Soaring COVID-19 cases are impacting businesses in Mobile and Baldwin County, leaving many establishments struggling amid staffing shortages, but one business owner is offering cash to improve vaccination rates.
Alabama's vaccination rates remain around 34%, last in the nation, as coronavirus cases surge primarily among the unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, health officials continue to warn of the more highly contagious Delta variant.
"People who have the Delta variant have 1000 times more virus than people who had the original virus during the 4th of July last year," said Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association President.
Mobile and Baldwin County businesses are struggling with staffing shortages due to the increase.
Shawn Esfahani, owner of Eastern Shore Toyota, contracted coronavirus at the end of last year.
"On December the 12th, I almost died," said Esfahani.
Nearly 30 of Esfahani's employees have come down with COVID in the last week, almost tripling the number of cases they've had since the beginning of the pandemic.
"This is a much more aggressive version of the virus. We were fully protected with masks and gloves but because of the outside contacts our team members have had, we've had a huge impact," Esfahani said.
Esfahani now hopes to inspire others by offering up cash for proof of vaccination.
Starting Monday, August 9, Esfahani's dealership will draw 10 names each week for 10 weeks.
Each person selected will get $1000, if they've been vaccinated on or after July 29th.
"The government does not need to dictate what we need to do for our safety. We're smart enough to do it ourselves and the results are right in front of us. The vaccinations are very important. It saves lives," said Esfahani.
Esfahani is also offering incentives for his own employees. He said most who were recently infected were not vaccinated.
The concern, Esfahani said, is that more people will die, and the economy will come to a halt again if vaccinations don't increase.
"We don't want to go back there. Our state cannot continue to take those hits. So, get your vaccination, and you'll survive," Esfahani said.
Esfahani said registration opens at Eastern Shore Toyota on Monday, August 2, and no purchase from the dealership is necessary to win.
You must have a valid ID to confirm your vaccination card, and the sooner you enter, the better your chances of winning.