ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. (WVUE) - A study on the economic impact of COVID-19 shows St. Tammany Parish has the fourth highest number of unemployment claims in the state.
Nearly 1 in 5 of those claims came from the hospitality industry-- and one business leader says complete recovery could take years.
It’s been 22 years since the Columbia Street tap room was totally shut down after a major fire. But COVID-19 is a completely different situation and the Taproom along with dozens of other St. Tammany restaurants and bars could face a long road back.
"Right now there is more unknown out there which brings in to question as to how you do proceed," said owner Steve Ahrons.
A recent study from the St. Tammany Corporation shows the hospitality industry has been especially hard hit accounting for nearly 25 percent of all parish unemployment claims.
“St. Tammany Parish, over a quarter of all of our employees are in accommodations and retail sector, and when you add it up it’s over 35,000 people,” said Chris Massingill, with St. Tammany Corporation.
But the unemployment numbers appear to be flattening out and after two weekends of Phase 1 reopening, some business owners see positive trends.
“Last week with a 25 percent occupancy even though it was difficult we feel like people were very supportive.” said Ahrons.
“I think Phase 1 is going well, businesses are responding well and following the rules,” said Massingill.
Massingill says the St. Tammany recovery could be especially challenging given the high number of people who commute outside this parish on a daily basis.
The study shows 46,000 people live and work in St. Tammany Parish while nearly that same number drives out to work each day. Massengill says this could make it more difficult to control the coronavirus.
"We have a large number of a population that goes outside of the parish to go to work so when they do that it increases exposure," said Massingill.
Meantime, businesses like Columbia Street taproom are surviving with things slowly getting better,’but no one sees a quick fix.
"People are still worried, there’s a lot of people who are not ready yet," said Steve Ahron, and he says as we head into traditionally slow summer months the COVID-19 business challenge will remain intense.
St. Tammany officials say for the most part businesses have cooperated with the new social distancing and sanitation rules outlined in phase one.
They say if the parish continues to show good progress they could ease further restrictions under the Phase 2 reopening which could kick in next week.