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Exposed unvaccinated workers force Gulfport restaurant to limit service

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 9:21 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - On a normal July weekend, The Rack House Restaurant would be filled with the sound of clinking glasses, high-end whiskey pouring and credit cards being swiped. Instead customers are greeted with a sign announcing ‘to-go orders only’ for the weekend.

“We’ve got 25 people here that should be at work, but they’re not working simply because they are not vaccinated,” said Kevin Fish, co-owner of Gulf Coast Restaurant Group.

Fish said the workers were all exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID at an event away from work. Even though none of the workers have tested positive, CDC regulations require they be isolated for seven days.

“If you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine,” he said.

“It’s a better safe than sorry situation,” Fish said on Friday. “The CDC’s guidelines are that if you’ve potentially been exposed, you’re out for seven days, and we follow that stuff pretty religiously, we have no choice. We’re in food and beverage, it’s kind of second nature to think safety first.”

Fish said management learned who the exposed workers were through their own contact tracing.

“The bottom line is, whose fault is it that you don’t get to come to work? It’s your fault. You didn’t take the personal responsibility and go get vaccinated. You know the first time around, we didn’t have a vaccine, different story. But now we do. Just go get vaccinated and you can go to work, earn money.”

The restaurant was already short staffed despite offering numerous financial incentives to new employees.

In an effort to prevent the same thing happening at one of Coast Restaurant Group’s other 15 properties the company will now give $100 to each vaccinated employee.

However, Fish is skeptical that will significantly drive up the vaccination rate among the younger employees.

“Maybe if we had enough money to give them a thousand dollars, maybe we would,” fish said. “A hundred dollars we’re looking at a thousand employees, so I’m looking at spending $100,000 to try to get people vaccinated. It’s worth it to me.

“I want to encourage every single one of them get vaccinated. I’d love to see 25 percent of them do that. I’d love to see 50 percent of them come and take my money. that would be a wonderful thing.”

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