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Alexandria Makes Restaurant Workers Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine

Health officials in the Northern Virginia city acknowledge that kitchens are a high-risk environment for exposure

Coronavirus - Alexandria, VA
A scene from Old Town’s restaurant row on King Street last summer.
Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Acknowledging restaurant workers are in a high-risk category for COVID-19 exposure, Alexandria health officials announced this week that the Northern Virginia city is making them immediately eligible to receive the vaccine.

Alexandria will now classify restaurant workers as part of its “Phase 1B” vaccination group alongside essential workers such as police, teachers, and grocery store staff. Virginia Health’s state-wide guidelines classify food service workers as “other essential workers” in its Phase 1C group.

According to a release from the City of Alexandria, “Restaurant workers — particularly those that work in kitchens and small enclosed areas — generally must work within six feet of others for prolonged periods of time, which increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure.”

The release also notes that customer-facing servers are unable to maintain a safe distance while diners are actively eating or drinking without masks, and it says many food service workers are uninsured or underinsured without paid time off.

Restaurant workers who previously selected “food service” as their occupation while pre-registering on the Virginia Health website will automatically be added to Phase 1B in Alexandria, the city’s release says. The news is a win for Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who previously campaigned at a state level for the food service industry to be lumped into the 1B vaccine distribution phase.

D.C. restaurant workers are not yet eligible for the vaccine, but they are the next group in line. The city began accepting appointments for the first group listed in Phase 1C Tier 1, people with qualifying medical conditions who are between the ages of 16 and 64, on March 1. In that tier, food service workers are listed right after people with qualifying medical conditions.