waffle house restaurant empty at night

As we continue to watch coronavirus infection numbers rise in the U.S. (and distract ourselves with memes), one statistic that's turning out to be just as important to track is the number of Waffle Houses closing down.

Waffle House has now closed more than 400 locations across the south, east coast, and midwest due to concerns over the viral spread. Earlier this month, an employee at an Ohio location even tested positive for the virus.

While this is bad news for the employees affected by these closures, as many service industry workers have been during quarantine, it's also a sign of how serious the virus has become.

map of waffle house index closures during coronavirus

If you didn't already know, for years FEMA has used Waffle Houses as a yardstick for measuring the severity of nationwide disasters.

Their "Waffle House Index" keeps track of the number of Waffle Houses that are open and closed throughout the country, and when the number of closed ones gets too high, they know something is seriously wrong.

Waffle Houses are a useful metric because they tend to stay open 24/7 even during extreme weather conditions, their employees are super tough, and they usually reopen right after a hurricane or natural disaster has passed.

waffle house after hurricane katrina

As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in 2018, "If you got to areas where the Waffle House was closed, that's not a good sign."

So the fact that over 400 locations are closed is really not good. For context, only about 100 Waffle Houses closed during Hurricane Katrina.

For more updates on the Waffle House Index you can follow along with the company online. Although if you just want a break, these classic Waffle House antics should remind us of simpler times.