Heath: Businesses, restaurants trying to catch up with demand as COVID mandates are lifted

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the state’s mask mandate lifted on Sunday, businesses and restaurants can now operate at full capacity with no COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Richie Heath, the West Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association (WVHTA) Executive Director told MetroNews while that’s now an option, the lack of workforce at some places is forcing restaurants to keep guidelines such as only using half its capacity.

And with the pent-up demand from the public getting back out into a social world, Heath said it’s creating stress for many service industry workers.

Richie Heath

“Places are basically getting by on full-service, huge crowds with a limited skeleton crew. That’s with people doing multiple things and that includes business owners,” Heath said on Monday.

Heath said he has heard from places around the state that are having hard times even holding interviews for positions and having anyone qualified to take open positions. Those same businesses had to cut staff, in some instances in half, during the pandemic to cut costs.

He said Gov. Jim Justice’s ending enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits on June 19 could boost the workforce in coming weeks. Justice’s decision halted an additional $300 payment to unemployment compensation recipients, stopped benefits for self-employed or part-time workers who wouldn’t usually qualify, ended an extension of benefits for people whose regular benefits have exhausted, and stopped an additional $100 benefit for certain people with mixed earnings.

A lot of businesses have tried to get creative to attract workers back to the job, Heath said, including some incentives. But Heath said restaurants and businesses have only been able to go so far because of the financial hit they’ve taken during the pandemic.

“A lot of folks have incurred debt, additional loans,” Heath said. “The relief funds have been helpful and a good portion of those are forgivable at the federal level. It’s certainly something that folks will be, from a business perspective, digging out from under over the course of the next months to a year.”

Overall, Heath said closures of businesses have been far less worse than expected. He said there were major questions during the winter months of getting through them with no outdoor dining and half-filled indoor seating.

For now, patrons whether vaccinated or unvaccinated from COVID-19 will not be required to wear a mask anywhere. Heath said the coming weeks should bring booming sales numbers in spots with the demand but there is concern of whether the workforce can match the demand.

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