays are important. Patrick Corcoran at the National Association of Theatre Owners said that movies this time of year usually bring in as much revenue as the whole summer season. 

And while bigger chains can absorb the blow, “smaller companies can be a little more nimble, but at the same time they don’t have the same access to capital,” he said.

He added that, as of now, movie theaters are pulling in 40% of what they did in 2019.

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