Omicron is booming in Shelby and DeSoto counties. With the rapid increase in the number of cases comes a set of challenges familiar to any business or institution whose staff deal with the public.
In both counties, restaurant and retail workers view the rapid spread of omicron with a combination of suspicion and resignation.
It’s déjà vu, but workers’ familiarity with pandemic protocols doesn’t necessarily equate to complacency. In some cases, it means a renewed sense of anxiety.
Beans & Leaves, a coffee shop in Silo Square, opened in early December, just before the omicron wave started.
Margarita LeBlanc, the owner, said that while the opening went well and they saw a lot of support from the community, the new wave of COVID-19 cases has caused unexpected hardship.
“It’s tough, obviously. Are there any concerns? Sure, absolutely,” said LeBlanc. “One of the things we did was we got vaccinated. But you know, we’re just careful.”
So far Beans & Leaves have been able to keep their doors open and hope the precautions they’ve taken, with some of the staff fully vaccinated, will help the store stay open all winter.
“We’re going to see how it goes. We’re just alert and aware and aware,” LeBlanc said. “That’s all we can do at this point. With a new business, it’s not like I can really close my doors.”
On Monday, Hernando’s Walmart announced that the store would be closed Monday and Tuesday, in part to give “additional time to a third-party specialist to further clean up the store.” The store plans to reopen at 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
Dr Sherman L. Helton, senior pastor at Southaven New Hope Baptist Church, insists his congregation is taking every precaution possible to prevent the spread, including vaccination.
“We are trying to do everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated and to do the things that have been assigned to us,” Helton said. “Wear the mask, and things of that nature.”
Helton points to data from the CDC indicating that being vaccinated can reduce the likelihood of serious symptoms, even if someone were to contract COVID-19. By the end of 2021, about 56% of Mississippians were not fully immunized.
The New Hope Baptist Church continues to take the precautions it has taken throughout the pandemic, including seating every other row for services and offering a virtual service option.
For some businesses, like Books-A-Million in Southaven, the increase in COVID-19 cases has proven to be beneficial. As more people decide to stay indoors, there has been an increase in the need for things like books and board games.
“We have more people coming home for things to read than they take out,” said Tony, an employee of Books-A-Million. “So business is going pretty well with us that way. ”
Additionally, a recent career fair that Books-A-Million attended saw the retailer fully staffed, preventing it from having to shut down. There, the curbside pickup option also helped sales.
“We were doing it right before COVID-19 started and it really helped,” Tony said. “We’ve done a lot of things with the sidewalk.”
Jennifer Molliere, a service industry veteran who works in Midtown, said the rise in omicron cases has once again disrupted already precarious staff at her workplace. Molliere’s manager has requested that she not disclose where she works.
“The staff is [expletive] right now, ”Mollière said.
It helps some, she said, that January is generally a slower season for bars and restaurants. But the waiters got sick with their public works; the absence of one or two means a disturbance
When asked if the omicron was more about her or in the same way as previous variations, Mollière shrugged.
“I don’t know how to be more afraid of one variant than the other. All of them are potentially fatal. But, I have to work on it. I can’t help but work.
At Sunrise Bakery in the medical district, manager Ross Vego admits he’s thrilled with the annual downturn after the holidays. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the staff to collectively catch their breath.
The arrival of Omicron means extended absences of workers. And in such a popular breakfast spot as Sunrise, crowds don’t always forgive staff shortages.
“At Christmas, I remember there was a day when it was hot and sunny outside. There were only five of us left to work. Five. The line was down the street with customers and tourists. Some were shouting at us, “Why didn’t you answer your phone? ”, Said Vego. “People really need to be nice right now.”
Vego is vaccinated and boosted. Omicron, he said, doesn’t worry him as much as previous variants. But still, he said, someone in his own circle recently died of COVID in December. He is worried about catching the virus.
“I’m also scared of getting shot on the freeway,” Vego said, “but I still have to drive on it sometimes.”
Maggie’s Pharm, the decades-old gift shop in Overton Square, swarms with shoppers looking for stocking stuffers during the holiday season. Longtime employee Gina Epperson said she was not thrilled with the arrival of a new variant.
“Does that scare me?” It scares me because I am [expletive] old. And I’m married to a senior, ”Epperson said, citing the high rate of transmission from omicron as a worrying factor.
Maggie’s Pharm’s COVID-19 protocols have adapted throughout the pandemic; they’re not as strict as they used to be.
“In the beginning, we were reducing customer orders to small baskets,” Epperson said. The front door of the store is a staircase leading up from the parking lot.
The shop now allows masked customers inside, only five are allowed in the small shop at a time.
Holiday shoppers, Epperson said, “Didn’t like it at all.”
At Orange Mound, My Cup of Tea is always welcome among buyers, with a few caveats. They must be masked and must remain in the front room of the converted home which serves as retail space.
Owner and CEO Carey Moore said omicron has yet to tear up staff, but more than one family member has contracted COVID-19 during the Christmas season.
“I just feel like it’s right around the corner here too. I’m trying to strengthen some of the protocols we’ve aligned ourselves with over the past two years, ”Moore said.
My Cup of Tea is both a retail business and a non-profit social service. Business activity, Moore said, is on hiatus after the holidays as she struggles to restore inventory, which means fewer buyers inside and out.
During the pandemic, Moore said, employees and volunteers fell ill with COVID-19. An employee had to be hospitalized and was left weak. The virus has been a constant concern.
It is a blessing that the omicron is increasing as retail demand declines, Moore said.
“We’re, by the grace of God, in a place right now where we’re not doing sales through the door,” Moore said. “So hallelujah. “
Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal and can be contacted at [email protected]
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714.