We won’t know how the Omicron variant affects employment in the Augusta area until March 18th, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the data for January. Unfortunately, government statistics, particularly at the local level, lag real activity by several weeks if not months. This makes their use for business planning less useful.
Fortunately, several organizations have started to produce real time data during the pandemic that provides useful information. For example, Google releases COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports for counties, based on information gathered from products such as Google Maps. Google says that the data is intended to help remediate the effects of COVID-19 and is not meant to be used for medical diagnosis. It does, however, provide some economic insights for the first two weeks of January.
Data is measured and compared to the baseline value of that day of the week during the first month or so of 2020, before the full effects of COVID-19 were realized. The graph below shows that workplace activity in the first two weeks of January was down between 10 and 40 percent in the counties of Aiken, Columbia, and Richmond (other counties in the MSA have less complete data). As people returned to work after the holidays, more activity was seen in workplaces, but from about January 8th activity fell, maybe as people caught, or came into close contact with, the Omicron variant at work.
There was a corresponding increase in residential activity. Overall, residential activity is still higher than the baseline period by 6-10 percent. This could be driven by an increase in working from home and also, particularly in Richmond County, an increase in learning from home as several schools pivoted to online education. It remains to be seen (in March!) whether any of the decrease in workplace activity is due to fewer workers, rather than just workers transitioning to working from home.