Omicron variant already impacting N.J. networking and gala scene

For the leaders of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate, the announcement of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, in addition to a recent rise in cases, was enough for them to postpone an event scheduled for Thursday night until the spring.

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association said the group will meet Monday to discuss any increased requirements for its public policy forum event scheduled for Tuesday — including moving the event to a virtual format.

And the head of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey said the group would follow the news, but it currently is still set to have an in-person event for its annual gala Dec. 9.

The varied reactions reflect scenarios that have become all too prevalent in the New Jersey business community, which has spent the past 20 months adjusting — and then readjusting — event plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That being said, the impact of the Omicron variant — which burst onto the global scene over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday — already has been greater than most other issues during the pandemic.

Morris Davis, the academic director of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate, said postponing the annual scholarship dinner was an easy call.

“Our scholarship dinner is supposed to be a celebration of achievement,” he said. “With the rise in cases and reports of a very contagious new variant, we were concerned many guests would cancel, and those that did not cancel, instead of celebrating, would be worried about catching COVID at our event.

“Canceling is not something we wanted to do, but many of our friends and donors are very uneasy right now. We will try again this spring.”

Other groups face different challenges, as many in-person events are more time-sensitive.

Hispanic Chamber CEO Carlos Medina said the group’s gala, always one of the biggest of the holiday season, is on as scheduled.

“Most of the members have had their two shots and many will have had the booster before the gala,” he said.

It is unclear how significant a threat the Omicron variant is. And, while some are suggesting it may be more transmittable than the Delta variant, there is no indication that it is resistant to the current vaccines that are available.

This much is clear: All events moving forward will get an additional look from their organizers. And the news surrounding Omicron figures to be updated on a regular basis.

Gov. Phil Murphy, back from a Thanksgiving trip to Florida, did not issue a statement on the variant over the weekend. A spokesperson from the Department of Health said the department repeats its standard recommendations of getting vaccinated and follow common sense measures, such as staying home when you are sick.

The impact of the Omicron variant is being felt in other ways. The United States is banning all flights from South Africa and a number of other countries in southern Africa starting Monday.

And, while Murphy has yet to act, his counterpart in New York already has.

In what could be a sign of what’s to come for the region, Gov. Kathy Hocul issued a state of emergency declaration, which goes into effect Friday.

The declaration will allow the state to acquire pandemic-fighting supplies and increase hospital capacity. It also would allow the state’s health department to limit nonessential and nonurgent procedures.

“We continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and, while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York state, it’s coming,” Hochul said.

The news of the new variant comes just a few weeks after the annual New Jersey League of Muncipalities meeting in Atlantic City, where there was a strict mask protocol during the day — but not-so-strict enforcement during the evening parties.