'Difficult juggling act': Triangle businesses grapple with Omicron-fueled staffing shortages

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a new year but an old problem plagues our small businesses, big businesses, and hospitals, too: How to stay open as COVID-19 takes its toll on the workforce.

At Whiskey Kitchen on Monday night, the popular bar and restaurant was back open for dinner after a five-day closure so staff could recharge and get booster shots as the Omicron variant wreaks havoc on staffing.

Take a trip through the streets of Raleigh, you'll see the signs. Garland is still closed. The foodie destination canceled its New Year's Eve event after a confirmed COVID-19 case.

In the Village District, Noodles and Co. cut back hours because of staffing shortages. And on Glenwood South, the nightclub C. Grace called off its New Year's bash for COVID concerns, too.

"It's a very difficult juggling act," said Whiskey Kitchen co-owner Mike Thor on the struggle to keep the business doors open.

"We had a bunch of staff that started to not feel so great. And so (last) Wednesday, after lunch service, we decided we would close down for the rest of the week," said Thor.

At RDU International Airport, holiday travel itineraries took a beating. Wild weather and airline staffing shortages were to blame as many workers tested positive or reported feeling sick. More than 100 flights were either canceled or delayed at RDU on Monday.

"The COVID thing is kind of stressful because you have to do a lot of tests and got to be negative before you can get on a flight, and if you don't have your results, then you can't fly. It's frustrating," said Raleigh resident Oluwatobi Oloyede.

Our healthcare heroes are feeling the frustration, too. The Omicron surge is taking its toll on hospitals. Dr. David Wohl spoke to ABC 11 on Monday -- giving us a status check on UNC hospital staffers -- overworked and increasingly exposed to the virus.

"They're having to stay out of work for a period of time, and that definitely takes its toll on the resources available. So we're getting tired," Dr. Wohl said.

Back at Whiskey Kitchen, it turned out that most of the staff tested negative. But their boss still has big concerns as the COVID chaos mounts.

"I don't want to wear my staff out," Thor said. "I don't want them to work so hard and pull so much overtime that they burn themselves out."

Like so many businesses in the pandemic, Whiskey Kitchen sweetened the pot to lure in more workers. It boosted starting pay to $15 an hour. It also mandated vaccinations for its 80-person staff. Thor said 98 percent of workers complied.
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