In 42 years, Metro Pizza had never closed its doors for more than a single day at a time.
That was, until this week when all but one of the local pizza shop’s locations were closed Monday and Tuesday amid staffing shortages that have worsened amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant, a plan that the company will keep in place throughout the month of January.
On top of providing staffing relief for the company, the change gives guaranteed back-to-back days off for Metro Pizza’s employees who are coming out the busy holiday season that was made more stressful by the fast-spreading virus.
“They just need a break,” said Metro Pizza co-founder John Arena. “They’re COVID-fatigued, emotionally strung-out.”
Omicron, which spreads more easily than the previously dominant delta variant and has show a greater ability to infect vaccinated people, is driving the latest surge that’s led to recent spikes in new cases and hospitalizations throughout Nevada and most of the country.
Many employers, especially those in customer-facing industries such as restaurants and retail stores, were already dealing with a shortage of workers even before the omicron wave hit, and the rapid rise in infections has exacerbated the issue as the virus spreads through workplaces.
New realities, new approaches
But after nearly two years in a pandemic that has led to mass closures, repeated waves of infections giving way to new variants, and business-owners being left with fewer healthy workers, employers are adapting to the reality of running a business in a COVID-19 world.
The approaches vary from industry to industry and from business to business as they work. But employers across the board are becoming more flexible and nimble in shifting their hours and operations, said Thoran Towler, CEO of the Nevada Association of Employers.
On Thursday, the Starbucks at 7541 W. Lake Mead Blvd. closed six hours early, with a sign on the drive-thru menu saying that it was “due to staffing issues.”
Just down the road from that Starbucks, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf had its own sign that said that it was closing at 5 p.m., three hours earlier than usual.
Good Pie in downtown closed down for the entire last week of 2021 after several employees tested positive for the virus.
“In order to ensure safety for all we’ve decided to hit the pause button, allow everyone to recover from an amazing first year & focus on keeping our team safe,” the company said in a social media post.
Similar to Metro Pizza, some places are taking a proactive approach in trying to address the staffing issues as the omicron wave continues.
The department store giant Macy’s announced this week that it would be shortening store hours throughout January, revising the open hours for Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“They rely on a lot of workers, and those workers were in short supply recently. Now the ones they do have are having struggles trying to stay healthy and coming in,” Thowler said.
The recent surge has more employees asking about whether or not to require COVID-19 vaccines for workers, according to Thowler.
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large employers is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case this week.
Arena said that the decision to close Metro Pizza locations two days a week was “universally supported” by the staff, and customers thus far have been understanding of the closures.
The longtime pizza shop owner said that the pandemic has helped shift his mindset as a business owner, which for the longest time was “be open as much as you could.”
“We’ve all learned how to be flexible, how to be mindful of the responsibilities of being a good, compassionate operator,” Arena said. “We need to be responsive to needs beyond just financial gain.”