Saturday Night Live, Sunday football games, hockey games, and Broadway shows are all facing major disruptions and renewed restrictions as a surge of COVID-19 infections spreads across the country in December.
Likely powered by the new, more infectious Omicron variant, the concerning rise of infections and hospitalizations has prompted sports and entertainment venues to either delay or cancel upcoming events during the holiday season. The wave of closures almost mimics the nationwide shutdown of nonessential businesses and activities back in March 2020, when the country first entered the pandemic.
On Saturday, the NHL announced that two teams would be canceling their games until at least Dec. 26. Saturday Night Live also announced that it would be canceling its live audience for the last show of the year because of a spike in cases linked to the Omicron variant.
The decision from the popular NBC show was a step back after it had returned to recording before a live audience following a delay of its season back in March 2020 because of the pandemic.
The decision to have no audience for the show was made "out of an abundance of caution," the show announced in a tweet. Ticket prices were to be refunded.
The new restrictions and cancellations come as hospitals are seeing a rise in patients as well. Hospitalizations have increased 3%, and COVID-19 deaths went up 7% this week, the Washington Post reported.
"For the unvaccinated, you're looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm," White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a press conference Friday.
In New York City, where there has been an alarming spike in COVID cases in the past week, other iconic performances have been nixed, including those of the seasonal Rockettes dance troupe, which suddenly canceled the remainder of its shows.
"We regret that we are unable to continue the Christmas Spectacular this season due to increasing challenges from the pandemic," an announcement on the group's website reads. "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."
Hoping to stave off a complete shutdown similar to the one that had all Broadway shows go dark for more than 18 months beginning in March 2020, the Broadway League announced earlier this month that it was extending its vaccination requirements for its audiences to children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Despite the new, more stringent measures, several theater companies have had to cancel shows because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, even as many of them push to remain open.
On Friday, the Broadway League issued a press statement declaring that "Broadway Is Open!" despite a rash of cancellations and breakthrough COVID infections in theater companies.
"Broadway is open for business, and we encourage you to see a show today!" the league announced, along with a new website meant to provide updated showtimes as well as announcements about steadily increasing cancellations.
"If an actor or crew member gets sick, we take it very seriously," Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said in a statement. "Our highest priority is the health and safety of everyone working on the show and everyone in the audience."
In recent days, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre, Jagged Little Pill at the Broadhurst Theatre, and Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre have canceled performances because of COVID-19 cases, Playbill reported.
In an email Sunday, Martin told BuzzFeed News they "have not and are not considering shutting down Broadway."
The NFL on Friday also announced last-minute changes to its weekend games, pushing three of its Saturday and Sunday matchups to Monday and Tuesday instead because of a "substantial increase in [COVID-19] cases across the league."
The schedule changes will impact the Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns, whose Saturday game was moved to Monday. The matchups between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, both set to face off Sunday, were also pushed to Tuesday instead.
"We have made these schedule changes based on medical advice and after discussion with the NFLPA as we are seeing a new, highly transmissible form of the virus this week resulting in a substantial increase in cases across the league," the NFL said in a statement.
On Saturday, the NHL also announced that the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators would be postponing the rest of their games until the end of their holiday break Dec. 26, affecting seven games between the two teams.
The decision was also made because of a "concern for a rising number of positive cases" within the teams.
Saturday games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks, as well as Sunday games between the Arizona Coyotes and the Canucks and between the Maple Leaves and the Seattle Kraken, have all been postponed because of the number of players who have "entered COVID protocol" in the past two days.