Since March of 2020, companies of all types have become familiar with the need to adapt on a nearly daily basis. COVID-19 has continued to throw curveballs and its newest surprise has a name: Omicron. This variant has been detected in multiple states in the U.S. and the number is growing as we move closer to 2022. Some states are already battling high infection rates of the widespread Delta variant. In addition, cold weather and the holidays will drive people indoors in large groups. Delta and Omicron present a dual threat for retailers and restaurants, and they will have to remain vigilant and flexible to ring in the New Year.

There is the possibility that the variant is more infectious than Delta and the symptoms could be less severe; however, there is still more data being collected to confirm these theories. Information has been conflicting regarding the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron. Moderna’s CEO cast doubt on the protection current shots could provide, yet Pfizer has recently said that their shots hold up against the variant. The unknown element of Omicron is daunting and new cases have been popping up every day. Restaurants and retailers will have to watch closely in order to best prepare for the holiday rush.

The need for businesses to adapt will come in part from new mandates like the one issued in New York City. Starting at the end of the month, all private businesses will be required to have all employees fully vaccinated with at least two vaccine doses or one J&J. In addition, all children five and older will need to provide proof of one vaccine dose to eat at restaurants starting next week. These measures are even more stringent than those put forth by the Executive Branch. Companies were given short notification about these changes and that may become the norm if more cities adopt this approach. Regardless of mandates, the facts of Omicron will come hard and fast with little warning. The idea of pivoting on a moment’s notice is nothing new now; however, the resources already put forth to make this holiday season more successful will make it more of a challenge. Many companies are counting on the revenue from this month to put them back in the black and the idea of closing dining rooms or limiting capacities is unpalatable.

With the world waiting for news of Omicron, we cannot forget the Delta variant which is still primary in the United States. Local mandates like those in New York were primarily devised to halt the spread of Delta as we move into the winter. Constantly changing operations on the fly is difficult and financially arduous. Scale and cash flow become major factors during quick changes and it usually benefits larger companies. Smaller businesses have been aware of this discrepancy since the beginning of the pandemic and they have been the most vocal over changes like the New York mandate. Despite the challenges provided by Delta, there is ample information available about the strain and it has given businesses a chance to prepare for its spread during colder months.

December has brought the known threat of Delta and the unknown of Omicron. It is impossible to say how quickly Omicron will spread or how severe it will be; however, we know that Delta has already slowed the holiday rush and retailers and restaurants need to be prepared for at least one variant if not both. The success of this holiday season has a lot riding on it and this new variant has threatened that prosperity. There is the opportunity recover lost revenue as shoppers flock to stores and families return to their favorite restaurants, yet there is even more revenue to lose if companies are unable to be flexible. This holiday season could still be more successful than last years if handled correctly, even with Omicron’s arrival.