MILWAUKEE - The City of Milwaukee is hoping to help the hospitality and tourism industry bounce back from the pandemic by incentivizing the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, a vaccination clinic with prizes at the Wisconsin Center is targeting hotel and restaurant workers.
As one of the first industries to be shut down at the start of the pandemic and one of the last to reopen 14 months later, local and state leaders in hospitality say the best way to return to full operation is to get employees vaccinated.
"In order for people to feel safe, it is extremely important that we can talk about how safe it is to come to restaurants, bars, hotels, travel and get back to some semblance of normalcy," Visit Milwaukee's Peggy Williams-Smith said.
According to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, 10-15% of the state’s restaurants closed for good this past year due to financial hardships. Another 20-30% are on the verge.
"Milwaukee’s hospitality workers are integral to the success of our city," Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said.
To help incentivize workers to roll up their sleeves and help the city as a whole rebound, Visit Milwaukee is offering gift cards to anyone in hospitality receiving the vaccine at the Wisconsin Center Friday. This comes as the site's overall rate of vaccinations continues to drop.
"We were averaging at one point, 2,700. And we're down to less than 500 a day," Johnson said.
Like many in his shoes, bartender Andrew Trumbull was laid off this past year.
"We’ve really been kind of panicked and scrambling to figure out ways to support ourselves," Trumbull said.
Now, with a gift card in hand and shot in his arm—he’s ready to be serving shots once again.
"I hope I remember how to do everything, but I’m excited. Just to be able to be with old coworkers but also be in group settings and not have this fear in the background," Trumbull said.
Visit Milwaukee did not know how many people within the local hospitality industry were eligible for the vaccine or how many had already received it.
Businesses can also contact the health department to schedule a vaccination clinic at their workplace for employees.