RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Restaurant workers in an area known for its spectacular eateries can now get COVID-19 vaccines.
Food service workers in both Richmond and Henrico County are eligible to be vaccinated under phase 1b in the state’s vaccination rollout.
Up until March 8, only the first three categories in phase 1b could get vaccinated. These included as Virginians 65 and older, firefighters and teachers. Monday, much of the state opened eligibility to all of 1b. Now, thousands in the state will be done waiting in line.
Richmond and Henrico’s health departments are taking it a step further, opening eligibility to restaurant workers in the city and county.
RHHD’s Phase 1b prioritization includes frontline essential workers including restaurant workers, people over the ages 65 or older, people aged 16 through 64 with a high-risk medical condition of disability, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps.
The health department said that as long as there is a high demand for COVID-19 vaccines, this is how vaccine supply will be divided each week: 50% seniors, 23% individuals with qualifying conditions or disabilities, 23% Phase 1b frontline essential workers, and 4% Phase 1a frontline essential workers and adults living in congregate settings.
RCHD said that each subset will be considered as a whole group instead of a phased approach. However, people within each group will be prioritized based on factors such as age, race, zip code and more.
On Monday, restaurant workers reacted to the news that they can soon get vaccinated.
“That’s a big deal. Richmond is certainly a foodie city,” said Natasha Hatton, a book keeper at the Richmond Croaker’s Spot location. She said offering vaccines to restaurant workers will affect everyone who enjoys dining.
“That increases safety for our customers, for our employees, for our families, and safety all around,” she said.
The joined Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) is the only locality currently offering vaccines to restaurant workers in the metro-Richmond area. However, they’re not alone in the state. Alexandria is also opening eligibility to food service workers.
“Restaurant workers—particularly those that work in small kitchens or back-of-house—often work within six feet of each other and are unable to maintain a safe distance away from customers who are maskless while eating or drinking,” RHHD told 8News.
That’s something server Scharease Nettles can attest to. “We are still coming in contact, we’re delivering food and exchanging dishes, and we’re doing a lot,” she said.
McKenzie Lambert, a server and bartender at Dot’s Back Inn, agrees. “We are closer than I think people realize we are to the general public.”
“These circumstances—along with the fact that many food service workers often are un- or underinsured and do not have paid time off—create an environment where employees are at higher risk to COVID-19,” the RHHD said.
“It’s exciting. It’s something that I know that we’ve been waiting for,” Lambert said. “This is definitely one of the things that we need most to continue getting back to normal.”
RHHD added that RVA is unique from other parts of the state in at least one unfortunate way.
“Because many areas of Richmond and Henrico are underserved by grocery stores, restaurants are often important points of access to food for lower income communities,” RHHD told 8News.
If you already pre-registered for a vaccine on the VDH website and identified yourself as a food service worker, the health department said you don’t have to take any action. They will contact you.
It’s not clear when other nearby localities, like Chesterfield, will take this step.
Anyone interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine should pre-register with VDH at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682).