Just when we thought normalcy was around the corner, Omicron popped up and caused havoc. Last night we saw Hamilton canceling more performances and the Rockettes ending their Christmas Spectacular at Radio City for the season.
On the streets, lines are snaking around the block for emergency care clinics as locals try to get tested. Restaurants and bars are reinforcing their protocols and gyms are getting stricter on masking. Here’s what we know so far (and let’s emphasize that this is changing hour-by-hour):
Yesterday afternoon, the Rockettes canceled 4 shows at Radio City. By the evening they had announced that their Christmas Spectacular was closing for the season. “We regret that we are unable to continue The Christmas Spectacular this season, due to increasing challenges from the pandemic. We had hoped we could make it through the season and are honored to have hosted hundreds of thousands of fans at more than 100 shows over the last seven weeks,” they said on Instagram.
On Broadway, MJ (the Michael Jackson musical) canceled performances until at least December 26 and Hamilton will not be back until December 19. Moulin Rouge! (which made a last minute cancelation on Thursday) canceled its Friday evening performance too, Mrs Doubtfire has been closed all week. There have been other cancelations this week, at Tina — The Tina Turner Musical, Jagged Little Pill, Hadestown, Company (which The New York Post reports was during the show, but caused by food poisoning), Freestyle Love Supreme, Ain’t Too Proud and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Hell’s Kitchen-based Alvin Ailey has also had to cancel performances through the weekend. “Prioritizing the health and safety of our audiences, artists, and staff, the performances scheduled for Friday, December 17 to Sunday, December 19 at New York City Center have been canceled,” they announced on Instagram.
Last night, Charlotte St Martin, the President of the Broadway League, told Broadway News that they were not currently considering an industry-wide shutdown. “We have always said that safety is our number one priority. Of course, I’m sorry that four shows have to go down, but I’m also proud that we have 28 shows performing,” St Martin said Friday afternoon.
Last night, Feinstein’s 54 Below canceled their evening performances. “An employee tested positive today for COVID-19. Due to a lack of rapid tests, we were unable to confirm a negative result from the rest of our staff, so out of an abundance of caution, we are canceling both the 7pm and 9:45pm performances,” they said on Instagram. “We expect to reopen tomorrow once the entire team has been tested.”
Holly-Anne Devlin, Hell’s Kitchen activist and off-Broadway producer told us last night. “It’s hard to believe that we’re almost two years into this pandemic. As a small business owner in the entertainment and hospitality industry, the last 22 months have been unimaginable and every time we feel like we get our footing, we’re smashed back down,” she said. “The ever-changing regulations frustrate our guests and employees. Consumer trust continues to take a beating and we’re the ones that have to hear about it, not the Mayor. We’re two years in. Vaccines are available to everyone. When is the moment that we start accepting that COVID is here to stay and stop letting it strangle our city that is so desperate to stay alive?”
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Hell’s Kitchen and midtown were still busy last night. There were lines at Carmine’s for theatergoers and although local business owners were concerned, they were hopeful that the holiday business would still be coming through the door — one way or another.
“So far so good! Wednesday we got 72 cancellations but we got 45 walk-ins. Thursday was a good night with few cancellations. Tonight [Friday] is also full and very few people canceled so far. We’ll see tomorrow and Sunday,” said Daniele Kucera at Etcetera Etcetera on W44th Street. “We are all boosted and we are wearing masks.”
Some are introducing new measures to protect and reassure customers. “We are going to resume taking temperatures of our guests upon arrival, starting tonight [Friday]. A couple of our entertainers tested positive for COVID-19 so our live music program has been interrupted but our business hours remain the same: Tuesday-Sunday 4-11pm,” said Steve Olsen from West Bank Cafe.
Deacon Brodie’s on Restaurant Row has taken a cautious approach after a customer tested positive for COVID. “As a result of increased exposure to COVID in the New York City area, and out of concern for our staff and patrons during the Christmas season, we have decided to remain closed until December 26th,” they shared in an Instagram post. “This is being done out of an abundance of caution for everyone’s safety.” They were joined by Latitude Bar on 8th Avenue, who said last night that they had made “the difficult decision” to close for the remainder of the week and reopen on Tuesday, December 21.
Gil Rubenstein, who owns entertainment hall Green Room 42 and roof deck Social Food & Drink at YOTEL on W42nd and 10th Avenue has come up with some interesting ideas to dispel customer fears. All shows will now be live-streamed. “This enables guests who may feel uncomfortable, have been exposed, are experiencing symptoms, or have tested positive to watch from the comfort of their homes until this wave passes,” he told us last night.
Those with tickets (which include a food and beverage voucher) can either eat at the show, remain masked during the performance and then dine after the show in their outdoor area — or watch the streamed show at home and use the credit at a later date. “These steps are in an effort to keep our theater running, artists employed, in a safe and adaptive way that meets the moment that we are all experiencing,” said Rubenstein.
James Gwynne at Hudson Station on 9th Avenue and W35th Street told us: “We had three parties cancel this week due to positive tests and/or fear. I can’t shut down for my staff as it’s still a big week for them. Just more mask precautions and tests for us all,” he said.
Sean Hayden, owner/partner at Jasper’s Taphouse and Kitchen, and four other bars including McCoy’s, Dalton’s, and Valerie in Midtown, told us this morning: “As of now, it’s a day to day basics on 9th Avenue. Valerie will close Monday for a week to regroup and let the staff, who has been working extra hours covering for the people out with COVID, rest and enjoy their Christmas. Finding employees has been a major obstacle since we reopened — and now this is on top of it. We just can’t get people to work and the people who do come are working long, challenging hours. It’s not easy at the moment.”
This morning, Suzy Darling told us that her second bar, the Back Pocket, will be closed this evening. She will be working at the Pocket Bar. “Last night I had staff. Today I don’t. I’ll be working the Pocket myself,” she told us. “I can’t believe we are here again. This has got to be the worst Groundhog Day nightmare.” One of her bartenders, Nico Leeper, posted on Instagram last night that he had tested positive for the virus, saying: “Yes dear friends, I have contracted the COVID. Thankfully, I feel completely fine, thanks vaccines!”
Local gyms will be taking some more precautions. “Starting Monday, all staff at Manhattan Plaza Health Club will be required to wear masks again. This was initially dropped when all visitors were required to be vaccinated,” said MPHC General Manager Scott Salmon.
This move was reinforced by Mark Fisher from Mark Fisher Fitness on W39th Street. “We moved from ‘Masks Strongly Encouraged’ to ‘Masks Required’ today,” Mark told us via email.
TESTS AND BOOSTERS
Readers sent us pictures of the lines for testing around Hell’s Kitchen yesterday. Many told us about waiting for hours — but some had better experiences earlier in the day.
Paul David, who is traveling back to the UK today with his girlfriend, went to get tested early on Friday morning at a pop-up testing site outside Hell’s Kitchen Park on 10th Avenue and W48th Street. “Really efficient, they processed people quickly and professionally. They did two tests, the rapid antigen which you get the result immediately and PCR, which takes 48 hours. Although we were both negative (from the rapid antigen) the people before and after were both positive and the staff was really professional and kind to those people,” he said. “The line at the tent was 7 people when we arrived and 30 when we finished.”
One reader is still unsure about the streetside testing at Columbus Circle. “The jury is still out on my testing tent (Lab Worq)! The whole process of registering with a QR code and getting tested was incredibly fast and easy…not even 5 minutes! However, after 24 hours, I’ve not had the results. It said results in 24-48 hours. After I did the test, I looked them up and the reviews are quite mixed,” Cera Zittlow told us last night. “My husband is having surgery on Monday and will be in the hospital for a week or so, and of course my throat hurts and body aches right now. So I really need those results soon!”
While the lines for testing at emergency care places such as CityMD and MedRite grow — the number of pop-up vans and tents offering COVID testing on the street multiply. William Arboleda from Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center on 10th Avenue told us: “If you see a short line, jump on it.” Arboleda said that the clinic is not offering testing (except for current patients who are pre-op). However, they are able to give vaccinations and boosters to locals.
Dr Vino Palli from MiDoctor on 9th Avenue has been on the front line of fighting COVID from day one. He worked in ER in local hospitals at the height of the pandemic, while taking care of his Hell’s Kitchen patients. “Don’t panic, get boosted, be patient, get tested, wear a mask, wash your hands,” was his simple message when we spoke late last night. “Omicron may be mild — but it’s serious in terms of transmission.”
He added: “New Jersey and New York are seeing so many cases. In our own clinic, we are seeing 400 patients per day, with a 20-25% positivity rate. This is a very densely populated neighborhood. We are heading into rough waters.”
Dr Palli, like many, has had to change his holiday plans. He was going to visit his mom in India for the first time in 3 years but the borders have closed with the Omicron development. However, at the moment, he says that locals should not change their holiday travel plans if they are boosted and tested.
He paid tribute to his staff at MiDoctor: “My team is amazing. They are so committed even though they are exhausted. They work so hard. They have gone above and beyond.”
As always, W42ST aims to keep our neighborhood connected, updated and upbeat. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any updates to this developing story.