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As Washington expands indoor dining, restaurant workers keep waiting for COVID-19 vaccines

Washington state hospitality industry employees are not prioritized for vaccines in the next phase, even though they often work near unmasked people.

SEATTLE — Indoor dining is expanding in Washington state, but restaurant workers are still not prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines in the next phase.

Miki and Yukiko Sodos, owners of Bang Bang Kitchen in Seattle's Othello neighborhood, have been closely following vaccination updates from the state.

The sisters, who also own Café Pettirosso, said they were stunned to recently learn their cooks, servers, and staff are left out of the next phase.

“The morale at the restaurants is so down because of it,” Miki Sodos said.

The next vaccine phase includes high-risk critical workers in a wide range of industries, including grocery stores, food processing, and agriculture.

Most people in the hospitality industry will have to keep waiting, even as the state expands indoor dining to 50% capacity on March 22.

“The state’s vaccination program has a glaring hole without hospitality workers – 40 percent of whom are Black, Indigenous and people of color – included in the next phase,” the Washington Hospitality Association said in a statement.

The Department of Health said it did not include restaurant workers because their employers can limit in-person interaction with takeout and delivery.

State officials said they are making difficult decisions about who to prioritize.

“We just don't have enough vaccine to do everyone,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist.

The Sodos sisters said the vaccine snub is causing them to lose business.

“If my staff was vaccinated, we'd be open for inside dining right now,” Miki Sodos said.

They're sticking with outdoor dining and takeout, for now, to keep their team safe.


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