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Restaurant workers are in a race to get vaccinated

During the pandemic, some of the most dangerous activities have been those that many Americans dearly missed: skinning nachos, paddling with a date, or yelling sports scores at a group of friends at a crowded, sticky bar. inside a restaurant.

Today, as more states ease restrictions on indoor dining and expand access to vaccines, restaurant workers – who have gone from happy facilitators of everyone’s enjoyment to frontline under siege – scrambling to protect themselves against the new downturn in business.

“It has been really stressful,” said Julia Piscioniere, a waiter at Butcher & Bee in Charleston. “People are fine with masks, but it’s not like it used to be. I think people take restaurants and their employees for granted. It has taken its toll.

The return to economic vitality in the United States is being driven by restaurants and bars, which also suffered one of the highest losses in the last year. Balancing the financial benefits of a return to regular hours with worker safety, especially in states where theoretical access to vaccines exceeds actual supply, is the industry’s latest hurdle.

In many states, workers are still unable to get vaccinated, especially in areas where they were not included in priority groups this spring. Immigrants, who make up a large part of the restaurant workforce, are often afraid to enroll, fearing the process will legally remove them.

Some states have ditched mask mandates and capacity limits inside facilities – which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still see as a potentially risky setting – putting employees even more at risk.

“It is essential that food and beverage workers have access to the vaccine, especially since customers who come have no guarantee that they will be vaccinated and obviously will not be masked when eating or drinking. Said Dr Alex Jahangir, chair of a coronavirus task force in Nashville. “This has been a major concern for me, as we are balancing the competing interests of vaccinating everyone as soon as possible before more and more restrictions are lifted.”

Texas waiters take care of all of the above. The state has strictly limited early eligibility for filming, but last week opened access to all residents 16 and older, creating an overwhelming demand for slots. The governor recently abandoned the state’s loosely enforced mask mandate and allowed restaurants to go out and serve all comers, with no limitations.

“Texas is in a unique position because this is all happening,” said Anna Tauzin, director of revenue and innovation for the Texas Restaurant Association.

The trade group is partnering with a health care provider to set aside days at mass vaccination sites in the state’s four largest cities to target workers in the industry.

Industry has taken matters into its own hands in other countries as well.

In Charleston, Michael Shemtov, who owns several seats, turned a food hall into a vaccination site for restaurant workers on a recent Tuesday with help from a local clinic. (The post-shot observation seat was at the sushi spot; party beers poured into a nearby pizzeria.) Ms. Piscioniere and her partner eagerly helped each other. “I’m super relieved,” she says. “It was so difficult to get appointments.”

In Houston, Legacy Restaurants – which owns the Famous Po ‘Boys Original Ninfa and Antone’s – is running two vaccine drives for all staff members and their spouses, actions that owners say will protect workers and insure customers.

Some cities and counties are also tackling the problem. Last month, Los Angeles County set aside the majority of nominations for five two-day-a-week mass sites for the estimated 500,000 workers in the food and agriculture industries – half of whom are restaurant workers. In Nashville, the health department has chosen to reserve 500 spots per day for next week, specifically for people in the food and hospitality industries. It is possible that restaurants may require their workers to be vaccinated in the future.

Many business sectors have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but it is widely believed that hospitality has been hit the hardest and low-wage workers have suffered some of the biggest hits. In February 2020, for example, the working hours of restaurateurs increased by 2% compared to a previously strong period of the previous year; two months later, those hours were cut by more than half.

While hours and wages have picked up somewhat, the industry remains hampered by rules that most other businesses – including airlines and retail stores – haven’t faced. The reasons point to a sadly unfortunate reality that has never changed: The meals inside, by the nature of their actual existence, helped spread the virus.

A recent CDC report found that after masks and other restrictions were lifted, on-site restaurants led to daily increases in cases and death rates between 40 and 100 days later. Although other contexts have turned into widespread events – funerals, weddings and large indoor events – many community epidemics have found their roots in restaurants and bars.

“Masks would normally help protect people indoors, but because people take off the masks when they eat,” said Christine K. Johnson, professor of epidemiology and ecosystem health at the University of California. to Davis, “there are no barriers to prevent transmission.

Not all governments have viewed restaurant workers as “essential,” even as restaurants have been a very active part of America’s food chains – from semi-open sites to take-out operations to the kitchen for those. who need it – throughout the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association helped push the CDC to recommend that food service workers be included in priority groups of workers to get vaccines, although not all states followed the guidelines.

Almost every state in the country has ramped up their immunization program, targeting almost all adult populations.

“Most people in our government viewed restaurants as a non-essential luxury,” said Rick Bayless, the well-known Chicago restaurateur, whose staff walked all the vaccination sites for weeks to get vaccinated. “I think it’s myopic. The human race is essentially social and when we deny this aspect of our nature, we harm ourselves. Restaurants provide this very essential service. It can be done safely, but to minimize the risk to our staff, we must have priority for vaccination. “

Texas has not designated any worker other than those in the health and education sectors as the first recipients of the vaccine, but it is now open to everyone.

“The state leaders have decided to ignore our industry as a whole as well as the workers in the grocery store,” said Michael Fojtasek, owner of Olamaie in Austin. “Now, because our state leaders decided to lift a mask mandate without giving us the option of being vaccinated, it created this really difficult access problem. It’s switched to a takeout sandwich business for now and won’t reopen until every worker gets an injection, he said.

However, many restaurateurs said they go their own way with the rules and customers often drive them there. “There’s a lot of shame going on if you open up and don’t have your tables six feet away,” said Don Miller, the owner of County Line, a small chain in Texas and New Brunswick. Mexico.

In addition, its places continue to require masks and keep them as hostesses for anyone who “forgets”. Most of its younger workers, however, will likely wait a long time for a bang. “I think it’s important for them to get vaccinated,” he said. “They didn’t like it because he wasn’t available for that age group.”

The restaurant industry has far more Latino immigrant workers than most other businesses, and some worry that vaccine registration will make reopening more difficult. Many workers at Danielle Leoni’s Phoenix restaurant, Breadfruit and Rum Bar, refused UI and were reluctant to sign up for a photo. “Before you can even make an appointment, you need to provide your name and date of birth and your email address,” Ms. Leoni said. “These are questions that deter people who are trying to keep a low profile.”

In Charleston, Mr. Shemtov was inspired by stories of the vaccination program in Israel, which was considered a success in part because the government brought the vaccines to the construction sites. “If people can’t get dates, let’s bring them to them.”

Other restaurants spend hours making sure workers know how to sign up, locate leftover photos, and network with their peers. Some offer free time for an injection and the recovery period for side effects.

“We don’t want them to have to choose between an hour or paying for a vaccine,” said Katie Button, owner of Curate and La Bodega in Asheville, NC.

However, some owners do not take risks. “If we go bankrupt because we’re one of the few restaurants in Arizona that doesn’t reopen, so be it,” Ms. Leoni said. “Nothing is more important than the health or safety of someone else.”

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