Restaurant owners ready to hire as state mask mandate is lifted

Published: May. 15, 2021 at 7:34 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Saturday marked another major sign of progress: Facemasks can finally come off for people who are fully vaccinated.

Governor Ralph Northam is lifting the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated starting at midnight. The date of when all restrictions were going to be lifted has moved forward by two weeks.

“It’s very simple. It’s either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you. If you’re not vaccinated yet we strongly encourage you to wear a mask in public,” Governor Ralph Northam said.

Northam says all restrictions on capacity and social distancing are now set to lift on May 28, just before Memorial Day. This will give the state two weeks to get as many more people vaccinated before fully opening up.

The restrictions were originally set to lift on June 15.

That fresh air couldn’t have come sooner for business owners like Shane Thomas of Southern Kitchen after more than a year of hardships.

“It felt like a new beginning for my business and a new beginning for the restaurant world,” Thomas said. “It’s been a breath of fresh air. “We have been so tremendously hit by the pandemic.”

But she says things won’t fully return to normal for the restaurant industry without a robust workforce.

“Most of us owners who had to work ourselves through this has to go short-staffed,” Thomas said. “Recovery should look like us being able to rehire our employees that we had to let go of.”

The struggle now for restaurant owners like J.C. Pierce of Pierce’s BBQ is finding people to fill those jobs.

“It’s great to see the crowds come back, but at the same time, it’s really tough because we’re running on about half of our staff,” Pierce said. “A lot of these folks thought why should I go back to work when I’m making more money sitting at home. We definitely have ads out everywhere and looking everywhere that we possibly can, but it’s just hard to find anyone.”

In the meantime, Pierce and Thomas say they will be easing into the new mask measures while continuing to rely on take-out and social distancing when possible.

“We gotta get back to the regular way of life hate to say that, but it’s time to get back to work,” Thomas said.

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