Foods & Culinary

Austin’s restaurant workers feel left out of vaccination in Texas

As Texas prepares to open COVID-19 vaccination centers to those ages 16 and older on Monday, March 29, some restaurant workers in Austin are wondering why they weren’t given any priority at all. While many key workers and those with pre-existing conditions have been given priority access to footage for days or weeks, the Texan service industry workforce, which is more vulnerable to COVID after restrictions are lifted, faces the prospect of facing the public for a limited number of recordings.

By and large, the eligibility to vaccinate opens up for adult from 16 years (the currently proven vaccines Unavailable children and adolescents) is good for the general public: the larger the percentage of the vaccinated population, the theoretically less likely the virus will spread and the lower the number of serious infections that lead to hospitalizations. However, some food service workers feel like they are on their own again as Texas allows for a debunked reopening that ignores their health or safety. Finally, food and beverage workers were hired during the pandemic higher risk of COVID-19 because the nature of their work requires interaction with exposed people Eating and drinking while at the same time enforcing rules designed for their safety.

Service industry advocates don’t argue with others’ rights to get vaccinated, but they believe servers, bartenders, chefs, and other restaurant workers deserve to be prioritized before restaurants with 100 percent capacity reopen. “We wholeheartedly believe that opening up Texas to a vaccine for everyone is great at face value,” said Claudia Zata, a member of the Texas Service Industry Coalition and the Texas Chter of the Restaurant Organizing Project.

“I think it’s very important that everyone is vaccinated,” says Iliana de la Vega, the cook and co-owner of the Mexican restaurant El Naranjo in Austin. You work with people who don’t wear masks because they are eating or talking to your guests and the like. You are more vulnerable. You are also on the front line. “

However, this move by the Texas Ministry of Health (DSHS) means that the Texan service staff are still in the difficult position of having to compete with the rest of the population for access to scarce vaccine doses. The announcement didn’t come as a shock to those in the services industry who knew they wouldn’t expect any targeted effort for their specific industry at all. “We weren’t surprised that we didn’t prioritize anything before because we didn’t really prioritize anything before,” says Crystal Maher, who is also a member of the Texas Service Industry Coalition and the Texas Restaurant Organizing Project. as well as an employee at Via 313 Detroit-style pizzeria. “It just feels like another PR stunt,” she adds. “Like, ‘Oh, people were upset that we didn’t give everyone access to vaccines […] Let’s just tell everyone they’re eligible and stop calling us about it. ‘“

Austin Mayor Steve Adler seems to agree that the state was rushing public too quickly: “I wish our next step had been to focus on important workers and people who are really at a crossroads, this infection to others to pass on. ”he said during a city council meeting that coincided with the DSHS announcement. “Because I think a couple of weeks only targeting this universe would have been a smarter public health decision.”

Zata sees legislative decisions regarding service employees as “inherent classicism”. She says, “There were obviously some issues with how you prioritize or describe what a front-line worker was.” To them, Republican officials in the state don’t think much of service workers: “They have the idea, ‘Oh, you know, they’re just lazy, young, not educated. ‘ [But it] is extremely hard work and deserves to be respected. ‘And so it was a shame we weren’t heard from the start. “

Booking reservations in Texas is not easy. There is no central source of information or a list of providers. Rather, vaccine distribution is administered by a number of separate government agencies, HEB and national pharmacy chains that offer pointments. Each provider has its own booking system for learning and navigating. It takes a lot of time and internet know-how to navigate through posting a point, from joining loosely organized Slack channels to following Twitter bots to text notifications from Whatsp groups to Facebook groups with volunteer planners.

And these challenges apply twice to service workers who tend to work longer shifts or night hours. “Who’s got the time to sit there and update, update, update pages?” Maher asks, pointing out that there are workplaces that could punish employees for talking on the phone during their shift. She said she only got her notice because it was in a Whatsp group text where someone shared a link that she wanted to see right away. She used the link to join that Texas Vaccine Update Slack and from there a secret channel was found where someone helped her to book her tip. Not everyone would have the skills, let alone the time, to monitor these channels.

In early March, Iliana de la Vega managed to randomly vaccinate all of her staff in El Naranjo. A friend who booked human vaccination sites in her spare time contacted the cook to see if she needed one. She didn’t – she and her husband and the restaurant’s co-owner, Ernesto Torrealba, were already vaccinated because they qualified for the Phase 1 group – but she asked if she could get vaccines for her restaurant staff instead. The answer was yes.

De la Vega immediately turned to each employee and collected the names of people who had not been vaccinated but wanted their shot. She says that two employees hesitated at first, so she had to convince them differently: “No, that’s like winning the lottery. So when you get it, do it, don’t think about it, ”she told them. “Most of them were really excited.”

The next day, de la Vega employees – including kitchen staff and waiters – received their first cans. Your second dose points are scheduled for Thursday April 15th. The restaurant closes on Friday April 16 a day after the second dose to allow staff to rest and recover from any immune responses.

Another important issue is the gross breed Discrepancies between the groups actually vaccinated in Texas. Zata sees a concerted effort to vaccinate service workers as an important step in closing this law. She points out the demographics of service workers in the Austin area: “A lot of the people who work in the back of the house are mostly Latinos who live in these low-income zip codes in Texas, especially here in central Texas and Austin.” , she says. “And we were vaccinated with far lower percentages than our white zip codes or everything west of I-35Zata notes that many service workers live in Manor, southeast Austin, Pleasant Valley, Del Valle, and Hornsby Bend, among others. where vaccination rates are lower.

Texas Tribune buried in state statistics on vaccination demographics, and found that “white Texans are nearly twice as likely to be vaccinated as Hispanic Texans and more than six times as likely as black Texans.” At the same time these groups are at higher risk for COVID-19 compared to whites.

“The eastern zip codes have the highest death rates from COVID,” says Zata. “And we have the highest infection rates. And nobody seems to care but us. We have to do it, we have to protect our communities. “

Zata is also the treasurer of the Del Valle Community Coalitionand shares how difficult it was to get Austin Public Health and Travis County to pay attention to the community even before COVID-19 became the most pressing problem in the US. “We were begging, ‘Hey, there was this stock report that was done by the city. It apparently shows that the disaster relief components in eastern Travis County are failing. This needs to be addressed. ‘But they just keep neglecting it. ”

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Zata, noting that Austin and Travis County officials tend to announce their “extraordinarily advanced” guidelines and high vaccination rates without going through the percentages who have been vaccinated disproportionately white. “What about the rest of us?? “She asks.” It was a fight. “

Service industry groups are also at the forefront of tackling misinformation and fears about the vaccine, especially for undocumented and / or non-English speaking workers. Maher said there was someone in her group spoke to a gardener in her East Austin neighborhood who thought the vaccine was $ 750 when it was actually free.

Groups like the Restaurant Organizing Project are now taking matters into their own hands with plans to produce multilingual brochures explaining how people can book vaccines. Maher says they started distributing them to every restaurant, switching from Taqueria Truck to Taqueria Truck on Riverside Drive. It’s about “educating people and trying to really do the job that the city, county and state don’t do.”

Expect Still hoping Texas will bring it together and begin providing cohesive, comprehensive, and clear guidance on how service workers can get the vaccine. In this way, the state could adequately ensure that “our service industry – the vulnerable population – has access to these vaccines”.

Still viewing this as a victory that opens the door to all, Maher points to the rally she and others held earlier this month to call for vaccinations for service workers as the state lifted all security measures. “It shows that you can make a change in organizing,” she says. “Restaurant workers don’t believe their voice is important, but in this case, their voices matter. And they have to see that as their victory to like that. “

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