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Thousands of WA restaurant workers ask to be included in next vaccine phase

Restaurants continue to require patrons to wear masks, and likely will for the foreseeable future. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

Thousands of Washington hospitality workers have signed a petition asking to be included in the next phase of vaccine eligibility along with other essential workers, especially because they continue to work around unmasked people. This comes as many other states have moved restaurant and hospitality workers up in the line of eligibility.

“I think the state as a whole has done a pretty darn good job dealing with the whole COVID-19 thing. But it’s these kinds of questions that need to be addressed,” KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney said.

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State officials have said that vaccine prioritization decisions have been difficult. For co-host John Curley, the state already crossed the line when they began determining what is “essential” and “non-essential.”

“When the state determines what’s essential and non-essential, determining that your job and what you do in order to pay the bills is non-essential, that was the beginning of the end for me,” Curley said.

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Capacity for indoor dining will expand statewide on March 22 when Washington moves into Phase 3.

The petition, organized by the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and Washington Hospitality Association, asks Gov. Jay Inslee to include food and hospitality workers in the tier with those who work in grocery stores, food manufacturing, and food processing. Those groups will be eligible for the vaccine this week.

In a statement, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association Anthony Anton said: “Restaurant and hospitality workers have been absolutely essential throughout the pandemic, yet they cannot get access to the vaccine alongside other essential workers.”

“We have been working for months to ensure our team members can have access to the vaccine, and now we’re asking for the public’s help,” Anton continued. “You can support your favorite restaurant by signing the petition, wearing your mask, practicing physical distancing, and dining indoor, outdoor, or ordering takeout.”

Tom believes restaurant workers not being included in the next tier of eligibility might be due to the distinction of something being a so-called “necessary” service, but he says the state Department of Health should be more transparent on the issue.

“I looked at who is included — people who work in grocery stores, transit, first responders — I wonder if the service that restauranteurs — the waiters and waitresses — are offering is not considered a kind of necessary service. Grocery stores: People need to be able to eat. People need to be able to take the bus that need transportation, first responders and all that. And so maybe that’s the distinction,” he said.

“But if that is the distinction, then I don’t know why someone from the Department of Health can’t come and say, ‘It’s a close call. We really went back and forth on this.’ Because at this point, I don’t know.”

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekdays from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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