DENVER – After two years of moving, adjusting, fighting, scratching and planning, Colorado restaurants have been hit by yet another crisis. Already understaffed, restaurants are now facing the COVID-19 omicron variant.
The variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Colorado, rising from less than 1% of new infections to now over 92% in just two weeks. The variant is much more contagious than the other strains, coinciding with the state’s largest daily increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.
“This new variation, I think, makes it even more difficult because restaurant owners are already struggling to staff their restaurants,” said Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “Restaurants have struggled for the past couple of years, and every time we feel like things are starting to get better, we’re hit by a new curve. So it’s a really tough time in this. moment.”
According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, 85% of their restaurant members were already struggling with staffing issues. That was before the new variant hit Colorado. Many Colorado restaurants are now due to close due to the outbreak.
“We started to attract more and more people during our Christmas shutdown, and we were forced to make the decision Monday to close this week,” said Alex Seidel, chef and owner of Mercantile Dining and Provision.
Seidel says the restaurant hasn’t had any staff tested positive for COVID-19 until last week. Now he has six employees who have declared themselves ill.
“The only thing we have been able to do to protect ourselves so far is to close,” he said.
The state government has avoided calling for another lockdown or new capacity limits at restaurants, even as cases continue to rise. Industry executives say this is because the state is now focusing only on hospital capacity and the number of intensive care units. Fortunately, although the omicron variant is more transmissible, it is less fatal and has sent a smaller percentage of infected people to hospital.
The CDC also relaxed its guidelines for quarantines amid the peak of cases. The health department said employees can now only quarantine five days instead of 10. For some in the restaurant industry, this is a victory.
“I think it’s going to help solve the staffing issue and get people back to work sooner than we initially thought,” said Riggs. “Especially after people have been vaccinated, which a lot, a lot of people in this industry have.”
But others, like Seidel, are more worried, saying five days may not be enough to make a full recovery.
“Is it useful for the psyche of our team when we have been training them for 10 days?” Seidel asked. “It’s also very difficult to be in a position like me where I feel the responsibility of several hundred people.”
As 2022 approaches, restaurateurs agree that the start of 2022 looks a lot like 2021.
“It feels more like uncharted territory for sure,” Fletter said.