New York restaurant staff are lastly getting vaccines whereas colleagues throughout the nation wait
Although the peak of the pandemic is behind us after the holidays, the country is still not out of the woods when it comes to Covid-19. New cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are still higher than they were at the start of the Halloween wave. Even so, state and local communities have started reopening or increasing the capacity for personal dining. This leaves restaurant employees at the mercy of a botched vaccine rollout where they’re considered key employees but still aren’t eligible to receive any shots. And even if they are eligible to receive the vaccine, this is just the beginning of navigating another headache-causing system.
In early January, Washington, DC Mayoress Muriel Bowser made headlines when she said restaurant workers were being prioritized as essential staff for the vaccine. She set a vaccination date for February 1st. Several DC chefs tell Robb Report that they haven’t heard much since January, but recently found that they would not be eligible for the vaccine at the same time as grocers. Adding to the confusion is the fact that one man of those who work for these DC chefs lives in Maryland and Virginia. So it’s not clear where they qualify for the vaccine.
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Based in Birmingham, Ala., Kristen Hall, co-owner and pastry chef of The Essential and Bandit Patisserie, leverages her public health background (her career before starting in the hospitality industry) to guide people in the local restaurant community.
“We take a step-by-step approach and I would say there isn’t a lot of communication with business owners – it’s about us looking for information,” says Hall. “We are currently in phase 1B and that started on February 8th. We thought we were Category 1B as restaurant professionals because they were grocery store clerks and people who worked in food manufacturing, but we are in 1C. We were told it would be two to four weeks. “
The story goes on
Alabama’s rating of restaurant workers as 1C is in line with CDC guidelines for phasing out the vaccine. In California, local authorities can put restaurant workers in the same category as grocery workers, and that is exactly what San Francisco will do on February 24, when restaurant workers can begin receiving admissions.
The vaccine – with pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo – has arrived for New York restaurant workers. But that doesn’t mean these workers can get the shots.
Anyone who has tried traversing the patchwork quilt of vaccination sites across the country, for themselves or a loved one, knows how frustrated it is to navigate such an inefficient system.
“It was a nightmare – the slots are very limited,” says Ivy Chu, a partner at three New York restaurants, including Sushi Nakaji. “To help my staff get an appointment, I literally have to refresh the browser 20 times before I can get a slot that I booked within seconds and that can be 10 miles from where they live. But in all honesty, we’re just happy to get the opportunity. We restaurant workers don’t feel neglected. “
Some restaurant workers have found a useful resource for tracking down an appointment on TurboVax, a website created by a software developer who was frustrated with the Scattershot vaccine portal. He built a website that has all of the vaccine appointments on one page so that people can at least see vacancies in one place. Chefs and restaurateurs have also told Robb Report that they will no longer check the government website to successfully find an appointment with TurboVax
“We found the New York government website confusing and generally difficult to navigate at first, but thankfully found something about TurboVax.com that was a lifesaver,” said Kylie Monagan, partner at Civetta Hospitality, owned by Amali, Mar. Marseille and Calissa. “I would say that around 80 percent of our employees either received their first shot or have an appointment to do so by this point.”
The silver lining was that after securing an appointment – unlike so many other aspects of this pandemic from testing to PPP spreading – the process within a vaccination site and getting the shot itself was smooth and organized.
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