As the omicron variant surges across New York and the country, businesses are left to grapple with a fresh wave of pandemic uncertainty.
A lot remains unclear about the omicron variant, even if preliminary data suggests it could be a more mild version of COVID-19 for people who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot. Cases are skyrocketing in New York and health officials are waiting to see if this will lead to a spike in hospitalizations.
"Because this omicron variant does not result in such severe cases, we may not see those peaks in hospitalizations again," Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday said. "But we're preparing. We're preparing for the worst."
For businesses, it's another step into the unknown. But Food Industry Alliance President and CEO Mike Durant said the private sector has a lot more information now than it did nearly two years ago.
"Let's take the lessons from March and April and May of 2020 and apply them to now," he said.
As cases have sharply increased in recent days, Durant is urging shoppers to be calm — and patient — inside supermarkets and grocery stores.
"You don't need to panic buy. You don't need to horde. I know some companies have product limitations out there," Durant said. "Grocery stores will always be open. I know some companies have product limitations will always be open. The folks on the supply chain will always keep it flowing even if it doesn't move as swift as we're used to."
And as the cases show more fully vaccinated people testing positive, Durant said having accurate rapid COVID-19 tests in place will be important. Federal and state officials in the last several days have pledged to ramp up access to the rapid tests across the country and in New York.
Durant also urged New Yorkers to not have confrontations with store workers over wearing a mask indoors.
"For us to get past this surge and deal with this COVID world that we're in, the ability to have rapid tests, the effectiveness of rapid tests, will go a long to keeping businesses open and making people feel safe," he said.
And as the cases rise, Hochul has placed a indoor mask rule in effect for the state. If effective, Hochul hopes it will stave off another shutdown of the economy and schools.
"We really appreciate those who have been on the frontlines of this and making this happen. I want to thank the county leaders out there who are doing the right thing," she said.