As state health officials prepare to expand Wisconsin’s rollout, restaurant workers became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday.
On Friday, the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) website was updated to say that restaurant workers are eligible as being a part of the food supply chain, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Other groups currently eligible include education and child care staff, people enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-frontline essential health care personnel and facility staff and residents in congregate living settings.
A spokeswoman for DHS told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that restaurant workers were added to those eligible for vaccines “due to the increased supply of vaccine and in recognition of the public-facing role of restaurant workers.”
Wisconsin has administered over 2 million vaccines as of Monday. Over 21 percent of Wisconsinites have received at least one dose and 12.3 percent are fully vaccinated.
Zoe Klein, a UW-Madison junior and restaurant employee, is getting her vaccine on Thursday in Janesville, as that was the only appointment available to her.
“We are seeing lots and lots of people that come in everyday. While we can control what we are comfortable with and who we are seeing, we can’t control what other people do or who they see, or even their comfort levels,” Klein said.
Klein discussed how although restaurants have safety precautions in place, they are not always entirely protected, as many restaurants are in indoor spaces.
“I feel more comfortable knowing I have a much lower chance of contracting the virus and unknowingly spreading it to other people in the community, especially those who might be at risk and I don’t necessarily know it,” Klein explained as to why she will get vaccine.
Andrew Hall, a UW-Madison junior and restaurant worker, has already gotten his first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Hall said he was frustrated when DHS didn’t include restaurant workers in their eligibility update for March 29 — which includes people with pre-existing conditions — and then seemingly “snuck” restaurant workers into their website without a clear press release.
“Up until last week, the DHS website specifically noted that restaurant workers were excluded from the ‘frontline essential worker — food supply chain’ category, a distinction that made no logical sense considering the fact that restaurants do supply food and the fact that restaurant employees are exposed to people without masks [and] arguably an equally or more risky situation than other workers who qualified as part of this category. So it was quite frustrating to be excluded from this group,” explained Hall.
Hall explained that restaurants have been open for 25 percent capacity since the summer, which meant workers were no longer eligible for unemployment and had to go to work where they were exposed to unmasked customers. Hall stressed that it is even more essential for workers to be protected, as the newest Public Health Madison and Dane County order allows restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity.
Hall also acknowledged how restaurant workers disproportionately represent vulnerable populations that are at higher risk.
“Restaurants also disproportionately employ undocumented people, who aren’t otherwise eligible for government assistance like unemployment or stimulus checks. It is so important to protect workers, especially those who are at disproportional risk for contracting COVID,” said Hall.
The next group to become eligible for the vaccine is individuals age 16 and older with certain medical conditions. This 1C group will become eligible on March 29. A comprehensive list of medical conditions that qualify can be found on the DHS website.