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Restaurant workers fear lasting damage to industry with Washington's indoor dining ban extended

Gov. Inslee extended Washington's ban on indoor dining another three weeks, dealing another blow to restaurant workers and owners hoping for a busy holiday season.

Indoor dining and bar service will be banned at Washington restaurants and bars an additional three weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday. 

The restriction were set to expire on Dec. 14, but Inslee extended the order until Jan. 4, in effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement is yet another hurdle for Washington's struggling restaurant workers and owners. 

“Until there is a widely distributed vaccine, we’re going to be on this roller coaster ride,” said Elaina Herber, President and CEO of the Ascend Hospitality Group based in Bellevue.

Of their 700 employees across the Pacific Northwest, 621 were laid off due to the coronavirus. Since then, some 30% have been hired back, although Herber fears dire damage to the industry has already been done.

“My sense is that those that thought they could make a living in the hospitality industry may throw their hands up and go do something else. Which means, I don’t know what we’re left with from an employee stand point, and it's frightening,” Herber said.

RELATED: Washington's COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining and gyms extended to Jan. 4

Kevin Hams is a furloughed server from Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi with two decades of experience in the restaurant industry. But today, he’s sitting at home.

“The reality is we’re not working while there is a lot of industries working. We’re not working, we’re at home. We’re the ones struggling, trying to make ends meet,” Hams said.

Some Puget Sound restaurants are operating with a skeleton staff, trying to survive on outdoor dining and takeout. In many cases, a full staff has been reduced to just a few people. But Hams can't keep playing the waiting game.

“Not much longer. Not much longer at all. It’s coming down to a point where I have to find work. I have to find some kind of work,” he said.

The ban on indoor dining is set to expire Jan. 4, though experts fear cases will only continue to rise while Americans wait for widespread vaccinations. 

That could leave restaurant workers in limbo indefinitely. 

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