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Rising COVID cases mean service industry workers still face an uncertain future

Helena Lopes

When bars and restaurants closed their doors in March of 2020, most people didn't think the virus would still be rapidly spreading two years later. Mayor John Cranley declared a state of emergency last week because of the dwindling number of firefighters and first responders due to COVID-19 cases and quarantine requirements. Nonetheless, people crowded into bars and restaurants for New Year's Eve. One bartender says service industry people are worried about another lockdown.

"I think a lot of my friends in the bar and restaurant business are very much concerned about another lockdown," said Earl Peeples. "I'm a little concerned about it myself, but I've managed to save a little bit of money, so I won't be hit as hard. But it'll still be a little bit of a trouble."

He's been in the bar industry about 15 years and is the general manager and a bartender at Mr. Pitiful's on Main Street Downtown.

He says when the pandemic started, he saw a shift in the bar scene when some of his favorite spots began to look like ghost towns.

"My craft is bartending and culinary arts. So when they shut down the restaurants and they shut down the bars, I was completely out of work," he said. "I had to draw unemployment and even that was a process to get."

Bars were closed for months and then had to deal with limited capacity indoors to comply with health mandates. He said it reminded him of the movie Footloose.

"Where I'm walking around and telling people, 'No, no, dancing is bad. You can't talk to that guy or you can't talk to that girl. Dancing is for the devil.' I felt like that," he said.

It was a slow climb back to normal, but by spring, vaccinated people started making a comeback to the night scene. Peeples says it's been in full swing since then.

But the Hamilton County Health Department said last week the number of cases per day in the county averaged 678, which is almost as high as it was last year around this time, with 716 cases per day.

Peeples says he's starting to see some of the same kind of hesitant behavior from people that he saw before the last lockdown.

"It's a double-edged sword because you don't want to tell anybody that they can't come outside or they can't go gather (and) hang out with their friends," he said. "But at the same time, it needs to get under control. Even I know people that are even vaccinated, that got COVID recently."

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.