Restaurant owners and workers have had to fend for themselves through this pandemic. Desperately trying to stay healthy and keep the lights on, independent owners have been forced to soldier on with little financial assistance or serious government response.
But, there is one thing we can do to help restaurants turn the corner: Prioritize food-service worker vaccines.
Food-service industry workers are classified in Phase 1C under the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s vaccine rollout plan, currently in the earliest phase, 1A. Lumped in with a series of non-frontline workers deemed essential, such as the media, lawyers and construction workers, restaurant employees may not see vaccines until late spring, according to the DHEC plan.
That’s not soon enough. A resolution filed by S.C. Rep. J.A. Moore, D-Hanahan, would bump them into Phase 1A, giving them access to the vaccine ASAP.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in South Carolina. But with no aid in sight, restaurant owners have had little choice but to stay open over the past few months, and that means their workers continue to clock in.
Make no mistake: These businesses, now forced to cut back for almost a year, should not have to rely on generous supporters to bail them out of this epically mismanaged pandemic. Yet for months, we’ve tipped extra, over-paid on delivery apps and bundled up outside around cold picnic tables. Still, as many as 17% of restaurants nationwide closed by the beginning of December 2020, according to a letter to Congress from restaurant industry leaders.
The chilling reality is that stubborn elected leaders remain unwilling to yield to additional safety measures that could save lives if it means a dollar lost at the end of the day.
That means thousands of food industry employees are back to work. More than 230,000 S.C. hospitality and leisure workers were on the job in November — 84.7% of 2019 levels and up from 52% in April, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. More employees back at work means more person-to-person interactions and more opportunities to spread the virus.
Just think about the precautions you would take if you were planning to have a quick dinner inside your favorite restaurant. Mask on. Avoid close contact. Navigate an annoying mobile menu. Minimize touching surfaces. All this for a 45-minute meal at a place you trust before you head back home. The handful of employees you interacted with will do it over and over all night. And, probably again tomorrow. Probably with folks who aren’t as mask-diligent as you.
Ten months into this pandemic, Gov. Henry McMaster and the state health officials who let this virus get out of control are responsible for the fact that South Carolina restaurant-industry workers are still endangering themselves every time they go to work.
It’s something that real leaders focused on public health and politicians concerned with political consequences of business closures can agree on: Get restaurant workers vaccinated.