Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington health officials are solving the Vivace paradox: How can you allow restaurants and cafes to reopen with increased indoor seating capacity without making sure the workers who serve those un-masked eating and drinking customers are eligible for vaccination?
The answer is you can’t so, come March 31st, restaurant workers will join the ranks of the essential workers who formally qualify for COVID-19 vaccination in Washington.
Inslee announced the change Thursday. People 60 to 64 and those experiencing homelessness that live in or access services at shelters and congregate settings will also be eligible.
CHS reported here on the dilemma faced by Capitol Hill-headquartered Cafe Vivace and restaurants and cafes across the Hill as COVID-19 restrictions lifted but food and drink workers were not included in the state’s current vaccination phase.
On March 31st, we will extend vaccine eligibility to include people with two or more comorbidities, people between the ages of 60 and 64 and workers in restaurants, food service, manufacturing and construction. pic.twitter.com/59NieCjav8
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) March 18, 2021
“The Seattle Restaurant Alliance celebrates today’s news that restaurant workers will soon be able to get the vaccine,” Linda Di Lello Morton, alliance president and owner of Capitol Hill restaurant Terra Plata, said. “While we believe restaurant workers should be eligible now with other ‘essential workers,’ a date certain within the next two weeks is a critical win. Additionally, the diversity of the restaurant community will enhance equity in distribution of the vaccine. We have been working with the Washington Hospitality Association on this issue for months, and we want to thank the thousands of people who signed our petition in support of this effort. Together, we made a difference, and restaurant workers will now be able to get the vaccine at the end of this month.”
Starting Monday, March 22nd, loosened COVID-19 restrictions will include allowing restaurants to increase the number of inside diners they serve to 50% capacity after just over a month of capacity capped at 25% after February’s Phase 2 reopening. Large counties like King County with more than 50,000 residents must maintain a 14-day average of new COVID cases at or below 200 per 100,000 residents, and a seven-day average of new hospitalizations per 100,000 at five or fewer to remain in Phase 3. The new phase will also bring looser restrictions on large gatherings including professional and youth sports and “other outdoor spectator events” including professional sports.
The changes come as the state’s vaccinated population continues to increase and key COVID-19 metrics show the spread of the virus has dropped to rates not seen since early fall.
The largest civilian-led vaccination site in the nation has opened in the event center at Seattle’s Lumen Field. The massive 190,000-square-foot center is hoped to eventually scale up to serving around 150,000 people a week as officials look to push the city’s vaccination rate to 70%, the level believed to be necessary for Seattle to fully emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Most Washingtonians fall into a “future phases” plan currently slated to run from May through at least December 2021. But things are clearly accelerating. At this point, the state’s infographics are having a hard time keeping up with the changes.
Seattle officials say efforts to reach vulnerable residents including communities of color have been successful here with at least 65% of those 65 years old and older in all parts of the city receiving at least one shot of vaccine.
In King County, just over 28% of the population has now received at least one vaccine shot. Meanwhile, despite efforts to reach the communities, People of Color groups continue to lag the county’s white population in the rate of vaccination.
Officials say existing vaccine supply will initially limit Seattle’s mega site at Lumen to operating two to three days a week, serving approximately 5,000 people weekly. The site is “prepared to significantly ramp up in April and May into the summer,” officials said Wednesday.
Others not yet eligible but who want to be vaccinated without “line jumping” gather every day waiting for leftover shots at the city’s clinic sites. The Seattle Fire crews on hand to administer the vaccines serve the leftover crowds in reverse age order with the oldest standby participants at the site getting first dibs.
For those willing to wait or already eligible, sign ups are open for the Lumen center, or the city’s other existing sites in West Seattle and Rainier Beach. More city sites are planned. You can sign up for the notification list here.
Meanwhile, life could also be getting back closer to normal for the city’s public school kids. The district and the teachers union have a tentative agreement for beginning the process of getting kids back in the classroom starting by the end of the month.
In Thursday announcements, Inslee also said the state’s eviction moratorium would be extended through June. Seattle’s moratorium was extended earlier this week.
“The pandemic’s economic toll continues to burden many Washingtonians, particularly tenants,” Inslee said. “People need these supports right now. There is no other way to look at it.”
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