Waffle House Sign - © NBC News

COVID-19: Coronavirus ‘Breaks’ Famed Waffle House Index

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has (temporarily) lost one of its most reliable, if least official, measures of how serious a given disaster is. The Waffle House Index, as it’s known in official circles, draws a direct correlation between the severity of an event and the number of WH closures…

Waffle House Index - 418 - © Waffle House - How Stuff WorksThe official Waffle House Index: As of last night, almost a quarter of the
chain’s nearly 2000 restaurants were closed due top COVID-19

No one who has travelled in the U.S. South can have failed to note the ubiquity of the Waffle House restaurant. They’re everywhere. And they’re famed for their policy of never closing unless the situation is dire. All Waffle Houses are supposed to be open 24/7/365. for your all-day-breakfast pleasure. When even one closes, FEMA and other agencies take note: there must be something pretty serious going on at that location to occasion such unusual action.

The term ‘Waffle House Index’ was first used by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in 2011 after an EF5 tornado touched down in Joplin. Mo. “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s when [we] go to work,” Fugate said.

COVID-19 breaks the metric

So, imagine the shock and awe generated by Waffle House’s unprecedented closure earlier this week of 418 of its 1,992 locations across the south and mid-west due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Folks who follow the Waffle House Index are calling the situation a Code Red.

Originally a gauge of weather damage

The Waffle House Index uses the stoplight system to indicate the status of its stores. Green means ‘open and serving the full menu’. Yellow means ‘under restricted hours and/or serving a restricted menu’ of items that are faster or easier to prepare. Red means ‘completely closed’. At least that’s how it works during weather emergencies.

During the pandemic, the stoplight colours have taken on a slightly different significance: Green means the location is fully open, but, “Wash your hands, and no handshakes.” Yellow means the location is open for takeout only. Red means the restaurant is completely closed.

Follow the Index

If you want to follow the Waffle House Index, visit their twitter account where the company is posting a running total of full and partial closures.

Follow the rules!

Whether the Waffle House is open or not, it’s best – and wisest – to stay home during the COVID-29 crisis. Wash your hands often, catch your sneezes and coughs in your elbow – using the so-called ‘vampire’ method – try not to touch your face and, if you must go out, stay at least 6 ft. / 2 m from other people. May you and your loved ones avoid catching COVID-19…

~ Maggie J.

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