September 22, 2021

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Innisfree Hotels mandates COVID vaccine for hotel, restaurant staff

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Innisfree Hotels — one of the biggest employers on Pensacola Beach — has announced it will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees.

In an announcement Wednesday, the company said all employees will be required to receive their first shot by Sept. 15 and to be fully vaccinated a month later.

“After researching the data and talking to professionals in the medical field and the business field, we feel like it was the best thing for us to do to protect the integrity of the employees and our guests,” Innisfree CEO and President Ted Ent told the News Journal.

Latest vaccine numbers: Escambia County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 42% of people fully vaccinated

Innisfree is one of the region’s biggest employers. According to FloridaWest data, the company is the eighth-largest employer with 750 employees in the area and more than 2,000 employees across its other properties in the Gulf Coast region.

Innisfree owns a series of hotels and restaurants primarily on Pensacola Beach but also in the city, including the Hampton Inn, the Holiday Inn, the Hilton Pensacola Beach, Surf and Sand Hotel and the Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport.

It owns restaurants Bonsai, H2O Grill, Red Fish Blue Fish, Riptides Tiki Bar & Grill, UFOs mini golf and ice cream and Water Pig BBQ, all on Pensacola Beach.

Under the new policy, new employees will need to have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose prior to their first day of employment, and any employees who cannot be vaccinated due to health reasons or a strong religious belief will need to provide documentation.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our decision-making process has been driven by health, safety, and scientific evidence,” Ent said in a statement issued Wednesday. “This resolution comes as a response to the stark rise in cases among the unvaccinated and the spreading Delta variant. With this requirement, we intend to better protect our staff and guests from exposure to COVID-19, staying true to our core value of helping those who help us.”

Innisfree: ‘We think it’s the right step to take’

Several major employers in the Pensacola area have implemented vaccine policies, but most of those are health care organizations, including Ascension Sacred Heart and Baptist Health Care.

Ascension Sacred Heart notified employees in late July that it would require all staff, physicians, volunteers and vendors to be vaccinated against the virus by Nov. 12. Baptist changed its policy Aug. 9 to require all staff, physicians, volunteers, students and contractors hired before Sept. 1 to receive both doses of the vaccine by Nov. 1.

Better data: Escambia County Commissioners want better data on COVID-19 deaths

Ent said he hasn’t seen many hospitality industry employers mandating vaccines, but the leadership thought it was needed. Guests and customers won’t be required to be vaccinated.

“We think it’s the right step to take,” Ent told the News Journal.

COVID-19 surge overwhelms hospitals

The company’s move comes at a time when officials are urging the community to get vaccinated as another surge overwhelms hospitals with patients. 

Escambia County saw its highest-ever hospitalization rate earlier this month when 398 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Aug. 25. As of Wednesday, Escambia County’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 334 people were hospitalized with the virus at the three major Pensacola hospitals, Baptist, Ascension Sacred Heart and West Florida.

Officials have said that between 90% and 95% of those hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications in the most recent surge have been unvaccinated. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker website, 50.4% of Escambia County residents have had at least one vaccine dose as of Sunday, an uptick from three weeks ago when officials reopened the Brownsville Community Center vaccine clinic site when the rate was 46%.

The Florida Department of Health’s data for the week ending Friday showed 3,067 new cases in Escambia County for that week.

Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.