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Restaurant owners want city to expedite vaccines for their employees

Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine rollout does not include restaurant workers, but Phase 1C — estimated to began in the city on March 29 — could open the process to them.

Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator, stands at the Taylor Street Public Plaza in the Little Italy neighborhood on Jan. 12, 2021.
Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator, on Monday urged the city to expedite vaccines for at least four employees per restaurant to help workers avoid COVID-19 as in-person dining increases.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

With Phase 1B of Illinois’ vaccine rollout underway, restaurant owners are advocating for their employees to be prioritized for the shot.

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition demanded the city expedite vaccines for at least four employees per restaurant at a Monday news conference. Food service workers are expected to become eligible during Phase 1C of Illinois’ rollout plan, which has an estimated start date of March 29 in Chicago.

“Chicago’s 7300 restaurants are absolutely essential to our city’s economic survival,” coalition coordinator Roger Romanelli said. “It’s critical to look at restaurants as integral to our daily lives.”

Though restaurant employees can’t get vaccinated yet, Romanelli said his group is hoping the city expands their definition of an “essential worker” to include those at restaurants. The 1B category includes grocery store workers, food manufacturers and food distributors, but not food servers.

The four workers the coalition is pushing to get vaccinated include a chef, manager and two employees, Romanelli said. That baseline, he added, would allow restaurant employees to stay protected from the virus as the city slowly moves to restore indoor dining.

Dan Conroe, marketing director for City Winery, said he’s advocating for the restaurant’s employees to receive the vaccine as its West Loop restaurant reopens this month and Riverwalk location prepares for an April opening. He said the lag between the first and second vaccine appointments and then having to wait a couple of weeks after that for full immunity bares concern for these employees that still have to show up for work.

“These next couple months are really essential to keep everyone safe,” Conroe said. “There’s still a serious amount of risk that people could catch the virus and get sick, and we have the tools to avoid that — we just need to make sure [the vaccine] is distributed widely.”