Restaurant workers in New York will get COVID-19 vaccine priority after all

Illustration of vials and dry ice
FILE PHOTO: Woman holds a vial labelled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” over dry ice in this illustration taken, December 5, 2020.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Ariama C. Long

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that he absolutely advocates for restaurant workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible, which is the complete opposite stance that Governor Andrew Cuomo took Monday.

But shortly after de Blasio spoke, Cuomo walked back that remark, saying he would expand the eligibility list with the promise of more vaccines on the way to New York. At his press conference later Tuesday, Cuomo announced the federal government would be boosting the state’s supply over the next three weeks by 20%, with about 300,000 vaccines made available each week.

According to a close aide, Cuomo learned in the span of a day that more supply was coming.

“Look, the restaurant workers now are going to be in enclosed places with people eating and drinking, and every doctor on this line or any place else will say that’s an area of concern,” said de Blasio at his daily press briefing Feb. 2.

The comment comes as indoor dining is gearing up to resume in New York City, at 25% maximum capacity, beginning on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

Cuomo’s comments on Monday at his press conference, about not prioritizing restaurant workers or extending them vaccine eligibility, only added fuel to the frustration fires surrounding the relaunch of indoor dining.

The governor had said the suggestion was “cheap, insincere” when there is limited supply, and that by adding a group to the 1B phase of New York’s vaccine rollout he’d inevitably have to take another one off. Right now, 1B phase includes people over the age of 65, teachers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and first responders among other frontline and essential workers.

But de Blasio, as he has in the past, had a much different opinion from the governor.

“We have to protect the people who work in our restaurants, so now that the state has made this decision, it follows that we have to protect those workers and they should be added to the 1B category,” continued de Blasio. “These are folks who serve us and we depend on and in the course of one of their shifts will be in contact with multiple people. We need to protect them.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo had announced that they will allow the city to vaccinate taxi drivers, restaurant workers and developmentally disabled facilities.

Even with the closures of places and limited travel due to the major snowstorm on Monday, de Blasio said Tuesday that so far the city has administered 823,670 total doses and hopes to continue to do so when sites reopen tomorrow. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) hub sites have also administered 100,000 doses.

De Blasio and his staff have made lofty vows to vaccinate vulnerable New Yorkers hit hard by the COVID-19 virus, a promise made that much harder to keep by the vaccine supply shortage and rising disparities in the distribution plan throughout the city. 

City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi and Dr. Jay Varma, the mayor’s chief health adviser, also noted that it’s more important than ever to vaccinate because there is a possibility that the highly transmissible “variant” strains could be in New York City undetected. 

“To emphasize, even if we haven’t detected those specific strains, the number of infections in the United States creates an opportunity for either the strains we’ve documented already or new strains to emerge. So really a race against the virus to get people vaccinated as fast as possible and while they’re waiting, do all the things necessary to prevent infection,” said Varma.

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