Omicron’s surge forces St. Louis companies to downsize

Omicron's surge forces St. Louis companies to downsize

“I’m like, ’If people are going to keep getting sick like this, I’m not going to be able to staff, I’m not going to have any customers — or at least not enough,’” he said. “It just went through my head that day, ‘screw it.’”

He’d spent the previous several weeks juggling employee’s quarantine schedules as they either came down with COVID-19 or were exposed to it over the holidays.

Highlights

  • He’s not the only one switching up his business strategy as the highly contagious omicron variant rips across the St. Louis region.

  • Fitzpatrick Smith moved up his planned two-week winter break and closed the restaurant.

Glenn MacDonald, an economist and professor at Washington University’s Olin School of Business, said many organizations and small businesses spent the early parts of the pandemic hammering out strategies for adapting to surges in the virus.

Many educational and entertainment attractions have also temporarily closed their doors through the end of the month, including the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, among others.

“They kind of dial them down or up as conditions allow,” he said. “At the moment they’re kind of hunkering down like they were earlier last fall and they’re waiting it out and hoping it goes quickly.”

Local public health officials are urging people to avoid unnecessary activities over the next few weeks.

In St. Louis there is a mask mandate in effect on all indoor public spaces. But unlike early in the pandemic, St. Louis businesses are not required to enforce masks or limit capacity. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones told reporters Thursday that it isn’t currently feasible to implement stronger mandates because many people visit the city from surrounding counties.

Jones said she’s taking advice from the city’s health director Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis. “She has made a strong recommendation that we avoid social gatherings in order to slow the spread, as well as we have to continue getting vaccinated,” Jones said.

She’s encouraging people to upgrade to KN95 or N95 masks. Some restaurants are still struggling with getting people to comply with their mask rules.

Aubuschon is running the burger joint with about a third of the number of employees as usual and with reduced service from seven days a week to five. She said when the pandemic first hit, they switched to a takeout only model, but they couldn’t afford to do it again. “That would be just be the death of us,” she said. “We wouldn’t even be able to pay the employees that we do have if we did that, so that’s not even an option.”

She said the latest surge is colliding with ongoing challenges to find enough employees — a problem that’s impacted service businesses across the country for months. “It’s like pulling teeth for us to get people to actually wear a mask in our restaurant,” said Lisa Aubuschon, the manager at a Fuddruckers franchise in Sunset Hills.