Companies are struggling as many workers are either sick with COVID-19 or on vacation

Businesses in the United States face serious staffing challenges as some workers report sick with COVID-19 while others take a planned summer vacation.

The latest wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by the spread of Sub-variant BA.5has left some businesses short-staffed that they have had to reduce their normal opening hours or even temporarily close.

Robert Fleming, owner of the Capri Club in Los Angeles which opened in June, said he had so few employees that in addition to owning the restaurant, he also served as tables.

“I’m the owner-operator and now that means I’m the server, the food delivery and I sweep and wash. That means everyone has to participate and you do what you have to do to keep the doors open,” Fleming told CBS MoneyWatch.

“We barely get away with it”

Earlier this month, after a number of its employees were exposed to or infected with COVID-19, Fleming had to close the restaurant overnight.

‘Lots of staff have been exposed and have fallen ill, and with a reduced team you don’t have replacements,’ he said. “If someone is going on vacation or calling in sick and you’re barely making it, then you have to decide whether or not you’re keeping your doors open.”

Restaurant owners and other business owners across the United States are getting more and more calls from workers who say they can’t come to work because they have coronavirus.

From June 29 to July 11, 3.9 million Americans said they weren’t working because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone with symptoms, according the latest household pulse survey from the US Census Bureau. This is more than double the 1.8 million people who did not work for the same reasons during the same period last year.

In addition to being absent from work due to COVID-19, employees are also taking planned summer breaks.

In the same week as the Census Bureau household survey, 4.8 million working Americans took vacation or personal days, according the US Department of Labor. This represents an increase from the 3.7 million workers who took furlough during the same period a year earlier.


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Trading restaurant work for the gig economy

Many business owners were already facing staffing shortages before the new COVID subvariant arrived, just as the summer season was in full swing.

Fleming acknowledged an exodus of workers from the restaurant industry who, at the start of the pandemic, traded their jobs for more flexible work in the gig economy.

“People’s lifestyles have changed and running a restaurant at night may not be as attractive as it used to be for someone’s job,” he said. “A lot of back-of-house employees have found other jobs in the gig economy or driving for Uber or doing other daytime jobs, and they can go home and hang out with their families at night. It’s hard for these people to come home at 12 or 1 a.m..”

loyalty pays

Americans are also taking the opportunity to travel internationally again, finally resuming trips originally planned for the summer of 2020.

Steven Hartenstein, who operates Lucca Osteria & Bar in Oak Brook, Illinois, said all things considered, it’s relatively well-staffed.

“We’re lucky to have a decent loyalty,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “About 70% of my original staff are still with me, which for this industry and these times is pretty huge.”

Yet last Tuesday, Hartenstein found itself short of three servers, a bartender and a busser.

Two of the servers and the bus were on vacation. The bartender had recently quit and an additional server was sick with a cold.

The rest of the team got involved: the general manager of the restaurant took care of the bar and a hostess helped clear the tables.

It was a record business night at Lucca Osteria.

“We got through it and it was actually a great night,” Hartensteain said. “We don’t mind being practical, but it’s hard and you struggle. You can’t do it every night.”

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