Omicron: Here we go again

Despite the scary headlines about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, business is better prepared now to deal with the ups and downs it’s likely to bring.

I know we all really want COVID-19 to be over. It’s not, so brace yourself and your business for the pandemic-related swings we’re likely to see over the next few weeks and months.

Though it’s not a surprise in some ways—scientists have long warned of variants—the latest coronavirus variation, Omicron, looks like it might pose real trouble.

What kind of trouble? For now, the biggest issue is uncertainty. After all, as I write this in early December, we’ve only known about this variant for a couple of weeks. We do know that it appears to be more contagious than Delta. How much more? We’ll find out soon—but it’s already showing up in numerous countries, including in the U.S.

I’m not optimistic. Many people worldwide remain unvaccinated. Mix that up with a more infectious variation, and I foresee any return to the office being pushed back even further into 2022.

True, as U.S. President Joe Biden said last week, “This variant is a cause for concern—not a cause for panic.” He also doesn’t think we’ll need to lock down the country, as long as people get vaccinated, get a third booster shot, wear masks indoors, and generally treat Omicron seriously.

I think New York City has the right approach. There, the government is “strongly recommending residents wear masks in all indoor locations regardless of vaccination.” It’s a common sense move when it comes to Covid, and it’s among the least disruptive to business—especially as we get into the heart of the holiday season.

And it could be what gets us through this particular wave. Even in a worst-case scenario, where Omicron can break through the current vaccines, Pfizer scientists estimate they can adapt the current vaccine to successfully fight Omicron within six weeks. 

In the meantime, what does that mean for business?

  1. I’ve said all along that many of us are going to be working at home from here on out. If you’ve moved your staffers back into their old cubicles, be prepared to move them back home. And when all this is done, it’s seriously time to get on board, if not with full-time work from home, then with hybrid work at least.  
  2. If your workers are dealing with customers, regardless of local government requirements, insist they be vaccinated and wear masks. It’s a contentious issue, but it’s also what’s best for your business (and your customers). That matters because federal efforts to impose mandates have seen mixed success at best. While the Supreme Court has turned away an emergency appeal from employees of Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest private employer—who objected to a COVID-19 vaccine requirement—courts elsewhere have put a hold on U.S. government efforts. It’s not at all clear the federal OSHA mandate will withstand legal scrutiny.
  3. The supply chain is going to continue to be screwed up. That was going to be the case anyway. But for now, it’s likely to continue longer than we thought. As I’ve said before, make the most of your current equipment; it won’t be easy to replace it anytime soon.
  4. A related issue is to stick with the software you already have. In particular, months now into testing, I see no reason to “upgrade” to Windows 11. Stick with the tried-and-true Windows 10 for now. You can get Windows 11 when you’re able to buy affordable new PCs again.
  5. Last, but never least, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL) still has “billions more in relief available to businesses who continue to face uncertainty and challenges,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman. Well, that’s us, sure enough. The SBA recently updated EIDL guidance regarding applications for loans, advances, and appeal requests.

The SBA has also worked to streamline the application process. Perhaps because the program will expire on Dec. 31, the SBA is encouraging businesses in low-income areas to apply for the Targeted Advance grant of $10,000 through the end of the year, and then a final Supplemental Targeted Advance grant for $5,000.

Guzman continued, “Those grants, unfortunately, need to be processed by the end of the year, so if you think you might be eligible for that, you need to apply by December 10th.” The EIDL and Targeted Advance applications received by year’s end will continue to be processed after that date until all funds have been exhausted.

Either way, Guzman said, “If your business needs that type of financing to carry through, make sure that you apply as soon as possible for those funds.

She’s right. And, with Omicron potentially bringing more trouble our way, if you think you may need the money, now is the time to try to get all the cash you can get to survive this coming winter of coronavirus discontent.

Hang on folks. Eventually, the light in the tunnel will be a new, better day and not another variant train coming down the tracks.

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