The Omicron variant knocked out Saturday Night Live as an on-set COVID outbreak forced the hit NBC show to close its doors to a live audience and to cancel its musical guest.
Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, and Kenan Thompson welcomed Paul Rudd into the ‘five-time host’ club on Saturday Night Live in front of an empty studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza where the popular NBC comedy sketch show was staged by a skeleton crew after several staffers were infected with COVID-19.
‘Congratulations on hosting the show four-and-a-half times,’ Thompson quipped to Rudd.
Rudd was scheduled to host the show alongside musical guest Charli XCX, but the British singer-songwriter bowed out of the show after a minimal staff was permitted to be on set due to the COVID outbreak.
Instead of a traditional cold open before a live studio audience, Hanks and Fey appeared before the cameras and introduced Rudd.
During the taping of Saturday’s installment of SNL, Thompson emerged to hand Rudd a robe reserved for those who have hosted the show five times.
SNL then aired a tape of Steve Martin and Martin Short congratulating Hanks, even though the man of the hour was Rudd.
During their on-stage banter, Hanks quipped that Rudd deserved credit for being named People’s ‘sexist man alive.’ The show then re-aired classic sketches including the ‘D*** in a box’ music video starring Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake as well as bits featuring SNL alums Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, and Jan Hooks.
Fey and current cast member Michael Che co-anchored a bare-bones version of Weekend Update. Instead of the anchors being behind their desk with a television studio-like backdrop, Che and Fey read jokes from two chairs as Hanks, Rudd, and Thompson sat in the studio audience.
Fey was replacing Colin Jost, who was not in the studio at the time of taping.
Fey, who once held Jost’s role as head writer of the popular sketch comedy series, co-anchored Weekend Update alongside Amy Poehler from 2004 until 2006.
She also shared the anchor role with then-SNL star Jimmy Fallon, who is currently host of the Tonight Show.
SNL is just the latest New York City institution that has experienced disruptions caused by positive COVID-19 cases among staffers. The Radio City Rockettes and several Broadway productions were forced to shut down after infections were reported among staffers.
Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, and Kenan Thompson welcomed Paul Rudd into the ‘five-time host’ club on Saturday Night Live in front of an empty studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza where the popular NBC comedy sketch show was staged by a skeleton crew after several staffers were infected with COVID-19. From left: Fey, Rudd, Hanks, and Thompson during a pre-recorded sketch
Fey and Thompson award Rudd with a jacket honoring him for hosting the show for a fifth time
Fey and Hanks appeared on the show to introduce Rudd – a far cry from the usual sequence when a cold open sketch is followed by the host being announced
The pre-taped segment included cameos from longtime Saturday Night Live staples Steve Martin (left) and Martin Short (right)
Fey and current cast member Michael Che co-anchored a bare-bones version of Weekend Update. Instead of the anchors being behind their desk with a television studio-like backdrop, Che and Fey read jokes from two chairs
Fey and Che read the jokes to an audience of three people. From left: Hanks, Thompson, and Rudd
The five who appeared in pre-taped segments from the studio donned face masks just before the closing credits. From left: Fey, Thompson, Rudd, Che, and Hanks
The list of Broadway productions that were forced to suspend their plays include Company, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Ain’t Too Proud, Mrs. Doubtfire, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, and Freestyle Love Supreme.
Key members of the Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as well as their crosstown rival New York Knicks have also been placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
The spike in COVID cases throughout the five boroughs has New Yorkers furious at Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration for failing to make available an adequate number of COVID-19 testing kits.
In recent days, city residents have had to wait for hours in the cold and rain outside pharmacies in order to undergo testing for COVID.
Several other actors and crew members either tested positive or called out sick – fueling reports that showrunner Lorne Michaels was on the verge of canceling the episode altogether.
But Michaels oversaw the taping of Saturday’s edition, which included pre-recorded sketches involving Rudd and current cast members from earlier this week.
Fey and Thompson also introduced some of their favorite Christmas sketches from years past.
‘What a crazy week, and an even crazier day,’ Rudd said as he was flanked by Fey, Thompson, Che, and Hanks just before the show’s closing credits.
‘I know it wasn’t the Christmas show that you expected, but that’s the beauty of this place. Like life, it’s unpredictable.’
The weekly sketch comedy show was on the verge of shelving the entire production after ‘four actors’ tested positive for coronavirus and ‘three others’ have called out because they are now ‘fearful’ about coming to NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center, according to the New York Post.
But a source close to the show shot down the Post report, telling DailyMail.com that some of the staffers either tested positive or were exposed to someone who was infected.
Insiders told the publication that Michaels had tested positive, adding that the ‘show must go on but don’t expect to see Colin Jost, Sarah Sherman or (Aristotle) Athari.’
But a source told DailyMail.com that Michaels did not test positive. The source also shot down reports that cast member Cecily Strong pushed to have the episode canceled.
Strong had been scheduled to miss this week’s episode, according to the source with knowledge of the situation.
The show returned for its 47th year in September with 16 cast members and five featured players, a particularly crowded field.
The size of the cast has allowed for atypical flexibility for its high-profile members, who can now take time off for other projects during the season.
The show said on social media that those who had won tickets to the night’s show would receive more information soon.
SNL will have a ‘minimal’ crew on set for tonight’s taping, according to the Post. Kenan Thompson, the 43-year-old longtime cast member, is said to have stayed behind on set in order to introduce pre-taped video segments.
Oh no: Saturday Night Live canceled their live audience for tonight’s show with Paul Rudd hosting, and also limited the cast and crew on set due to an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases
Charli XCX, the musical guest for tonight’s show, bowed out of her performance due to limited staffing permitted on set
Michaels was said to have been ‘trying to hold on’ to get the show to air in some form, though one insider told the Post that the show’s executives were ‘not sure what they were going to do.’
The musical guest from tonight’s scheduled airing took to social media to express her regret at not being able to perform.
‘Due to the limited crew at tonight’s taping of snl my musical performances will no longer be able to go ahead,’ Charli XCX wrote on her Twitter account.
‘I am devastated and heartbroken.’
She then urged her fans to ‘look after yourselves out there and make sure you get vaccinated if you haven’t already.’
The English singer and songwriter had been slated to return as musical guest nearly six years after debuting on the show with her songs Boom Clap and Break the Rules.
Sources said the ‘cast and crew were currently in rehearsals at Studio 8H for the episode,’ but its unclear how tonight’s episode would proceed and that ‘everyone is fearful here.’
‘Due to the recent spike in the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, there will be no live audience for tonight’s taping of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the show will have limited cast and crew,’ a statement read.
‘The show continues to follow all government safety guidelines in addition to a rigorous testing protocol.’
‘Due to the recent spike in the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, there will be no live audience for tonight’s taping of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the show will have limited cast and crew,’ a statement read
Tough time: This week’s episode is set to star Paul Rudd and mark his fifth time hosting the popular comedy program; seen arriving for rehearsals earlier in the week
Challenges: It’s unclear how producers will work with and around the outbreak
The insider claimed that Cecily Strong was one of the cast members ‘who has voiced concern over the outbreak.’
This is far from the first time the Michaels-produced show has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus outbreak halted its 45th season for about a month, but SNL was back on the air by mid-April with a ‘quarantine version’ of the show hosted by Tom Hanks.
The show returned to 30 Rockefeller Center for its 46th season after implementing COVID-19 protocols, but booted singer Morgan Wallen from that season’s second episode for breaking rules.
And just last month, British singer Ed Sheeran had to perform from home after contracting the coronavirus.
New York state reported Saturday that nearly 22,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday – eclipsing the previous day’s mark for the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available.
More than half the positive results were in the city. Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in many countries within weeks.
Difficult: English singer and songwriter Charli XCX was slated to return as musical guest nearly six years after debuting on the show with her songs Boom Clap and Break the Rules; seen arriving for rehearsals earlier in the week
The spike in cases at SNL mirrors the significant increase in infections throughout the five boroughs.
After New York broke new daily case records on both Friday and Saturday, each new positive test is kicking off frantic text messages to friends and colleagues warning them to get tested, and the looming Christmas holiday is prompting scores more to seek the tests before they travel.
The surge in demand has stretched the city’s testing capacity to the limit, with wait times of more than two hours on Saturday at some city testing centers and pharmacies in Manhattan running out of at-home test kits amid huge demand.
Furious New Yorkers are now questioning why Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was not prepared for the crisis, nearly a month after Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency over the Omicron threat.
‘New York City’s test sites don’t have enough capacity, staffing or supervision,’ tweeted New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay. ‘Almost two years in, there is no excuse for making sick New Yorkers – or any sick people, anywhere – wait for hours in cold rain to get tested.’
According to the Walgreens website, no Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy locations in Manhattan had home test kits or appointments for PCR or rapid testing available on Saturday afternoon.
‘We have recently seen an elevated demand for testing, and our teams are working to ensure our customers are being cared for to support this demand,’ a Walgreens spokesman told DailyMail.com in a statement.
City-run Health + Hospitals free testing sites were overwhelmed with demand, with the Fort Hamilton site in Brooklyn reporting a wait time exceeding two hours.
People line up outside the Barclays Center for COVID tests on Saturday. New Yorkers are struggling to find COVID-19 tests as the city suffers a surge of infections driven by the Omicron variant
New York City’s outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square, and vows not to follow Europe in a return to lockdowns
Daily new cases in New York City set a record this week since widespread testing was available
City-run testing sites reported huge wait times Saturday as New Yorkers struggled to find testing
The city is responding to the pressure by opening H+H testing sites seven days a week, opening five new sites, and the city sites are also offering free at-home test kits, according to state Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and a spokesman for H+H did not immediately respond to inquiries from DailyMail.com on Saturday afternoon.
‘It feels very reminiscent of March 2020,’ said Spencer Reiter, a 27-year-old Brooklyn resident who works in finance as he waited for a rapid test at a medical van near McCarren Park.
Reiter and his friend Katie Connolly, a student who is also 27, had come to be tested after friends tested positive.
‘Seeing these lines… it’s kind of back to where we began,’ Reiter said. Connolly concurred, saying, ‘It’s definitely eerie.’
For many New Yorkers, the rapid return to remote working policies, an onslaught of news about friends and family members testing positive, and grim pronouncements from high officials all feel spookily similar to the pandemic’s darkest days.
New York’s latest COVID surge comes as the Omicron variant establishes a beachhead in the city, driving cases up just as residents prepare to travel and gather for the Christmas holiday.
Kevin Durant (seen Thursday) went on the COVID protocol on Saturday after becoming the eighth Nets player infected
People wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on Friday in New York
New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in COVID-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern U.S. since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days
Hospitalizations have been rising in New York City as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly
The test positivity rate is in each NYC zip code is seen above. The city’s positivity rate has risen rapidly in recent weeks
The CDC estimates that Omicron accounts for at least 13 percent of all new cases in New York, which on Saturday recorded its highest single-day tally of new COVID-19 cases ever at 21,908, breaking the record of 21,027 set just one day earlier.
‘The winter COVID-19 surge is here,’ warned New York Governor Kathy Hochul, urging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted.
Though New York’s hospitalizations, which tend to lag new cases, remain below their peaks, they have climbed 25 percent in the past two weeks, straining the state’s healthcare system.
The spread of the variant, which appears highly transmissible and able to evade immune response from vaccination or prior infection, has already pushed Europe to the brink of new lockdowns.
However in New York, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square.
The party will mark the end of his eight-year reign, which expires on January 1.
De Blasio, like Governor Hochul, insisted on Friday that vaccination and precaution is the best way to combat the city’s COVID-19 surge.
‘No, no, no,’ de Blasio told WNYC on Friday when asked about possible shutdowns of public schools and other activities.
‘Don’t fight yesterday’s war,’ he added. ‘This is not March of 2020. We’re one of the most highly vaccinated places in the United States of America.’
‘The more we vaccinate, the more we can get through this,’ de Blasio said.
Another lockdown ‘would really destroy, in so many ways, people’s livelihoods and it would, I think, after everything people have been through — it would be traumatizing.’
The first wave of the pandemic brought New York to its knees in the spring of 2020.
The megalopolis of 8.5 million people, long known as ‘the city that never sleeps,’ felt almost deserted for weeks, its empty streets resembling something from a science fiction movie about a post-apocalyptic world.
The only sound heard in Manhattan’s broad avenues seemed to be the wail of ambulance sirens, as hospitals operated beyond capacity and morgues were forced to bring in refrigerated trucks to handle the huge influx of COVID victims.
The disease has claimed at least 34,000 lives in New York since spring 2020, and the city — especially Manhattan — has never completely regained its legendary glitter and energy of pre-COVID days.
‘We are actually in the beginning again, or maybe even worse,’ said Jolanta Czerlanis, a 54-year-old Brooklyn resident. She had come for testing after feeling possible COVID symptoms.
‘It’s very scary,’ added Czerlanis, who works in catering. ‘We were hoping that it’s going to get better.’
The startlingly rapid spread of Covid-19’s Omicron variant has raised grave concern across the US.
President Joe Biden on Thursday predicted a ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for the unvaccinated.
The number of new daily cases nationwide stood at 86,000 on December 1; by December 14, it had soared to 117,000, a 36 percent increase in two weeks.
The US already leads the world in the most grim of statistics. On Tuesday it surpassed 800,000 COVID deaths, according data compiled by Johns Hopkins.
In the US, highly vaccinated states in the northeast seem to be struggling the most at the moment, as cold weather, waning vaccine immunity and the new variant all contribute to a new case surge.
In Connecticut, 74 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in America. The state has also seen its COVID situation spiral out of control in recent weeks. New cases are up 162 percent over the past two weeks, with 72 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day.
Rhode Island currently has the highest COVID rate in America, with 99 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day – up 63 percent over the past two weeks. It is also the second most vaccinated state in America with 75 percent residents fully jabbed.
The most vaccinated state in America is Vermont, where 76 percent of residents are fully immunized. The state is experiencing a surge of its own still, though, with 69 out of every 100,000 residents being infected everyday.
To credit the vaccine, though, deaths in all three states have remained low despite recent case surges.
Other nearby states like Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, all with more than 70 percent of their populations fully vaccinated, are dealing with cases surges as well.
‘I think the only thing that it can come down to is behaviors and waning immunity,’ Dr Chris Thompson, an infectious disease expert at Loyola University of Maryland, told DailyMail.com about the increasing rate of infections in highly vaccinated states.
‘So the boosters will help to overcome the waning immunity and it’s up to us to become vigilant about those behaviors of handwashing, masking, social distancing, testing, vaccinations and those sorts of things.
‘[There are] also colder temperatures up there, so people are probably gathered together more indoors again, and that gathering can can lead to easier spread, especially with Omicron.’