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Washington expands vaccine eligibility, restaurant workers left off the list

The state suggests restaurant workers face less risk than other groups, including grocery store employees.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Starting Wednesday, several new groups will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state is entering Tier 2 of Phase 1B on Wednesday, five days ahead of schedule. The new eligibility list includes people who work in grocery stores, food processing plants and agriculture workers. Corrections and courts workers and public transit employees are also eligible. So are pregnant women over 16 and people whose disability puts them at high risk. But visibly off the list are restaurant workers.

“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, server and manager at WildFin American Grill in Vancouver. “We get a lot of guests that come in and say, ‘We just got our first shot’ or, ‘We just our second shot,’ and they ask us if we've been vaccinated or not, and we have to give them the honest truth.”

The state reasoned restaurants can limit in-person interaction with takeout and delivery, putting them at less risk than other public-facing workers. To WildFin sous-chef Adam Collins, that logic only makes sense on paper not in real life, especially with restaurant capacity moving to 50%.

“We do offer takeout, but we don't employ people to have them come in here and not take tables,” said Collins. “That is our bread and butter. That's the service industry. That's the experience we provide."

The Seattle Restaurant Alliance and the Washington Hospitality Association started an online petition asking the state to open up vaccinations to restaurant workers. In the meantime, guests at Washington restaurants are still seated and meals are still prepared and served — with a side of hope.

“I hope that we would be in the next segment of announcements,” said Galloway. “We are absolutely 100% in front of people.”