Pittsburgh service group wants restaurant workers prioritized for COVID vaccine | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh service group wants restaurant workers prioritized for COVID vaccine

click to enlarge A restaurant worker in Downtown Pittsburgh delivers waters to a table outside in July 2020 - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
A restaurant worker in Downtown Pittsburgh delivers waters to a table outside in July 2020
Earlier this week, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania’s restaurants can raise their indoor capacity from 50% to 75% starting on April 4.

However, a group providing service and support to Pittsburgh restaurant, service, and hospitality workers is concerned that employees who work in those restaurants and indoor spaces won’t receive the vaccine by April 4, and are calling for those workers to be added to the state’s vaccine priority list.

“Restaurant workers cannot wait for vaccines if the indoor capacity is increased,” said Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid (PRWA) in a March 16 statement. PRWA is a local nonprofit created in response to the COVID-19 crisis last March, and it provides resources and community support to restaurant and hospitality workers who have lost financial, housing, food, and healthcare security.

Under Pennsylvania’s current vaccine rollout schedule, restaurant workers are classified as 1C, the third of four distribution phases. As of now, the state health department reports that Pennsylvania is in phase 1A and has been since the first vaccines were approved and distributed to states three months ago.

“It could take anywhere from several weeks to several months to reach the next stage(s) and therefore is highly unlikely that restaurant workers can be vaccinated by April 4th (just less than 3 weeks away) if we are to remain in the 1C stage,” said PRWA.
Despite the fact that restaurants were deemed essential businesses during lockdown, their employees have not been given priority vaccination status. Wolf and some Pennsylvania counties have added groups that can qualify 1A designation since the start of the rollout. This week, Allegheny County added individuals ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions to the 1A group.

“Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid is alarmed that restaurant and food service workers have not been prioritized for vaccination in the state of Pennsylvania,” said PRWA.

Restaurant workers across the country have had a hard time during the COVID pandemic. In addition to losing significant amounts of income and job security, a recent survey of restaurant workers conducted by advocacy group One Fair Wage reported that 78% of food service workers reported experiencing or witnessing hostile behavior from customers in response to staff enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, with 59% saying that it happened at least weekly.

PRWA is calling upon Pennsylvania acting Department of Health Secretary Alison Beam to reevaluate the status of restaurant workers from 1C to 1A, so these workers can get vaccinated by the April 4 opening date of increased capacity. “The solution is simple,” said PRWA. “To recognize that all workers deemed essential and facing the public in their work environments are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and should receive the vaccine immediately.”

At a March 16 press conference when asked about concerns about restaurant and service workers, Department of Health Senior Advisor Lindsey Mauldin said that she suspects that the vaccine distribution under 1B and 1C “a lot faster than we saw with 1A.”

“We are also following the CDC guidance on those faces and who falls within them,” said Mauldin. “But again, we will continue to work with our partners at the Department of Agriculture as well as the Department of Community and Economic Development to ensure that those voices are heard and those folks are able to get vaccines whenever they are ready.”

At least one Pittsburgh-area elected official agrees with PRWA, and wants restaurant, service, and hospitality workers added to the 1A vaccine list now. In a tweet, Allegheny County Councilor at-large Bethany Hallam (D-North Side) echoed PRWA’s sentiments.

“We cannot ease restrictions without first ensuring our front line workers are prioritized for vaccinations,” tweeted Hallam on March 17.

PRWA hopes that the approval of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as vamped up vaccine production, will increase the availability of vaccines to restaurant workers, further protecting them from COVID-19.

“We cannot jeopardize our health and safety for employer profit,” said PRWA.

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