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Impact of closures due to COVID-19 on Indianapolis's hospitality industry

Posted at 4:32 PM, Mar 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 14:39:00-04

INDIANAPOLIS — We're already seeing the impact of the closures and cancellations on Central Indiana's 83,000 hospitality workers.

"What I did not expect was at 12:30 my boss collected everyone from Food Service and ... informed us that food service was going to be gone until further notice," Lisa Wehrle, who works at a downtown Indy hotel, said. She couldn't help but get a little emotional.

And just like that, Wehrle, and two of her co-workers, Celesta Nichols and Betty Yosha, were out of a job until further notice.

The trio is supposed to be working at a popular downtown hotel. Still, tonight the server, waitress, and lounge hostess are trying to catch their breath and make sense of a week of coronavirus concerns strong enough to cancel every major event Indianapolis was going to host this spring.

"My first question was, can we apply for unemployment, and which they were like, 'Absolutely. You're not fired; you're just laid off right now due to the virus,'" Wehrle said of her boss's decision.

The next few weeks were going to be huge for these three ladies who were planning to welcome thousands of visitors to Indianapolis and their hotel. But that changed in what felt like an instant.

"All I could say was, 'wow.' I cannot believe how fast this has all come together," Nichols said.

The trickle-down effect of the coronavirus doesn't just end with hotels; it flows to other industries that entire families are counting on.

"I live in a household where the other breadwinner is a flight attendant, so our house is really uneasy right now," Yosha said.

Hours after being sent home without a job and wondering how they will pay the bills, this trio of women says they aren't mad at their employer and fully understand the circumstances. What they don't understand is how this pandemic was allowed to happen.

"I don't know where this came from, but where ever it started, why didn't you contain it?" Wehrle said, wondering aloud. "Why didn't you do something about it, instead of letting it flourish and hurt so many people. For whatever reason you did this, may God help you on this."

The Department of Workforce Development is reminding anyone who might be at risk of being laid off because of coronavirus precautions to file for unemployment insurance.

"Work-One Indy" is also encouraging residents to use their resources to search for jobs.

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