New York restaurant workers to start getting vaccines

An about-face by Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cleared the way for front- and back-of-house employees to begin rolling up their sleeves if supplies are available.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurant workers in New York can start being vaccinated immediately against COVID-19 if their local authorities have the serum available, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday in a rare about-face.  

The governor essentially shifted the call of when to have the workers roll up their sleeves to local officials, instead of managing the distribution of limited quantities down to the city or county level from Albany. According to Cuomo’s original schedule, employees of the state’s restaurants would not be eligible to receive inoculations until sometime in March at the earliest.

The governor has been under pressure to give the workers the same priority that was assigned to first-responders, teachers and persons aged 65 or older, a group collectively classified under Cuomo’s plan as 1B. Everyone in that classification is now eligible to get the shots.

Proponents of moving restaurant workers up the line have argued that the employees are required as essential workers to report for duty despite the very real danger of contracting COVID-19. Yet they’re far behind other essential workers in the queue for inoculations.    

Cuomo had refused to bend, saying that shifting vaccines to such a large pool of workers would deny the protection to groups with a higher risk or vulnerability.  

He drew fire yesterday by dismissing the call for inoculating foodservice workers as “cheap and insincere,” without any explanation.

Cuomo reversed himself Tuesday after learning that the federal government would channel more supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to the state. The move immediately drew praise from the industry.

“Restaurant workers have been essential to our city during the pandemic, and we applaud Governor Cuomo for expanding vaccine 1B eligibility requirements to include them,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement.

Cuomo’s decision to give local authorities the yea or nay on vaccinating restaurant workers was a concession of sorts to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent adversary though both men are Democrats. At a press conference this morning, de Blasio called on the governor to shift restaurant workers into the 1B category so they can be inoculated before indoor dining resumes in the city on Feb. 14 after a two-month suspension.

“Restaurant workers now are going to be in enclosed places with people eating and drinking,” de Blasio said during the telephone press conference.  “Every doctor on this line or anyplace else will say that’s an area of concern.

New York, and New York City in particular, have been one of the regions hardest hit by the pandemic. Those areas were the hotspot for the coronavirus crisis through the spring, and though they now boast one of the nation’s lowest infection rates, the absolute numbers of new cases still outstrip the tally for many other states.

Depending on the supply of vaccines and the prioritization of local officials, the state may now become one of the first in the nation to greenlight the immediate inoculation of restaurant workers. The District of Columbia was scheduled to begin asking those workers to roll up their sleeves for a shot starting Feb. 1.  But a massive snowstorm has delayed the startup. 

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