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Grocery store workers among 740K Washingtonians who just became eligible for vaccine

The expansion to Tier 2 of Phase 1B adds many front-line workers to the state's eligibility pool, but restaurant workers are not included.

HAZEL DELL, Wash. — Washington state expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, allowing more "high-risk critical workers" into the vaccination pool. That includes grocery store workers. 

Grocery stores are one of the places people have continued to go throughout the pandemic -- at first as little as possible and now, it seems, more often.

“We deal with a lot of people. It can be kind of scary because you don't know who has it and the things that you hear, and you don't want to take it home to your family,” said Howard Ross, a Fred Meyer employee.

Ross works in the produce section at the Fred Meyer in Hazel Dell. He said the chain's parent company Kroger is helping sign them up for a shot. 

Meanwhile, it has recently gotten busier at WildFin American Grill on Vancouver's waterfront.

Washington allows indoor dining at 25%, and it’s heading to 50% in just days. Yet restaurant employees did not make the cut for vaccine eligibility in Tier 2 of Phase 1B, which started Wednesday. 

“We're out here with the public every day and honestly, as soon as they opened those doors, it's like they came running towards us," said David Galloway, a server and manager at WildFin.

RELATED: Washington expands vaccine eligibility, restaurant workers left off the list

“I believe that we are just as susceptible as grocery workers or other frontline workers. We are dealing with the general public on a very intimate and regular basis,” added Sous-Chef Adam Collins.

The state's rationale for not including food service folks in Tier 2 of Phase 1B is that "restaurants are generally smaller and have alternative options to avoid congregation of customers, such as take-out and delivery options." 

The Department of Health added, "That being said, this is a topic currently under discussion.”

Back at Fred Meyer, employee Cindy King just finished up a shift working around a lot of people.

“I'm interacting with them all day long, and I feel a little more protected because I'm less likely to get sick because I've got health problems myself,” said King. 

Those health problems meant King could get vaccinated even sooner. And she's glad her coworkers can now, too.

“I think everybody should get vaccinated. I don't care which one it is, the Pfizer, the Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson; get one, because you're saving lives,” said King.

RELATED: COVID vaccine: Here's where to get it in Oregon and Washington

Ross said he and other coworkers are ready.

“It's a lot of excitement for a lot of us here. We're signed up for it, we're just waiting so we can get back to normal," he said. 

Others included in Tier 2 of Phase B are food processing workers, agricultural workers and corrections and transportation workers. Altogether, it adds about 740,000 more people to the eligibility pool in Washington.